Beastie Boys‘ Mike “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz recently sat down for an interview with Zane Lowe, in which they reflected on the travails that surrounded the release of their second album, Paul’s Boutique. In August, the surviving members gathered to mark the occasion of what would have been their late bandmate Adam “MCA” Yauch’s birthday at the Capitol Records building in L.A.; video of the interview is now online. Guests at the event included Katy Perry and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Paul’s Boutique came out in July 1989 – three years after the release of their juggernaut debut, 1986’s Licensed to Ill – but initially met a stale reception. The reason, they explained, was due to a lack of support on the part of Capitol Records, who’d just signed them at the time.
“We were, like, this big group [with] Licensed to Ill,” Ad-Rock said. “We were internationally known, we were 20-something years old, we were feeling ourselves. We thought we were a really big deal and we’d get signed to a new record label and work on this crazy record. And we’re like, ‘This is it. We’re on top.’ And then … nothing. Crickets.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, we got a flag, Adam,” Mike D interjected, referring to a modified American flag, on which the group’s logo was emblazoned in blue atop Old Glory’s red-and-white stripes.
“We got a flag, but it was momentarily,” Ad-Rock continued. “It was [there] momentarily, but when the record came out it was crickets. Like, I went to Tower Records and they didn’t even have it. I thought that was a little weird. And [Capitol] gave us money; I’d assume they wanted their money back.
“So what happened was, we made Paul’s Boutique and, I guess, the president of the label who had signed us got fired for giving us a lot of money,” he continued. He and Mike D laughed sheepishly at all of the people who had supposedly been sacked over Capitol’s recruitment of the Beasties. After the label instated Hale Milgram as its president in 1989, the group wondered why Capitol was not supporting it.
“The record was out that we’d worked really hard on and were really excited about,” Ad-Rock said. “And the record wasn’t at Tower Records and it just wasn’t being promoted. We wanted to have a meeting with the president like, ‘Hey, what can we do to make this a thing?'”
After waiting weeks, Milgram agreed to meet with them. “He was like, ‘I appreciate you worked really hard, but you’re going to have to wait for the next time, ’cause the company’s really getting behind the new Donny Osmond release,'” Ad-Rock recalled. “And we didn’t know what ‘next time’ meant, and was like, ‘You know, next record.’ So that was it.”
Mike D and Ad-Rock also credited Yauch with the idea for the Beastie Boys flag that momentarily flew atop the Capitol Records building. “I’m sure it was Yauch’s idea,” Ad-Rock said. The rapper had heard of a brief gap in legislation in which citizens were legally allowed to deface the American flag. “That’s probably why the guy got fired actually,” he said. “Then they took it down right away and the law got overturned.”
The rappers also credited Yauch with the idea for making their own photos and videos at the time. Tired of taking promotional photos, the rapper offered to start doing their photos himself with a remote. Part and parcel with the label refusing to support the album, Yauch tapped into the group’s D.I.Y. punk roots to make their own promotional materials. “He got the tripod … [and then it was] no outsiders, just insiders, just the three of us,” he said. “He was just always doing and thinking stuff like that.”
Earlier this year, Seattle radio station KEXP ran a 24-hour celebration of Paul’s Boutique, which has since gone on to be heralded as a landmark record for the group thanks to its unique Dust Brothers–produced samples and songs like “Hey Ladies.” It has since been featured on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.