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Rap Biographies: Beastie Boys

Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys -- Adam "MCA" Yauch (born August 5, 1964), Michael "Mike D." Diamond (born November 20, 1965) and Adam "Adrock" Horovitz (born October 31, 1966) -- have collectively grown as a group, as artists, and equally as human beings over the past decade or so since they first broke onto the music scene. While the three group members have continuously reinvented themselves as artists, demonstrated by their eclectic variety of albums put forth throughout the years, the Beasties' story and style have evolved time and time again. As with all great bands, comes an even greater (and inspiring) life story...

As the first white rap group of any importance, the Beastie Boys received the scorn of critics and strident hip-hop musicians, who accused them of cultural pirating, especially since they began as a hardcore punk group in 1981. But the Beasties weren't pirating -- they treated rap as part of a post-punk musical underground, where the do-it-yourself aesthetics of hip-hop and punk weren't that far apart. Of course, the exaggerated b-boy and frat-boy parodies of their unexpected hit debut album, Licensed to Ill, didn't help their cause. For much of the mid-'80s, the Beastie Boys were considered as macho clowns, and while their ambitious, Dust Brothers-produced second album, Paul's Boutique, dismissed that theory, it was ignored by both the public and the press at the time. In retrospect, it was one of the first albums to predict the genre-bending, self-referential pop kaleidoscope of '90s pop. The Beasties refined their eclectic approach with 1992's Check Your Head, where they played their own instruments. Check Your Head brought the Beasties back to the top of the charts, and within a few years, they were considered one of the most influential and ambitious groups of the '90s, cultivating a musical community not only through their music, but with their record label, Grand Royal, and their magazine of the same name.

It was remarkable turn of events for a group that demonstrated no significant musical talent on their first records. All three members of the Beastie Boys -- Mike D (born Mike Diamond, November 20, 1966), MCA (born Adam Yauch, August 5, 1965), and Ad-Rock (born Adam Horovitz, October 31, 1967) -- came from wealthy middle-class Jewish families in New York and had become involved in the city's punk underground when they were teenagers in the early '80s.

In 1981, originally incarnated as a hardcore punk band, the four founding group members consisted of Adam Yauch on bass, Michael Diamond on vocals, John Berry on guitar, and Kate Schellenbach (later of Luscious Jackson fame) on drums. The newfound hardcore punk rockers got their start while playing a gig at Adam Yauch's 17th birthday party and eventually found themselves onstage at local NYC venues, as the opening act for legendary punk bands Bad Brains and Reagan Youth.

A year later, the group recorded their very first 7" entitled Pollywog Stew, which was released on Ratcage Records, an East Village hardcore label. In 1983, the group began to experiment with the relatively untapped hip-hop music culture and released The Cooky Puss 12", again on Ratcage Records. During this time, the band began its early transformation and guitarist John Berry was replaced by Adam Horovitz (formerly of The Young & The Useless). While Cooky Puss began creating a buzz for the Beasties in the local NYC club scene, the group decided to expand their horizons and began playing shows outside the city.

In 1984, the Beastie Boys hooked up with now legendary producer Rick Rubin (formerly known as DJ Double R), and the transformation from hardcore punk rockers to Caucasian hip-hop outfit gradually ensued. In the meantime, the Beastie Boys parted ways with female drummer Schellenbach, and switched up their style by putting down the musical instruments and picking up matching Adidas tracksuits and sneakers. A newfound image had evolved as the Beastie Boys had officially arrived on the East Coast hip-hop scene. Under the tight production of Rick Rubin, the Beastie Boys released the Rock Hard/Beastie Groove 12" on Rubin's brand new Def Jam label. With rapid word of mouth spreading about the Beastie Boys, the group found themselves opening for a number of now legendary old-school hip-hop acts including Kurtis Blow and the Fat Boys.

In 1985, the Beasties began breaking new ground with the release of the She's On It/Slow And Low 12", on the newly formed Def Jam/Columbia venture. With buzz-worthy urban radio airplay supporting the group, the Beastie Boys found themselves exploring uncharted territory while supporting Madonna on her North American "Virgin Tour," followed by a pivotal spot on the "Raising Hell Tour" alongside the likes of Run D.M.C., L.L. Cool J, Whodini, and the Timex Social Club.

The group's groundbreaking debut studio album, Licensed To Ill, was released on Def Jam/Columbia in 1986. Supported by a string of frat-boy party anthems including "Fight For Your Right," "Girls," "Brass Monkey," and "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," the album shot straight to No. 1 and secured its spot as the first hip-hop record to sell five million copies in the 1980s. This newly discovered, party-inspired, juvenile-delinquent act supported their debut with the "Licensed To Ill Tour" in 1987 -- a ridiculously wild concert experience equipped with bikini-clad cage dancers, beer-soaked after parties, rowdy shenanigans, and onstage inflatable penises. The Beastie Boys had officially arrived and the party was completely out of control.

In 1988, the Beasties packed their bags and moved from New York City to sunny Los Angeles after signing a deal with Capitol Records. Along with the new location and a new record label, the group switched up their style completely and hooked up with acclaimed production duo, the Dust Brothers. Upon experimenting with an assortment of mind-expanding narcotics, while at the same time equally dabbling with an eclectic variety of musical samples, hooks and mind-boggling lyrics, the Beastie Boys released Paul's Boutique. The album, although somewhat well-received by fans at the time, was well ahead of its time in regards to style and content. It eventually went on to become an inspiration for many of the alternative acts that emerged in the years following its release.

With the devastating passing of childhood friend Dave Scilken (due to a drug overdose) in 1991, the Beasties reinvented themselves once again in 1992 by cleaning up their act and releasing their third studio album, Check Your Head -- a sobering effort that brought the Beasties back to their roots even while experimenting once again with musical instruments (as opposed to illicit drugs and booze). Check Your Head proved to the world that the Beastie Boys were much more than just witty, rhyme-laden lyricists. Backed by production credits from Mario Caldato, Jr. (who helped engineer Paul's Boutique), live instrumentation and a distinctively original style, Check Your Head supplied fans with an array of hits including "So Whatcha Want," "Pass The Mic," "Gratitude," and "Jimmy James."

1992 also saw the creation of the Grand Royal record label -- a new business venture headed by group member Michael "Mike D." Diamond. With the release of Check Your Head on the collaborative Grand Royal/Capitol label, the Beasties enlisted a number of up-and-comers on their newfound label, including Luscious Jackson and Ben Lee. With the success of the Grand Royal label came the release of the Grand Royal magazine in the fall of 1993. Although the magazine fared well among cult followers during its relatively short-lived lifespan, it ceased operations in 1997.

A mere two years after the release of Check Your Head came Ill Communication, the group's fourth studio album, released in 1994 on Grand Royal/Capitol. The album, heavily laced with live instrumentation and backed by cunning lyrics referencing everything from old-school icons to Tibetan culture, entered the charts at No. 1. Innovative music videos (most notably the Spike Jonze-directed "Sabotage") helped to reintroduce the Beasties back onto the mainstream music scene. The exposure, in turn, led to a variety of goodwill-induced efforts including the Adam Yauch-inspired Milarepa Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to "promoting awareness and activism regarding the injustices perpetrated on native Tibetans by Chinese occupational government and military forces." As a result, the Beastie Boys no longer seemed quite so "Beastie."

Throughout the remainder of 1994 and spilling into 1995, the Beasties toured in support of their Ill Communication album. Following the tour's completion, the three group members returned to their hardcore roots and quickly recorded and released the whopping eight-song, 11-minute Aglio e Olio punk effort on their Grand Royal label. Shortly thereafter, in 1996, the Beastie Boys launched an instrumental compilation entitled The In Sound From Way Out! on Grand Royal/Capitol.

After spending several years on the West Coast, the Beastie Boys decided to make their return home to New York City in 1997. Nearly four years following the release of Check Your Head, the Beastie Boys made their triumphant return by delivering their fifth album, Hello Nasty, once again produced by Mario Caldato, Jr. and the Beasties. Upon its release in July of 1998, equipped with fan favorites "Intergalactic" and "Body Movin'," the album put the Beasties back on top. The album was backed by a groundbreaking worldwide "360-degree In The Round" concert tour, outfitted with newly appointed DJ extraordinaire Mix Master Mike (of Invisibl Skratch Piklz fame).

Finally, after nearly six years in what seemed like isolation, the Beastie Boys have returned once again with their sixth studio album -- the raw, self-produced, strictly hip-hop effort, To the 5 Boroughs. The highly anticipated album (released on Capitol Records) led by the first single "Ch-Check It Out," has already received a resounding amount of coverage and exposure on virtually every music video station and in major music magazines including Spin, XXL, Blender, and Complex. Most recently, the Beasties have launched a worldwide tour in support of To the 5 Boroughs, and at the same time, their second release "Triple Trouble" (backed by the hilariously original Sasquatch-themed music video) has been gaining heavy rotation on all major radio and music video stations.

The Beastie Boys have once again returned with the release of To the 5 Boroughs -- their sixth studio album in 20 years. Hip-hop's zaniest white boys have packed a whole lot of "Triple Trouble" into their latest self-produced endeavor, a 15-track ode to the beloved city in which they began their ascent toward worldwide popularity -- a steady rise stemming from their hardcore punk beginnings in the mid-'80s, up until today's masterful return to their raw hip-hop roots.
As teenagers, they showed us how to "Fight For Your Right (To Party)," they've defined cool time and time again, and they've matured right before our very eyes throughout the course of six studio albums and a stack of compilations, B-sides and an anthology.
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