Boys to Men: The Beastie Boys

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Where else but L.A. could the Beasties build their dream studio, complete with basketball half-court and skateboard ramps? It's no wonder they spent three years jamming before deciding it was time for some new product. "People think it's taken so long to do this album, but it kinda seems like when we were doing it, it only took a few months," says Horovitz.

"We could have released this stuff as six different phases on six different albums," claims Diamond. "Isn't that the trend now? Instead, it's just six different phases on one album."

Los Angeles has definitely left its mark on all three Beasties. The most obvious victim is Horovitz, 25, who has kept an acting career going on the side (he currently costars in the biker fantasy Roadside Prophets) and has been linked to several high-profile starlets, including Ione Skye, with whom he's had a lengthy, ongoing relationship. Diamond, who's twenty-six, is the Beasties' liaison to the press, their record company and the rest of reality. He owns part of a new clothing store that sells classic sneakers (the Boys, by the way, seem devoted to vintage Adidas, circa 1974) and customized T-shirts.

The biggest surprise has been the twenty-seven-year-old Yauch. The scruffy, leather-jacketed Beastie Boy on the Licensed to Ill sleeve has switched to a macrobiotic vegetarian diet and spent last year traveling in Asia on some sort of spiritual quest. Musically, he's the group's secret weapon; his bass is a solid anchor for the tracks, and even his rhyming style has improved the most noticeably.

Taken together, these are hardly the beer-swilling, groupie-devouring fiends who terrorized the world in 1987. In conversation, they still drop perfectly placed non sequiturs and riff at length on parenthetical thoughts, but it's hardly the chaos that got them banned from the CBS Records offices and reduced some early interviewers to tears.

Maybe it's the laid-back L.A. influence, maybe they're just tired, or maybe the Beastie Boys – the last of the Great White Dopes – have actually grown up. Despite the disappointing sales of Paul's Boutique, they have only good things to say about Capitol Records. "Leaving Def Jam was kind of a blessing in disguise," says Diamond, "because we can make whatever record we want." Nor do they claim any ill feelings for Def Jam or its chairman, rap mogul Russell Simmons. "I heard he was getting mad at us because we didn't want to throw beer at each other anymore," says Horovitz, "and that was our job." But according to Diamond: "Russell did say that if we came out with Paul's Boutique again and wore our baseball caps sideways, we'd sell 8 million records. Says people are ready for that shit now."

It remains to be seen, however, whether people are ready for rappers playing their own instruments for the first time. Are the Beasties concerned that especially after the confusion that greeted Paul's Boutique, this album may be too disparate for their audience? "People who are making hip-hop records definitely understand where we're coming from because they're used to hearing funky instrumental shit," says Diamond. "People who only listen to hip-hop in hip-hop form, it might be a little hard for them to hear at first." The real following for Check Your Head may prove to be the Red Hot Chili Peppers/Lollapalooza generation kids, and the Beasties are promising a lengthy tour, their first since the Licensed to Ill days, to get it to them (rumors have them sharing a bill with Cypress Hill and Sonic Youth).

They did a few shows last year, including a packed, sweaty date at a New York club where teenage fans were stage diving in droves and literally hanging from the rafters. At the time, the new songs weren't finished, and most of Paul's Boutique is too complicated to re-create onstage, so the bulk of the material came from Licensed to Ill. "It was nice recapping old times to do those songs," says Yauch, "but by the time we did the next show, I was like 'Damn, this shit is old!' It was like bringing out the antique-coin collection."

The Beastie Boys claim to be content in Los Angeles, but it's clear they relish being back in their native New York, even when it means spending all their time dealing with the press. They're happy not to have to drive everywhere they go and to be able to go to Knicks basketball games (scared off by the power chicness of Lakers games, they say they've never even bothered to go). "I feel no compunction to defend L.A.," says Diamond. "People criticize it, and for the most part, it's well founded."

We walk through quiet New York streets at dusk, and no one notices the three scraggly-looking Beasties ("Half the guys in New York our age say they're in the Beastie Boys anyway," says Horovitz). A preposterously long white limo, draped in Christmas lights, with an open back seat and antennae sticking out in every direction, drives by and offers a ride. The Beastie Boys, who made their name on wretched excess, check out this goofy display and laugh. They keep on walking.

This story is from the May 28th, 1992 issue of Rolling Stone.

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