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Profile of '80s Rap-Rock Pioneers Beastie Boys

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Profile of '80s Rap-Rock Pioneers Beastie Boys
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Def Jam/Columbia

Formed:

1979 in New York City

Core '80s Group Members:

  • Mike D (born Michael Diamond on November 20, 1965 in New York City) - Raps, vocals, drums, percussion, keyboards (1979-present)
  • Adam Yauch/MCA (born Adam Nathaniel Yauch on August 5, 1964 in Brooklyn, NY, died May 4, 2012 in New York City) - MC, vocals, bass guitar, keyboards, turntables (1979-2012)
  • Ad-Rock/King Ad-Rock (born Adam Keefe Horovitz on October 31, 1966 in South Orange, NJ) - Raps, vocals, guitar, keyboards (1983-present)

Other Key '80s Members:

  • Kate Schellenbach (born January 5, 1966 in New York City) - Drums (1979-1984)
  • John Berry - Guitar (1979-1983)

Overview:

For better or for worse (and sometimes, during the '90s, it got pretty bad), the Beastie Boys helped create a new genre in rap-rock that captured the imagination of music fans in a big way both commercially and critically. As one of rap's first and, certainly, most successful white groups, the trio burst on the scene with one of the top-selling albums of the '80s, 1986's Licensed to Ill. A transition from hardcore punk to hip-hop became the key to not only the Beastie Boys' initial success but also their ability to sustain an experimental career through the years.

Early Years:

The two founding and longest-tenured members of the Beastie Boys (Mike D and Adam "MCA" Yauch) came together as early teens to form a hardcore band, and the group spent several years pursuing that style in the New York City scene. In fact, very few early fans of the group could have seen the transition to hip-hop coming in any way, although there did seem to be a thread connecting the initial band's juvenile hardcore with the party rock vibe of Licensed to Ill. When Horowitz joined, the group's future began to come together, against considerable odds.

Beastie Boys' "Overnight" Success:

The immediate response to the group felt sudden to some onlookers, but actually the post-1983 Beastie Boys had been blazing a rap-rock trail of consequence for two years following the release of their first hip-hop track, "Cooky Puss." Hooking up with fledgling producer and, later, impresario du jour Rick Rubin certainly didn't hurt, either, and the trio built up momentum through high-profile opening slots on prominent tours for acts ranging from Madonna to Public Image Ltd. to Run-DMC. The tracks "Fight for Your Right" and "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" became instant hits, and the group dominated much of 1986 and 1987.

Avoiding the Sophomore Slump:

Following a successful but somewhat controversy-laden 1987 world tour, the Beastie Boys cut ties with Rubin and Def Jam Records, going back into the studio in 1988 with the intent of recording a more mature follow-up. 1989's Paul's Boutique was released to slightly less commercial fanfare, but critics responded even more favorably to the group's second major label release, this time made for Capitol Records. "Hey Ladies" was a modest hit single from the album, but the band attained its goal of building a reputation as serious artists.

The '90s and Beyond:

The Beastie Boys responded wisely and eclectically to the rise of alternative rock by expanding their sound during the '90s. The group's three LPs of this period (1992's Check Your Head, 1994's Ill Communication, and 1998's Hello Nasty) continued an impressive multi-platinum streak, including No. 1 spots on the Billboard album charts for the latter two. The new millennium has also been kind to the trio despite sparse releases, most recently in 2011 with a new album, Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2, and a 2012 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Sadly, Yauch died on May 4, 2012 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
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