The Beastie Boys: All Growns Up (Relix Revisited)
If they’ve done anything over a 25-year career, the Beastie Boys have definitely acquired “a certain feel” to their own “shit” as well. If the group began life as a punk band, its infant years found Diamond, Yauch and Horovitz gradually fusing the revolutionary sounds coming from the Bowery with those emanating from the Bronx. And while blending punk (if only in attitude at first) with rap seemed unusual or even unholy to some, it seemed natural to them.
“There was a commonality of energy and attitude in both musics,” says Mike. “It’s easy to look at the outward trimmings of each, and what people look like, and consider that they’re very disparate forms of music. But when we were growing up, going to punk rock and new wave-type clubs, they all played hip-hop records as soon as they came out, and it all seemed to fit together very naturally.”
With the Rick Rubin-produced juggernaut License to Ill (1986), the Beastie Boys became the first rap group to hit No. 1 on the Billboard album charts – with their debut album, no less. While songs like “Fight for Your Right” and “Girls” turned them into heroes for the younger generation, it also earned them something of a meathead tag. “There’s tons of stuff that we said and did on License to Ill where we were joking around and it was completely misconstrued and taken out of context,” says Mike. “We were joking around and unfortunately the jokes were too often lost. We sort of learned the hard way.”
Three years later, the band reinvented itself with the ambitious Paul’s Boutique (1989), their first collaboration with beat squad The Dust Brothers and producer Mario Caldato Jr. If respected for its musicality, the album was a commercial disappointment. Afterwards, the Beasties dropped out of site, using a label advance to build its own studio, where they would spend three years reinventing themselves through the songs that would comprise their resurrection, Check Your Head (1992).
“The record company people never asked what was going on, they never came to the studio,” says Caldato. “We recorded whatever we wanted to, edited a lot of stuff, listened to a lot of stuff – that’s why it sounds so different, because tracks were done months – or years – apart and it was a collection of three years of horsing around in the studio. We put our hearts into it and that came through.”
In that time, Yauch would travel to India, which would later spark him to create the Tibetan Freedom Concerts, Horovitz would dabble in film and Mike D built a house. The tour for the album – the group’s first since playing arenas on the License to Ill tour – marked a rebirth for the group, who packed small theaters and clubs. By the time of 1994’s smash follow-up, Ill Communication, and especially by the release of its follow-up, 1998’s Hello Nasty, the group was a commercial presence again, while baring little resemblance personally to the caricatures they became throughout the ‘80s.
Laughs Ortiz, “When I joined at the end of Ill Communication tour, I came in thinking that it was going to be a big party. But after the show, it was kind of like, ‘I’m going to my room, I’m going to chill.’ It’s like, ‘Wait a minute, nobody’s going out? Nobody’s going to the bar? Nobody’s going to go fuck shit it up?’ So I had to find that myself. To this day, it’s been that way.”
Since 1990, the Beastie Boys have sold more than 15.2 million records in the U.S. alone, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Through all of that, they remain as tight as teenage buddies.
“I think it’s obvious to people that these guys love each other and enjoy each other’s company and working together in every way,” says Money Mark, (aka Mark Ramos-Nishita). "And that’s impressive to me. In order for their thing to work, there can’t be any attitude stuff. It would totally mess it up if these weird attitudes were clashing. “With them, there’s this ongoing negotiation, and it’s cool to see when those guys are together. They each have their own shape in that triangle – and they fill it up. I think it’s subliminal at this point: When they’re backstage talking about an idea for this one riff that’s gonna go on this one part of a song, they’re all together.” Confirms Ortiz: “It’s a straight-up team. As much as they joke about basketball plays in interviews, they do that because they’re a team – that’s the way they think.”
That said, if they’re as close as brothers, they can bicker like them, too, says Mike D: “That bond enables us to keep going, but the fact that we do have a close relationship doesn’t mean that we always all agree or even get along. Not unlike any family bond, sometimes you’re not always going to agree. But disagreement or adversity is not such a bad thing.”
“It’s definitely more than just three guys coming into work and making songs so we can make our money,” Horovitz says, recalling the recording of The Mix-Up. “We’re friends hanging out, trying to one-up each others with these crazy outfits. That’s what really made this album fun.”