Beastie Boys' Mike D: 'I'm Excited About Making New Stuff Again'

MC talks about experimental new track, getting back in the studio

Mike D of the Beastie Boys
Joe Termini
Mike D of the Beastie Boys
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In the wake of Adam Yauch's tragic passing in 2012, his fellow Beastie Boys continue to dip their toes into making new music – and often in unexpected avenues. In November 2012, Adam Horovitz, a/k/a Ad-Rock, reentered the musical sphere with a surprisingly diverse, funky soundtrack for a documentary short accompanying a New York Times article. Meanwhile, Mike Diamond, a/k/a Mike D, just released his first new music in two years: a soundtrack to, of all things, a fashion show. In May, the fashion house Kenzo asked Diamond to score its 2014 Spring/Summer Collection, which debuted during Paris Fashion Week at the end of June, drawing stars including Michael Stipe and Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) as attendees.

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"Now I'm going to sound like a name-dropping asshole, but it all came about thanks to the director and my friend and longtime associate, Spike Jonze," Diamond explains to Rolling Stone via cell phone as he drives home in Los Angeles after dropping his kids off at basketball camp. "Spike vouched for [Kenzo co-head designer Humberto Leon]. I was a little apprehensive. It might shock you, but I haven't been to that many fashion shows, and I'd never done a commissioned piece for a fashion house. In my own naïveté I expected I'd be talking to, like, Will Ferrell's character in Zoolander, which turned out not to be the case at all with Humberto. The show itself, meanwhile, turned out to be a full-on theatrical experience held in a circus school in the outskirts of Paris – to come back to Zoolander, it wasn't just dudes walking down a runway in a tent. It was the type of artful shit you never get to do in New York, where fashion shows are all about just money."

For inspiration, Leon and Diamond bonded over their shared love of classic California hardcore like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, and T.S.O.L. "I was like, 'Okay, cool – I grew up on this stuff, so it's in my wheelhouse,'" Diamond explains. "Then, when I started making it, I did what I always have done while collaborating in a band, which is take what I've grown up on and love and combine it with something it should never be combined with. My terrible idea ended up being pretty inspired."

That idea was to merge hardcore punk with contemporary trap music. "I've been listening to a lot of the trap music the kids like these days," Diamond says. "I've gotten really into it. Shit is tight!" As influences, Diamond cites the likes of TNGHT (which he calls "geek trap"), Chief Keef and Sasha Go Hard. "There was a little bit of Young Chop in there, too, and I also have to give a shout-out to King Louie," adds Diamond. "It's interesting – it's the first time in a while I feel like hip-hop has returned to its raw, stripped-down, drum-machine roots. At the same time, it's not retro, and works in a club setting."

Diamond's trap revelation came via producer Lex Luger's beats. "Ten years back, I had a vision in my head of people using Nintendo for production," he notes. "Lex Luger really fulfilled that prophecy: It really sounded like he was making records using a videogame system. Trap pairs well with hardcore in that way. It's the sound of not giving a fuck."

Diamond began what would become the 10-minute track "Humberto vs the New Reactionaries: Christine and the Queens Remixx" at the Beasties' Oscilloscope Studios in New York, and then made final tweaks in Paris with Philippe Zdar, the French production guru famed for his work with Phoenix and the Beasties' last album, 2011's Hot Sauce Committee Part 2. "It was like creating a film score without having a picture to reference," Diamond says. "Usually what I do doesn't come to life like that. Once my shit hits alltrapmusic.com, people are already on it."

Diamond's new Kenzo jam proved as exciting and surprising as anything that Diamond has done with the Beasties. Grimy drum machines battle with sludgy noise and hardcore thump, lurching into different grooves without warning. At one point, Diamond gets on the mic and starts screaming through psychedelic effects. "I figured if anyone's still listening at that point, I had to give them some vocals," he says. "Basically, I was just chanting different subtle and not-so-subtle messages, like my mantra, 'Gotta get my mind right!' That's a big saying of mine."

Diamond notes that while the Beasties started as a hardcore outfit and flaunted the style on classic albums like Ill Communication and Check Your Head, they rarely blended punk and hip-hop styles in the same track. "It wasn't until our last album that we had them coexist in one song, on 'Lee Majors Come Again,'" Diamond says. Indeed, while "Humberto vs the New Reactionaries: Christine and the Queens Remixx" definitely broadens what we've come to expect sonically from the Beasties, it also reflects their roots – in particular, the New York counterculture music of the late 1970s and early 1980s. At one point, Diamond deploys eerie carnival-style keyboards recalling New York electro-punks Suicide, while the dissonant, slashing guitar throughout evokes No Wave noisemakers like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. "I did end up with a little No Wave on there," Diamond admits. "I don't know how to play guitar, so when I put it on a track, I end up on the No Wave default setting."

Diamond's musical assault for Kenzo didn't stop at making the soundtrack for the runway show. He also got on the decks at the event's afterparty for a DJ set, inflicting his latest trap obsession on a crowd that included Beck, Scarlett Johansson and Nicolas Godin of Air. "I kinda fucked up and played all trap," he says. "I think people were like, 'What's wrong with him? The guy has lost his mind!' My most successful mix of the night was TNGHT's 'Acrylics' into A-Trak's new song, 'Landline 2.0.' The two biggest songs of the night, though, were Diplo's 'Express Yourself' and Le Tigre's 'Decepticon.' People went nuts! It was a woo-banga of a time!"

Diamond, meanwhile, admits that the surprising, unlikely experience of creating "Humberto vs the New Reactionaries: Christine and the Queens Remixx" has "definitely got me excited about making new stuff again. I wasn't planning on that, but once I did it, it was cool," he says. "You'll definitely have to check back on MikeDAllTrapMusic.org to see what I come up with next."

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