Punk rockers in their youth, hip-hop legends in their prime and influential in music and politics beyond. Seminal NYC hip-hop trio The Beastie Boys have influenced countless artists around the world. They recently released the Beastie Boys Book, a retrospective on the career and legacy of Mike D, Ad Rock and the late MC A. In this special edition of the OMR Podcast, OMR founder Philipp Westermeyer caught up with founding member Mike D in Berlin to discuss the new book, the band’s legacy, why print sucks and coping with the loss of Adam “MC A” Yauch.
From hit songs like “Fight for your right (to party)” and “Sabotage,” and epic hip-hop albums “Paul’s Boutique” and “Check your Head” to their Grand Royale record label and the Tibet Freedom Concerts in the 90s, the Beastie Boys legacy is as influential as it is difficult to pin down. With the new Beastie Boys Book, the surviving Beasties, Mike D and Ad Rock, put their legendary story in their words and gave fans a archival document on a career that spanned three decades.
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Although a book seems like an odd choice of medium given today’s digital tendencies, it makes more sense when seen in the context of the Beastie Boys’ genesis: NYC in the early 80s. “All these musicians, all these artists, all these DJs just doing their thing at the same time. Paris and London may have had something similar going on, too, but this book helps explain the context of what created the Beastie Boys,” founding Beastie Boy Michael “Mike D” Diamond told OMR founder Philipp Westermeyer. “The new book is like a Beastie Boys’ museum, just not as pretentious as a museum,” Mike D said.
“Print is a pain in the ass”
Mike D is quick to point, however, that there are certain advantages that today’s artists have at their disposal. “Print is a pain in the ass. That’s why print media has died,” he said laughing. “You have to spend a lot of effort to make something that in most cases doesn’t last that long.” And from a band promotional aspect, social media certainly would have made it easier for the Beastie Boys to focus on their art. “Distribution is not a physical thing anymore. Everything is streamlined now, so that everything is about what your expression is. It would have made our lives a lot easier.”
The other benefit, according to Mike D, is the direct line of communication that social media enables between artists and fans. “Communicating in the 90s were just so inefficient. Now you have these direct to people outlets that everybody’s using. We founded our label Grand Royal to be able to put out what we want, when we want and to be able to communicate with our audience.”
Despite Mike D’s acknowledgement that social media platforms have made the promotion game much easier, Mike D is very reserved when it comes to taking to social to boost his profile, to spread his political opinions or to plug Beastie Boys’s stuff. “We don’t feel like we need to add more noise to the world. We want to focus on making what we’re making and use those platforms to get our stuff out there.”
“If there is an open look, we’re taking an open look.”
Anyone who is familiar with the Beastie Boys knows that they stood for innovation (their 1989 album “Paul’s Boutique” was the first to use widespread sampling), politics (the Tibetan Freedom Concert and outspoken #MeToo-esque advocacy some 20 years prior to the movement) and integrity when it come to being commercial or “selling out.” “We came from a punk-rock ethos and were more concerned with our art, then making money off it. Despite the punk-rock roots, however, the BBOYS are not and never were per se anti financial gain. “It’s not for me to say if selling out is wrong. And we’re ok with partnering with brands if it fits. If there’s an open look, we’re taking the open look.”
Check out the full conversation between Mike D and Philipp Westermeyer below:
OMR Podcast with the Beastie Boys’ Mike D at a glance:
- On the brand-new Beastie Boys Book and the promotional tour (0:36)
- On what inspired the Beasties to choose a book as the medium to tell their story (2:41)
- On how early-80s NYC was responsible for shaping what ultimately became the Beastie Boys (5:24)
- On the irony of today’s billion-dollar hip-hop industry given its initial status (6:54)
- On the importance of creative control in their music and their book (8:30)
- On how Paul’s Boutique ended up being a catalyst for creating the Beasties’ own label, Grand Royal (10:26)
- On working with legendary photographer and video director Spike Jonze (11:29)
- On the continued existence of the Beastie Boys “brand” after the death of founding member Adam “MC A” Yauch. (12:14)
- On brands the Beasties have worked with in the past (14:01)
- On choosing which brands to work with as the Beastie Boys (15:23)
- On the change in acceptance of “being commercial” and how things could have been different if the Beasties were active now (16:42)
- On the Beastie Boys’ streetwear brand Xlarge and other streetwear brands from the early 90s-NYC scene (17:17)
- On how Mike D feels about the Beastie Boys legacy and if they is anything he regrets (20:57)
- On when hip-hop shifted from an underground form of expression to the mainstream (22:19)
- On Mike D’s radio show and how it allows him to explore the current music scene (23:02)
- On why he misses being a performer (24:22)
- On contemporary hip-hop artists have impressed Mike D (26:11)
- On the term “selling out” and he’s not against taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves (27:41)
- On Mike D’s approach to using platforms to express his opinions and to promote their art (28:54)
- On his role as a music producer (31:33)
- On how he defines success personally (33:27)
- On why Mike D decided on smaller theaters as the venue for the Beastie Boys live show for the book (34:21)
- On comprising with your art (35:31)
- On shiny new toys, ubiquitous today that he wishes were around during the Beastie Boys’ heyday (36:20)
- On any opportunities he’d wished he’d have taken but didn’t for one reason or another (38:48)
- On his connection to Berlin and Germany (38:41)
- On the current political situation in the US (39:30)
- On wanting to get involved in politics (40:51)
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