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The History of the Beastie Boys

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Formed in 1979 in New York City, the Beastie Boys were originally a hardcore punk band. But it was when they started getting into hip hop in the early '80's that they found their early success. Their 1986 debut was the 1st rap album to debut on the top of the Billboard chart. Since then, the Beasties haven't been afraid to mix different genres and experiment with sampling and other audio techniques, which has helped to grow their audience outside of the rap world. In this video, we take a look at the history of the Beastie Boys.

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Early Punk Roots

Originally a hardcore punk band, the Beastie Boys formed in New York in 1979. The early line-up consisted of Adam Yauch, Michael Diamond, Kate Schellenbach, and John Berry. Though the group played together for a few years and released an EP entitled Polly Wog Stew, Berry and Schellenbach eventually left.

Getting Into Hip Hop

The Beastie Boys released their first hip hop track, “Cooky Puss,” in 1983 shortly after Adam Horowitz joined the band. The song’s underground success brought more rap into the trio’s live sets, and prompted them to adopt hip hop stage names: Yauch as MCA, Diamond as Mike D and Horowitz as Ad-Rock.

Rap Debut

In 1985, the EP Rock Hard was released on Def Jam Records, and this marked the band’s rap debut. The Beastie Boys continued to gain exposure by playing shows and even contributed to the soundtrack of the movie, “Krush Groove,” with the song, “She’s On It.”

Number-One Rap Record

Their first full-length album was 1986’s Licensed to Ill. It became the first rap record to hit number-one on the Billboard 200, and was the best-selling rap effort of the 1980s. The positively reviewed Licensed to Ill contained satire, street beats, and b-boy jokes, and also produced one of their best-known songs, “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)”

"Paul's Boutique"

After a controversial 1987 tour that was plagued with arrests and lawsuits, the trio signed with Capitol Records. Their next album was 1989’s sample-heavy Paul’s Boutique. Though this album was not initially as successful as their previous release, it went on to become a landmark album for hip hop due to its varied lyrics and sounds. Its lead single was the top forty tune, “Hey Ladies.”

Crossover Success

The Beasties’ next album, Check Your Head, dropped in 1992 on the group’s own label, Grand Royal. The band decided to play their own instruments this time around. This allowed them to get back to their punk rock roots, and experiment with others genres like funk and jazz. Peaking at the tenth position of the Billboard chart, Check Your Head spawned the rap and modern rock crossover hit, “So What’cha Want.”

"Ill Communication"

Two years later, a compilation called Some Old Bullshit was released, and this album featured their early punk recordings. This was followed by Ill Communication, which gave the Beastie Boys their second number-one album. It received mostly favorable reviews, and generated the rap-core single, “Sabotage,” which was accompanied by a Spike Jonze-directed music video.

Live Shows

Prior to the release of their 1998 album, Hello Nasty, the Beastie Boys played several shows. Some of the most notable of these were their 1994 co-headlining set at Lollapalooza and the 1996 Tibetan Freedom Concert, which was organized by the Beasties’ own MCA in support of the cause of Tibetan independence.

"Hello Nasty"

Featuring the contributions of turntablist Mix Master Mike, Hello Nasty melded together different genres and premiered at number-one on the Billboard chart. The Grammy-winning record yielded the popular track, “Intergalactic.”

Solo Records

In 1999, their first compilation of greatest hits, b-sides and rarities, 1999’s Beastie Boys Anthology: The Sounds of Science came out. The trio then spent the next few years working on projects outside of the band, including solo records and supporting political causes.

Self-Produced Record and Concert Film
The record, To the 5 Boroughs, dropped in 2004. The self-produced number-one album featured the successful single, “Ch-Check It Out.” Two years later, the Beastie Boys released the concert film, “Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!” which was recorded during their sold-out Madison Square Garden show. The movie was compiled using footage from audience members who had been given cameras to shoot the entire performance.

Instrumental Effort

In 2007, the band released The Mix-Up, which was an album that consisted entirely of instrumental performances. This record won the Beastie Boys another Grammy. The release of the trio’s next album was then delayed to allow MCA to undergo cancer treatment.

"Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2"
Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 finally came out in 2011. The record once again featured sampling and the mixing of genres. Its first single was “Too Many Rappers,” and it garnered the group a Grammy nomination. That same year, the Beasties released the short film, "Fight For Your Right Revisited," filled with celebrity appearances.

One of the Most Successful Hip Hop Acts

With multiple number-one albums under their belt, as well as popular hits in more than one musical genre, the Beastie Boys are one of the world’s most successful and longest-lived hip hop acts.

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