The Beastie Boys: Where the Wild Things Are

The Beastie Boys become kings of their own urbane jungle

August 11, 1994
Beastie Boys, Adam Horovitz, Ad-Rock, Adam Horovitz acting, Ad-Rock acting, Ad-Rock rolling stone, Beastie Boys Rolling Stone
The Beastie Boys on the cover of Rolling Stone on August 11th, 1994.
Matthew Rolston

The story you're about to read is true. Three grown men officially known by nicknames and wearing clothes that look like they've been handed down by much bigger brothers are leading a cult that is threatening to suck our culture back into the 1970s. Please be aware of the warning signs. To demonstrate their loyalty, not to mention the magnitude of their sheer groovitude, the group's devotees indie-rock gurus, legions of faceless hipsters and annoyingly ubiquitous barely celebs are donning the garments of their chosen leaders. Pumas, baggy pants and Fila tennis shirts abound. When they're not sporting knit stocking caps, their baseball hats, invariably, point backward.

This alliance based in a Los Angeles enclave known as Grand Royal exists ostensibly to make music under the moniker Beastie Boys. Other activities, however, persist. Guided by Michael Diamond, 28 (alias Mike D), Grand Royal has grown into a media microjuggernaut. It's a record label. It's a magazine. It's a way of life. Officials close to the Beastie Boys view Diamond (who is also an investor in the Beasties-style clothing store called X-Large) as a shrewd, slightly image-obsessed business maven. His co-conspirators, meanwhile, are less visible among the desks, skateboard ramp and basketball court that mark the confines of the G.R. offices. Adam Horovitz, 27 (pseudonym King Ad-Rock), is known to experts as the charismatic, carefree personification of the Beasties' oeuvre. The third member, Adam Yauch, 29 (assumed name MCA), is the quiet Beastie the wholly enigmatic spiritual loner. Of course, these are simply preliminary sketches. An extensive investigation is required in order to reach the conclusion that these generalizations are for the most part right on the money.

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: the Beastie Boys

And so it is that this inquiry takes us to Brussels, Belgium, where the Beasties are on a recruiting trip for new converts. And as it is the first step for all takeovers, the group has descended upon a radio station to secure the airwaves and get its message to the people. The Boys have been invited to act as DJs and play some music for the masses. Diamond is reading off the band's list of demands.

"OK," Diamond is saying, "Dr. John, Jungle Brothers, Sly Stone, Madness, Kiss, Kool and the Gang, Sergio Mendes. . . ."

It is a dizzying selection that simultaneously reveals the unlimited range of the group's influences and throws the show's host into a bout of nervous babble. It doesn't help that she is without a Beasties-to-English dictionary, which, even in America, is often a necessity.

When the Beasties explain to her that Kool and the Gang offer "mad, mad cuts," she says, "But you like them, right?" By way of clarification, the Boys explain that not only are Kool and the Gang "fly, fresh, dope and phat," they are, ultimately, "the shit."

Scrambling to get back on familiar footing, the DJ decides to showcase the work of some home-grown talent.

"Yo, this band is from Antwerp?" asks Horovitz as the first song plays. "They're buggin' in Antwerp, huh?"

Rattled, the DJ comes to the defense of her countrymen. "No, they are a very popular band," she says, shaking her head dejectedly.

Diamond interjects: "What do you think about Grand Royal taking a little trip and signing up the whole Antwerp scene?"

She stands as if looking for an escape route. "There are many good bands there," she says.

"You don't have to tell me," says Horovitz. "This is totally fly. We gotta start giggin' in Antwerp. Antwerp is the shit."

Indeed, there are few territories the Beastie Boys could not storm with relative ease. Because of this, understanding the Beasties' mystique is more critical now than ever before. Their latest album, Ill Communication, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart and seems destined to become the soundtrack for summer in these very United States. A sly blending of the styles that have graced their previous three albums, Ill Communication fuses jazz-laced hip-hop, crappy 1980-style punk thrash, aggressive, groove-heavy rap and the kind of infectiously sleazy funk instrumentals that can be heard playing in porn movies just after someone says, "Hey, you're not the regular cabana boy."

It's a long way from 1986, when the Beasties' debut, a metal-meets-rap amalgam called Licensed to Ill, became the best-selling rap album of all time (until M.C. Hammer's Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em later unseated it), offered the world "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)" and created the Boys' original posture as cartoonish, beer-swilling assholes. Back then, the Beastie Boys were a multiplatinum novelty. Today, after much image reconstruction and four groundbreaking records, they are considered musical innovators, cultural pioneers and the kind of upstanding citizens that deserve a little time to kick back and dig their bad selves. Now, with the success of Ill Communication and a co-headlining spot on the traveling revival meeting known as Lollapalooza, the Beasties' niche is as secure as it is all powerful.

Which all seems a little lost on our DJ, who has decided to defuse the situation by changing the subject altogether.

"So, you play many different styles, don't you?" she asks.

Horovitz speaks up. "We're like John Starks, the Knicks guard," he says. "We're unpredictable. Do you know John Starks? He's a streak shooter."

Terrified, the DJ turns to her microphone and begins speaking French at an alarming rate.

"Wait a minute," says Yauch. "Are you making fun of us?"

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