Rap Hip Hops Into the ’Burbs: Beastie Boys Break Through

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The following is an excerpt from Scott Goldfine’s book Everything Is on THE ONE: The First Guide of Funk, Chapter 8, Let’s Take It to the Stage. Get your copy of the book today at Amazon.com.

Rick Rubin was at the helm for the Beastie Boys’ groundbreaking debut album, Licensed to Ill, which I bought the day it came out in 1986 and proceeded to be blown away. The beats, grooves, unique vocalizations, outrageous stream-of-consciousness lyrics, crisp production and overall inventiveness was staggering. At the time of its release the Beasties were a small-time novelty act known primarily by a few club-released 12-inchers and being booed off the stage opening for Madonna’s Like a Virgin Tour. That was all about to change in the blink of an eye and the worlds of rock and rap, not to mention American pop culture, would be forever altered.

With “Fight for Your Right (to Party)” emerging as a breakout smash single and getting into heavy MTV rotation, the Beastie Boys not only swiftly became the most prominent white rap act ever but also the hottest rap act of all time period. They would soon even eclipse the popularity and sales of their fellow New Yorker idols Run-DMC.

For me the seminal moment took place during the spring of 1987 when I (as I often did) hit Palm Springs, Calif., for the traditional week of spring break madness. To my astonishment, literally every vehicle cruising down the main drag was blasting Licensed to Ill. Never in all my years heading out to the desert destination had I heard one album dominating the airwaves to that extent. But what made it even more amazing was here were all these white college- and high school-age kids fully embracing what had to that point been primarily a black and inner-city phenomenon.

After being almost universally dismissed (in many cases loathed as much or more than disco) for years as a fad, not being “real” music and of little interest beyond its core demographic, rap’s sound, style and attitude had shattered those barriers to score a bulls-eye right into the heart of America’s white youth culture. Despite being seen by most nonbelievers as nothing more than untalented, decadent, Budweiser-swilling, misogynistic buffoons, the Beastie Boys had profoundly disrupted the musical landscape and were laughing all the way to the bank.

The truth was they were deceptively talented, quite inventive with a punk rock influence, didn’t take themselves too seriously and much of their persona was tongue-in-cheek. They were equal parts the Three Stooges and the Three Wise Men. It would not be overstating the Beastie Boys’ impact to compare their breaking down the doors for rap to how Elvis Presley crossed over and legitimized rock and roll.

I saw the Beasties at the apex of their popularity and decadence, complete with caged, bikini-clad dancing girls, during the Licensed to Ill Tour at one of my very favorite venues, Los Angeles’ Greek Theater. Even though they would later take up instruments as opposed to merely rapping, as was the case under the stars at the Greek, the Beastie Boys were always more of a studio concoction than live sensation and so their show left me rather nonplussed. But it was quite a scene and a certain moment captured in time.

As a music journalist for Inside Video and Music in 1989, I met up with the Beastie Boys at a house in the Hollywood Hills where they were holed up following their relocation from the East to West Coast during their promotion cycle for Paul’s Boutique. The experience was like hanging out with some stoner high schoolers whose well-off parents were out of town. After a couple of hours of what amounted to idle chit-chat, despite my ongoing efforts to rein them in, they ended the visit by heading out to shoot some hoops. It was a surreal and unforgettable afternoon, and resulted in a kooky cover story (available at funknstuff.net).

For more stories like this, plus funk history, perspective, reviews, ratings, rankings, memoirs and more – get your very own copy of Everything Is on THE ONE: The First Guide of Funk today at Amazon.com!