"Loud, Disgusting, and Without Social Merit": Newsweek's 1987 Profile of the Beastie Boys

Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys, (L-R) Mike Diamond, Adam Horowitz and Adam Yauch, are photographed at the 2006 Sundance film festival in Park City, Utah January 22, 2006. Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Five years ago, Adam Yauch—the founding Beastie Boy widely known as "MCA"—succumbed to cancer. In honor of Yauch's life, here's our 1987 profile of the Beastie Boys, which has never before been available online. The piece, written by Jim Miller and Bill Rabkin, describes a trio of young, bratty punks riding on the success of 1986's Licensed to Ill and "tak[ing] pride in being obnoxious." Yauch later disowned (and apologized for) some of the misogyny and homophobia associated with the Beasties at the time.

The Beastie Boys play the kind of music that parents love to hate. It's loud, disgusting, without redeeming social merit. There are no melodies, no harmonies, no singing—just a relentless flood of raunchy, rapped-out lyrics, punched home by a steady barrage of blaring guitars and synthesized beats. "Bein' bad news is what we're all about," boasts the group on Licensed to Ill, their boisterously delinquent debut album: "We went to White Castle and we got thrown out." Among other things, the Boys lustily hymn the joys of girls, gunplay and getting high—a frosty brew and angel dust are the drugs of choice in their lyrics. This is just the sort of thing that alarms censors. It also keeps the fans coming back for more. The new Beastie Boys album, which the Def Jam label released 14 months ago, is already in the Top 10 and headed higher.

The group takes pride in being obnoxious. In 1985, when they were the opening act for Madonna on her national tour, they braved the catcalls of restive audiences by taunting the crowd with four-letter words. After turning some hotel furniture into kindling wood, they were banned from an English hotel chain. They wanted to call their album "Don't Be a Faggot," but Columbia, which is distributing the album, wouldn't let them. They recorded a new rap to the Beatles' "I'm Down," but straight-arrow Michael Jackson, who now owns the Beatles' song catalog, refused to grant them permission to use the music after hearing their new lyrics.

Interviewed recently in Los Angeles, where they had gone for appearances on American Bandstand and Joan Rivers's show, the Boys spiced almost every sentence with obscenities. "Heavy metal and rap are the only forms of music that sell a lot of records without being on the radio or on MTV," says "Mike D" (Michael Diamond, 20) in a rare moment of reflection. "They make an obvious combination. It's a real teen-oriented subculture music." The trio's other members, "MCA" (Adam Yauch, 22) and "King Ad-Rock" (Adam Horovitz, 19, the son of playwright Israel Horovitz), agree that the band wants only to bring a little "fun" into the lives of all the 13-year-old girls who buy their records.

Onstage, they're slobs. They like to wear T shirts and sneakers and baseball caps. They shower each other with beer, while they flail and grimace and chant to the pummeling, prerecorded jackhammer rhythm tracks played by the disc jockeys who accompany them. During a recent appearance at the Ritz in New York—the 35-city, Western half of the Beasties' national tour kicks off this week—bouncers were at the ready, in order to repel the steady stream of fans who stormed the stage, doing their part to live up to the group's riotous reputation.

The atmosphere of punk chaos that surrounds the trio is not accidental. The group began to take shape five years ago when Diamond and Yauch were both in a hardcore punk band called The Young and the Useless. In 1983, after Horovitz had joined them, they changed their name and began to experiment with rap and hip-hop, eventually taking the plunge into the "b-boy" scene that was then in full flower in the streets of New York.

The same year they hooked up with the svengali who would make their fortune, Rick Rubin, at 19 a seasoned veteran of the punk scene. Like the Beastie Boys themselves, Rubin was a college kid from a nice Jewish home. But Rubin had a dream. Like the legendary rock producer Phil Spector, he hoped to start up his own independent record label, become a producer and create streetwise pop records that were tougher and harder and hipper than anything else around; and, like the legendary Sam Phillips, who first recorded Elvis Presley, he succeeded in finding some white boys with a black musical feel.

The Beastie Boys were Rubin's dream come true. As his partner in Def Jam Recordings, Russell Simmons, told a reporter last year: "The fact that they're white is an opportunity." He should know: Simmons is black; his brother is "Run" in Run-D.M.C., the multimillion-selling rap act that Rubin also coproduces. "A lot of people," as Simmons put it, "still won't watch 10 niggers on a basketball team. I think the Beastie Boys are the best teen group in the world, period."

From the start, the Beasties showed a flair for pastiche, stitching together the scowl and yowl of the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten with the rat-a-tat-tat braggadocio of Run-D.M.C. By the time they met Rubin, they had already won a core of black fans with an X-rated New York street hit called "Cookie Puss." Together with Rubin, the trio set to work adding another facet to their music, mixing in the crunching guitar riffs, tar-pit rhythms, dumb misogyny and cartoonish sadism of heavy metal, normally a preserve of pasty-faced, long-haired white boys.

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Their new album, which emerged only after months of careful studio work, welds these disparate influences into a varied and meticulously arranged sequence of bratty gestures. The first impression is of a raucous frat party gone haywire—an over-the-top hip-hop version of the film Animal House. The chanted raps are short, sharp, full of silly non sequiturs: "My pistol is loaded / I shot Betty Crocker / Deliver Colonel Sanders / Down to Davy Jones' locker." At the same time, the music is full of surprising subtleties: Rubin has taken every element, from the bursts of distorted guitar to the snatches of the theme from the old television Mr. Ed, and artfully created a series of lurching, constantly shifting rhythmic patterns.

For all the noisey nihilism of this music, Licensed to Ill is finally a perverse kind of slapstick comedy, another version of the phony theater of cruelty staged by professional wrestlers and heavy-metal rock bands and Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry. It's a put-on. Still, when the Beastie Boys gleefully shout, "You gotta fight for your right to PAAARTY," you can almost taste the beer and smell the barf. Brace yourself—welcome to the raw new world of rock's hottest new act.

This article originally appeared in the February 2, 1987 issue of Newsweek.