July 30, 2009 – 4:12 am

After the reign of Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr Dre (remember it was the early ’90s), it was still possible to snare the No. 1 spot with a rap album that did not glorify those shoot-’em-ups. The Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication shot to No. 1… without a bullet, so it would appear. With funk-punk-(even monk as in the Beasties’ case)-thrash-jazz-and-classical, theirs is a musical hybrid that has led some critics to call it Collision Pop. Keith Cahoon gets a one-to-one with Mike D of the Beastie Boys in an interview published in BigO #104 (August 1994).

It was announced in July 2009 that Adam Yauch (aka MCA) of the Beastie Boys has been diagnosed with a tumor in a parotid (salivary) gland. But back in the ’80s when the Beastie Boys became the first rap act to top the Billboard chart with Licensed To Ill, getting seriously ill, lasting this long in the business and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007 must be the furthest things on their mind.

Originally made up of Yauch, Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, the Boys showed that they weren’t one hit wonders, by first confounding their fans and critics with Paul’s Boutique (the follow-up to Licensed and which showed the artistic side of the group) and then scoring another No. 1 album with Ill Communication in 1994. Soon, Lollapalooza and the Free Tibet Concerts brought them even more into the limelight.

KEITH CAHOON: It seems like punk is making a comeback these days. You know, Fugazi has become huge, Green Day is charting, Bad Religion is on a major label and charting. Why do you think that now punk has made this kind of resurgence?

MIKE D: I think of it as genuine music being made by genuine people. I think a lot of that just gets to people. I figure the music that’s coming from the heart will eventually reach the people. It’s hard to say - a lot of times it baffles me as well (laughs). It’s really weird. It’s almost weird being a part of it anyway…

You know we put out that Some Old Bullshit compilation? And we had no idea of it entering the charts when we put it out, the idea was just to put it out and make it available. It’s like a totally weird thing, it’s not like a current record at all. It’s a hardcore record we made years ago. It entered the charts and that kinda freaked us out.

Another recent change in music is that the pop metal bands like Poison, Warrant and Winger are all kind of crashing and burning, and the punk-influenced stuff, the grunge and speed metal are really taking off. You know, like Pantera debuted at No. 1. That, to me, is really amazing. Are you into any metal, hard rock things, funk-metal hybrids?

Um, I don’t know, I couldn’t really say I’m into that (laughs). That kind of music I don’t listen to a lot.

Okay, an obvious but difficult question, you guys are white, Jewish and you’re playing a music mostly associated with blacks. And in this arena you have people like Griff and Farrakan making their stands, industry people like Tommy Silverman and Jerry Heller being verbally assaulted mostly over being white and Jewish. And we have white rappers like Vanilla Ice and Marky Mark who while they try very hard to be “down” (with blacks), are like punching bags for critics.

This never seems to be an issue for you. How do you pull that off? [Note: Professor Griff, Public Enemy’s “Minister of Information” and leader of Public Enemy’s plastic Uzi-carrying paramilitary security force Security Of The First World, was quoted in Face magazine in 1988 saying “cats naturally miaow, dogs naturally bark and whites naturally murder and cheat,” in the Washington Post in 1989, he was quoted saying “the majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe” (is caused by Jews). These and similar statements created tremendous controversy and temporarily caused the break-up of Public Enemy. Minister Louis Farrakan is the controversial head of the Nation of Islam. He has often been accused of making anti-Semitic and racist statements. Tommy Silverman is the white, Jewish founder of the very successful hip-hop record label Tommy Boy Records. Jerry Heller is the white, Jewish former manager of NWA and manager of Eazy-E. (NWA’s Eazy-E died in 1995.)]

Um… I don’t know actually (laughs). We definitely don’t know the answer to that. I mean we got into doing hip-hop, listening to hip-hop, performing hip-hop, really at a point in the history of hip-hop itself early on and where it was really kind of inconceivable that there were gonna be any white people in hip-hop. And then when we put out our first hip-hop singles, say like Hold It Now, Paul Revere, New Style, and it became a big record. Some of the hip-hop community were into it kinda before anybody knew who we were…

We would get up in these clubs, you know, in all these hip-hop spots, and people would almost look at us like we were from Mars. And we’re up there rhymin’. Yeah, it’s hard for me to say. The new generation, the kids that come along, I’ll meet some of them and I’ll be a fan of their record and they’ll be like “No, man. I grew up listening to your shit.” In that way, I feel kinda weird but then I realise that it’s cool ’cause then you know they were listening to our stuff, like seven years ago. (laughs) So yeah, they grew up on it.

Your first album was massive, yet it brought on friction between Beastie Boys and Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin. Then after you guys became big with that record you stopped playing Fight For Your Right, which was your big hit. It seems you tried to distance yourself from that in some ways. Looking back on it now, how do you feel about your first record?

Well, I think in terms of the record itself, we’re still real proud of it. A lot of the music is pretty amazing. And it’s definitely what we wanted to make at the time. So, that’s all a record can really be. The bad stuff is more like moments that happened around the record as opposed to being on the record.

At one time there was a rumour that Def Jam was going to put a record out called White House. What ever became of that or was that just bullshit?

That was mostly a kind of scare tactic kind of thing Russell did to kind like… some perverse way to like pressure to try to make us go back to Def Jam but nope.

OK. Your second album, coming after your first, was considered disappointing sales-wise when it came out, but contrary to most rap records it sells well years later. Tower’s magazine Pulse did a poll of the best albums in the last 10 years and Paul’s Boutique came out the highest album of all your albums. How do you feel about that album now?

Well, I mean you know, we’re real proud of that record in a lot of ways and a lot of people still seem to be gettin’ into it.

So what do you attribute to the difference in sales between your first and your second albums?

I don’t know… I guess… a million reasons. I mean, I can’t go into all of them (laughs), but um… you know, we made a very different record so I don’t know if it was such a bad thing that happened in terms of not selling as much.

Right now in rap music, the “gangster” thing is so huge. How do you feel about that? Is it all about just people tellin’ it like it is or do you think a lot of this is just marketing maneuvers? Especially I think of LL Cool J, he tried to put off this real “hard” record and it didn’t work for him.

Well, I’m real hesitant to comment on the categories of music ’cause in a lot of ways, I think that’s misleading. A lot of rap groups doing a lot of very different stuff, all these independent things, and a lot of people lump it all together, kinda address it as one group. You know, that’s always a dangerous case to dismiss something straight away. I think you have to listen to each one and judge them on their own merits.

The other thing is, if people actively market rappers and they try to develop the advertising money into a big budget - a lot of times it fails because kids are smarter than that and well, at the same time, I think it’s kinda ironic ’cause now you’ve also got all these record labels running around trying to say, ‘OK, well, since the market is really hardcore, we’ll do a big campaign aimed at the underground.’ The marketing just gets hardcore that way. (laughs) It’s really ironic.

Yeah, hardcore marketing of “hardcore.”

Yeah, exactly (laughs). Everybody running around trying to MAKE A BUCK!

At the moment, it seems that to be a mass murderer is something to aspire to.

To me that’s the whole negative thing about “gangster” rap. There are records that come out that are very articulate, quality, from-the-heart records. Then there are records that are just emulating those records, diluted forms. But people will always be able to decipher eventually, they can tell if it’s fake.

About your new album, I think that you guys have always mixed things up quite a lot but the new album seems really diverse. You have hip-hop and punk and jazz and dub. How do you guys usually go about building your tracks?

Um… I don’t know … all different ways. A lot of the stuff is from NY and then we did a lot of it in our studio in LA. So sometimes we’ll get together and start doing a groove and Mario, our engineer (is) on the multi-track, and we’ll just jam… or sometimes we’ll take old tapes of stuff that we’d been recording and we’ll go through them and find really cool moments and they make… music. We find something and we do overdubs.

Well, with the large variety of stuff you have on your record, I get the impression that you must have a huge record collection. What kind of stuff do you listen to lately?

We’re all like, vinyl collectors. We’re all like fiends.

How many records do you think you have?

Last time I checked like… over three thousand and that was more than two years and one tour ago. Has to be at least four by now.

Do you have any idea what kind of tour you’re going to do? Is it just going to be Tokyo?

No, I’m sure we’ll do Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo… we’re all up for playing a bunch.

How about elsewhere in Asia?

We wanna play a bunch. We’ve been trying to get our records out into other markets like Indonesia, Hongkong and Korea, but it’s really tough. Like in $ingapore, they don’t want to release our stuff.

Well, actually, all of your albums are banned in $ingapore. [Editor’s note: Not all. Licensed To Ill was even released, via parallel import, with gatefold sleeve and all and Paul’s Boutique was given a general release by EMI. Of course, Check Your Head was a no-no.]

Yeah - these are the problems I’m talking about! (laughs) We really want to put our next album out there and we want to go to all these places and play. Like, we’re down even if there’s only 50 people that show up we want to go.

Are you guys into putting out an album that takes off all your songs that say f*** or something?

We were against it for a long time. Obviously, it’s the principle, given the choice, what we create as we created it. But places like $ingapore… if it’s either available or not available at all, I would take available. I mean, it’s one thing if it’s like, one chain of stores or something, like “We won’t take your records.” You can find it, you can seek it out and get it. but you have another situation if you can’t get it in an entire country! (laughs)

Note: Keith Cahoon was the former CEO of Tower Records Japan.

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