The passing of Adam Yauch today will hit many music fans very, very hard--especially those who grew up with the Beastie Boys through the rise of rap in the 80s and during the group's reign as one of the most important groups of the Lollpapalooza Nation.
In fact, one of my favourite backstage memories is briefly engaging on a 3-on-3 basketball game backstage at a 1994 Lollapalooza show. That tour was was emotionally turbocharged because that year was supposed to feature Nirvana has headliners. The Beasties provided some much-needed fun to the proceedings.
I interviewed the Beasties many times over the years, starting around the era of Paul's Boutique and continuing through to the last time on the release of To the Five Boroughs. Each time I found them forthright, funny, articulate and highly professional.
In many ways, Adam was my favourite. I just seemed to identify with his sense of humour. I also like the whole Nathaniel Hornblower alias that he used when directing many of the group's videos. And when he founded Oscilloscope Laboratories, I followed what he was doing with film and producing albums for bands like Bad Brains.
Here are 10 reasons why the Beastie Boys really, really mattered--at least to me.
1. They were punk rockers at heart. That's how the band started and it's an aesthetic that they never lost.
2. Their sense of humour. Early works such as "She's On It" and the whole of Licensed to Ill album generated plenty of frat boy laughs. If they had stayed that way, it would have been a short career. But as the band got older, their sense of humour became more refined.
3. Licensed to Ill was the first-ever rap album to hit #1 on the Billboard charts. Up until then, rap had been considered by the mainstream as a marginal form of art (at best) and (at worst) a fad. The Beasties brought rap to white kids in the suburbs, something that propelled all of hip-hop forward.
4. Have you listened to the sampling artistry on Paul's Boutique? When it came out in 1989, the record was roundly criticized for not sounding like Licensed to Ill. It was branded as a commercial failure and career suicide. But within a few years, people began to recognize what kind of milestone record it really was. It still sounds amazing today.
5. The "Sabotage" video. I still laugh. Every time.
6. The Beasties were never afraid to try new things. They established their own company, Grand Royal, which housed a record company, a clothing line, magazine and a few other ventures. They eventually shut it down, but you have to give them credit for trying something new.
7. Being among the very first to describe a certain hairstyle as a "mullet." In the middle 90s, Mike D wrote about the "business in front, party in the back" hairstyle in Grand Royal magazine. I quote: "There's nothing quite as bad as a bad haircut. And perhaps the worst of all is the cut we call The Mullet."
8. Where would producer Rick Rubin be today had he not been the Beasties DJ in the early days? I'm sure he would have found a way to make his mark in the music business somehow, but would have things turned out the same way for him and all the acts he produced?
9. They opened for Madonna on her Like a Virgin tour and subjected her audiences to sheer torture. I am forever grateful that they managed to annoy Madonna so much.
10. Their comradeship. I get the feeling that all three guys are fast friends and great business partners. Did you ever hear rumours of the Beasties breaking up because of creative differences or business difficulties?