If you lived through the arrival of the Beastie Boys onto the music scene you’ll remember the feeling – like walking under a waterfall of ice on a hot summer’s day. A refreshing, unexpected shock. Up until that point rap had been novel, revolutionary, challenging, and exciting. But after the Brooklyn trio came along, rap became funny, irreverent, shouty and – that ever-provocative word – punk.
The band formed in the early ‘80s in the vein of hardcore punk, opening for groups such as Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, and Misfits. In 1984 the line-up was fixed and they entered the hip-hop scene with a bang, their name being an acronym for their profession of faith: Boys Entering Anarchistic States Towards Inner Excellence. The punk movement wasn’t even 10 years old at this point but had already reached a cul de sac. However, with Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock – three New Yorkers from Jewish backgrounds, who know how to wield humour like no-one else in music – punk got an unexpected boost. I paid the price in 2007 during a meeting for the release of their album The Mix-Up.
The interview took place in their dressing room a few hours before their concert at the Zenith in Paris. I think we can all agree that this is perhaps one of the worst places to meet an artist, as they have quite a lot of other things on their minds at this precise moment in time. The first few minutes were catastrophic as none of them wanted to answer my questions, instead passing the time talking amongst themselves and laughing at incomprehensible jokes. I was about to give up and stop wasting my time when I had a flash of inspiration, remembering having read that Ad-Rock loved X-Ray Pop, an obscure synthetic group from Tours, the city where I grew up. I mentioned it to him and finally! I had him and his bandmates hooked on something. Down came the walls and at last they agreed to be interviewed. By the time our discussion finished we were talking about music, and about their amazing, sensual instrumental album where references to psychedelic rock, jazz, soul and blaxploitation can all be heard, partly thanks to the presence of their brilliant keys player Money Mark.
So that was The Beastie Boys – dirty kids from an energetic rock scene, who found in rap’s electric riffs the perfect release for shouting about wanting to party, but who would, over the years, move into a more organic sound. In the meantime, they got all they could out of the sample, this new toy that worked wonders on their legendary album Paul’s Boutique (1989). Over the next twenty years they would become one of rap’s biggest sellers, feted by the entire rap scene. After cancer claimed MCA in 2012 the group called time, leaving one final album, released in 2011, with an epitaph-like opening track: “Make Some Noise”. But the Beastie Boys were so much more than that.