A Brief History of the Beastie Boys

Who are these Three Jewskateers from BK, whose sick flows have made them legendary?

Published: January 29th 2011
in Culture » Music

From Left: Mike D (Michael Diamond), Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) & MCA (Adam Yauch)

The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is the story of three Jews who refused to betray their personal values and beliefs. They stood firm in the face of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon’s harsh rule and insistence that they worship false idols. At first glance these characters from the Book of Daniel might not appear to have much in common with the punk/hip-hop group, the Beastie Boys.


However, over the course of their career – starting as a hardcore punk group in 1979 — the Beastie Boys evolved in to just that: a modern day trio of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The Beastie Boys were always a little different than most of their musical contemporaries – they have always been quite noticeably white and somewhat recognizably Jewish. Their music and distinct sound also always stood out. It took the Beastie Boys awhile longer to become more substantively and lyrically distinct. In fact, it has only been the last six years that the Beastie Boys adopted what some would call a more mature, and others would call a more lame, purpose in their music.


From champions of the essential human right to party to outspoken critics of international human rights violations the Beastie Boys have undergone a serious evolution over the last thirty years that has secured them a new audience and probably lost them some die-hard fans. In 1999 Adam Horovitz wrote an open letter to Time Out New York where he apologized for some of the Beastie Boys’ earlier lyrics on their first album, “Licensed to Ill.”



"I would like to ... formally apologize to the entire gay and lesbian community for the shitty and ignorant things we said on our first record. There are no excuses. But time has healed our stupidity. ... We have learned and sincerely changed since the ‘80s. ... We hope that you’ll accept this long overdue apology."


Even when there is a clear maturation in an artist’s work and personal perspective it is rarely stated so openly and honestly. Prior to 1999 there were hints of a sophisticated cultural awareness but these were usually more introspective then concerned with the state of world and current affairs.


For example, in their 1989 album, “Paul’s Boutique,” the Beastie Boys’ song “An Evening At Home With Shadrach, Meshach And Abednego” illustrated the group’s interest in using their music to reference historical and culturally significant concepts. While the album’s popularity grew quietly among a loyal base and the video was highly acclaimed for it’s unique visual style, the song was more about the Beastie Boys and less about the world around them.


The Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego reference was likely a commentary on the Beastie Boys’ own struggle to create a distinct style and stay faithful to their own musical tastes in the face of a hip-hop industry that had not yet adopted the art of heavy sampling. This much like how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego maintained a commitment to their own values in the face of King Nebuchadnezzar.


Since 1999 and Adam Horovitz’s public apology for their “ignorant” lyrics this interest in using music as a medium for social and cultural commentary has grown tremendously. For some, this was not a welcome change. In his review of the Beastie Boys most recent album, “To the 5 Boroughs,” Dimitri Ehrlich wrote:



"…it’s a shame that the only thing really new here is a recurring impulse to insert a political message that drains the fun from several of these otherwise harmlessly retro efforts. In the electro-tinged “It Takes Time to Build,” the Beasties rail against hatred, SUVs, environmental destruction, the national debt and “a president we didn’t elect.”


All nice sentiments, but not particularly compelling rap lyrics. Considering that the Beastie Boys reached epic MTV stardom in videos where they trashed a house in their fight for their right to party it’s hard to believe that this is even a review of the same group. On the other hand, this type of response to the Beastie Boys’ newfound political conscience may exist predominately because of where they came from as opposed to a non-cumulative review of the album as it stands today.


Throughout their career the Beastie Boys have consistently pioneered new ideas, styles and approaches. Simultaneously, however, their entire existence is based upon a genre and culture that was completely borrowed and appropriated in its own right: hip-hop. In some ways the Beastie Boys’ most recent approach to music is a continuation of their practice of borrowing old ideas, but giving it their own Beastie spin.


This actually bodes well for the Beastie Boys because although some old fans may have a hard time swallowing their new shtick, there certainly is a precedent for success. And who knows, seeing as the Beasties were able to bring hip-hop to nerdy Jews all over suburban America, maybe they can bring old-school political music to the consumer culture that dominates today’s pop and hip-hop audience.


The Beastie Boy's newest album, titled Hot Sauce Committee Part 2, is schedule to be released in Spring 2011 on Capital.


This article first appeared on Leadel.net and was reprinted with permission.

Related articles: (Beastie Boys, Rap, Hip-Hop)

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