Following on nicely from our post on Run DMC and Aerosmith we look at the other big rap-rock hit of the 80’s and the Jewish trio who changed hip-hop, the Beastie Boys.
In 1986 hip-hop was still in it’s infancy, barely 10 years old and still viewed by many as a bit of a novelty, notwithstanding the success of ‘Walk This Way’ and the role it played in bringing the sound of guys rapping in to the mainstream. However, Run DMC hadn’t managed to sustain the level of success and in commercial terms at least their career would be one of slightly diminishing returns.
The Beastie Boys arrived on the scene just at the moment when hip-hop needed a group to gatecrash the mainstream and push it to the next level. If one group could make a million selling album and have a string of hits from it the knock on effect would be to send the rest of the industry looking for their own million seller. It would mean more investment in talent, and quite simply more money means more space to grow and develop. Hip-hop needed to leave infancy and go through a stroppy. noisy, attitude-laden adolescence en route to adulthood. The Beastie Boys were the living, breathing, shouting and screaming embodiment of that adolescence.
Hailing from New York, they started out as a 4 piece punk band called The Young Aborigines releasing an EP Polly Wog Stew, before changing their name (thankfully) and releasing their first hip-hop single Cookie Puss in 1983. After this they trimmed down to the trio of Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond, Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz, and Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch and turned to hip-hop full time.
It was around this time they began working with a disc-jockey in their live shows called Rick Rubin, who was just about to set up his own record label with the promoter Russell Simmons. The label would be called Def Jam and and would go on to become the first truly global hip-hop label. Rubin would go on to become one of the most well known producers in the world working with rock and hip-hop acts alike.
The Beastie Boys were one of the first acts to sign to the label and the group and Rubin quickly set about making their debut LP Licensed To Ill. The idea was to retain some of the punk-rock attitude and indeed even some of it’s guitars and make a record which could take what ‘Walk This Way’ had started in terms of crashing not just a black/white colour divide but also a stylistic separation, and markedly increase hip-hop’s audience whilst breathing new life in to rock music at the same time.
Released in early 1987, (You’ve Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) was one of the biggest hits of the Beastie Boys career, and to this day is one of their signature hits. Written by Yauch with a friend called Tom ‘Tommy Triphammer’ Cushman, the song was originally intended as a parody of so-called ‘party’ songs like Smokin’ In The Boys Room, however the irony was lost on most people and would contribute in a large way to the early image of the band as whiny, obnoxious, and crassly bone-headed, one which they would later shed and dismiss.
With it’s instantly memorable riff, and the Beastie’s live-wire New York attitude, Fight For Your Right became a worldwide hit reaching number 7 in the US and number 11 in the UK, as well as hitting the top 20 in a dozen or so other places. Suddenly the band were everywhere, notoriously so in fact. The sense of moral panic they created was short-lived but palpable at the time. And for many kids, particularly white kids, here was a band talking about arguing with parents and teenage rebellion to a kick-ass soundtrack. This winning combination had a huge impact on the way hip-hop was viewed both by the record buying public and the industry itself. By crossing over in to rock yet still retaining all the elements that make them a hip-hop group they showed that the two musics, far from being hostile towards each other could actually exist to great mutual benefit, in terms of both the music and the business.
The video itself, showing the trio crashing a ‘square’ party and eventually triggering a massive custard-pie fight, would go on to get heavy rotation on MTV. It would also establish a recurring comedic element in their videos, their often utterly silly sense of humour being an essential part of their make-up. As a small aside having been foraged from supermarket waste due to the lack of a budget, apparently the cream used in the pies was off and smelt really bad. Yuck…
Fast forward to the songs 25th anniversary and we get ‘Fight For Your Right Revisted’, directed by Yauch and featuring Seth Rogen, Elijah Wood and Danny McBride as Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA respectively. Ostensibly a video for the single ‘Make Some Noise’ from their final album Hot Sauce Committee pt.II, the film picks up from the end of the original video just as they leave the party. What follows is the band raising all kinds of drunken hell before coming face-to-face with older versions of themselves played by John C. Reilly, Will Ferrell. and Jack Black respectively who arrive in a Back To The Future-style De Lorean car and challenge them to a dance-off. The video contains cameo appearances from a plethora of others, many for a second or two, such as Steve Buscemi, Alicia Silverstone, Susan Sarandon, Ted Danson, Orlando Bloom, and even eventually the Beastie Boys themselves.
By the time Adam Yauch had sadly passed away in 2012 and the Beastie Boys ceased to be they had sold something in the region of 40 million albums worldwide and become recognised as one of the most influential and successful hip-hop acts of all time. ‘Fight For Your Right’ was where it all started, not just for them but for hip-hop in general, bringing it a new level of recognition and broadening it’s appeal. The Beastie Boys had crashed the party and kicked the doors wide open. Three Jewish guys had proved hip-hop could be culturally universal, and that it could also rock like a mother if it wanted to.