I’d sooner not celebrate the fact that License to Ill came out 30 years ago yesterday, which means it’s 29 years since I read The S*n headlines about them getting up to all kinds of wild things during their 1987 UK tour wide-eyed, beginning a hero-worship that lasted just shy of three decades. It’s not that I’m not in awe of their work — it’s just that being reminded that things you have lucid memories of are that old is a scary reminder of your own mortality. One day you young ‘uns will be telling kids to shut up and listen to some real music, before cranking up Lil Yachty on some kind of futuristic device that, if their current creative stalemate continues, probably won’t be made by Apple. I wrote a little retrospective of what the Beastie Boys mean to retro footwear and streetwear for complex. You can read it right HERE or by clicking that image above.
With it being the three-year (which has flown by, as if to remind me how much I’m wasting my life) anniversary of the legendary MCA’s passing early last week, it seemed relevant to have a hunt for something with a Beastie connection. The House of Style interview with Adrock and Mike-D from June 1992 is fairly well documented, but I hadn’t seen the full version of the interview before. I’ve mentioned it here before at some point, but the Porkys1982 YouTube account is one of the very best channels dedicated to a band, and they upped a near 10-minute long version of a Check Your Head era chat about X-Large (in which nobody seems to have told the boys that the Gazelle preempts the Campus) and a certain era of clothing that resonates with them. It’s a great accompaniment to the MTV Sports appearance from the same year, Adrock’s 1995 Valentine’s shopping trip, the 1994 X-Girl fashion show segment, or the 1995 X-Girl film that Nowness unearthed back in 2013 (Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band has some good background on X-Girl too). This Pump It Up interview is also something I hadn’t stumbled upon before. It’s important that the whole Beastie movement’s subcultural role is reiterated time and time again, but it’s also worth underlining how important they were in defining streetwear as we know it now.
On that mid 1990s note, a shoe I saw then completely lost track of has made a reappearance on shoe-selling site, Klekt. I’m not down with blowing up eBay auctions because it’s ungentlemanly, but I’m not sure what the unspoken rules are with Klekt. The Friends SMU of the Air Edge completes the trinity (I know there’s actually more — like the gear created for the Martin cast — but trinity just sounds nice) of Nike TV specials that Nike created in the mid 1990s. The Nike Binford for Home Improvement cast and crew and the Air Seinfeld version of the GTS for Seinfeld cast and crew aren’t as nice as the 2nd Season edition of the Edge specifically for friends of Friends in 1995, even if Friends and Home Improvement are trash compared to Jerry and company’s antics. This is extraordinarily rare. A gentleman by the name of Joe is currently taking offers for these.
Just as some sites seem to have fostered Kitty Genovese syndrome on a global scale, with hordes more likely to whip out the phone to film before they’ll ever call for help, I’ve long felt that social media has a tendency to sustain grieving to the point where it simply becomes crocodile tears. If it’s not a death, it’s a birthday of a dead person, then the anniversary of that death and I felt that I’d become a little hardened to all that. After all, how can you feel real sadness for the passing of somebody you never met? Then Adam Yauch died and I felt guilty for being so cynical, because — trite as it sounds — it genuinely felt like I’d lost a mentor.
This blog can’t be neatly summarised, but I can assure you that at nearly every level, there’s some Beastie Boys influence — despite MCA’s admirable achievements as an individual, I’m afraid that I see the trio as one. Instead I treat the Beastie Boys as a leaping trinity of differently pitched sounds operating in unison. I can’t pin down the people who visit here either, but I know — from comments on skate and clothing entries in particular — that the Beastie Boys had a vast impact on them. The Beastie Boys were a conduit for pretty much every sub-cultural element I’ve ever taken an interest in. Lee Perry, John Holmes, Spike Jonze, Minor Threat, Slayer, Ben Davis (see above for evidence of that brand’s impact on me), adidas Campus, PUMA Clydes and all the rest were all interconnected by Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D’s joyous brain farts of cultural references. Let them decipher it rather than offer a simplified path — those that get it will get it eventually. ‘Grand Royal’ magazine’s frequent journalistic gems opened my eyes to the joys of self-indulgent long form writing, Todd James’ Brooklyn Dust logo is still one of my favourites, the talk of deadstock shoe sourcing (and we’ll forgive them for inadvertently spawning the crappy Sneaker Pimps) and Mike D’s involvement in X-Large is a pivotal moment in street wear.
A fair chunk of the industry I work in is the byproduct of something that the Beastie Boys contributed to significantly and I know, from Russ at Unorthodox Styles’ office on my first job interview there, that they’d made a mark on him too. So I kind of owe them for providing me with a source of income and as a founder member, Yauch can take a fair amount of that gratitude from me. If you operate in the street wear realm at any level, you’ve got to doth a snapback to the man — think back to the X-Fuct era, Nigo doing his homework by studying X-Large’s ape preoccupation (which went full circle when Ad-Rock wore Very Ape and the crew wore and collaborated with Bathing Ape) and MCA wearing a Supreme coach jacket to meet the Dalai Lama. They embraced the internet pretty early on too (I can remember thinking X-Large shunning paper catalogues for a website wasn’t going to catch on — turns out I was wrong). All that and I haven’t even mentioned the music.
From seeing the Beastie Boys get vilified on the cover of ‘The Sun’ when they toured with Madonna, I found myself festooning crudely drawn characters with equally poorly rendered VW logos at the age of 9 in every notebook at school. The Beastie Boys had strippers and the press said that they made fun of disabled kids. As a kid myself, that seemed funny. Just as the charts were riddled with comedy raps, the contents of ‘Licence to Ill’ seemed to fit in perfectly (and in retrospect, given the boys’ misunderstood self-parody, satires like ‘No Sleep Til Bedtime’ were doubly weak). Then they vanished for a minute after cropping up in a Sky Movies classic, ‘Tougher Than Leather’ (despite being regarded as a flop, an album that helped cement my love of hip-hop way more than ‘Raising Hell’ did — I know a few other rap nerds that feel the same). After ads cropped up in the specialist press and ‘Smash Hits’ alike, ‘Paul’s Boutique’ seemed to hit with a thud, despite the deserved good will it amassed later down the line. I especially like the revelation in the articles below that the Beastie Boys horror-comedy film they were meant to make with Russell and Rick — ‘Scared Stupid’— which was going to be followed up by a ‘To Catch a Thief’ remake starring Oran’ Juice Jones was deaded when Molly Ringwald talked Ad-Rock out of making it because it might harm his acting credibility.
My blood boiled when 3rd Bass took potshots at them (“Screaming ‘Hey Ladies’? Why bother?”) at the close of ‘Sons of 3rd Bass’ (Whiteboys calling whiteboys “devils” always confused me). Then the Beastie Boys owned the decade that followed and taught me that being unpleasant to ladies wasn’t that cool, growing up publicly. Not a lot of bands can do that and while the whole instrumental jam and comedy ‘Country Mike’ material never did anything for me, you had to respect the willingness to experiment. Plus they proved to we rap-loving crackers that just being your damn self and getting whiteboy wasted was the key to longevity, rather than haplessly trying to be “down”, and that through a few degrees of separation, pretty much everything was hip-hop in one way or another. I still kind of blame them for inadvertently creating Limp Bizkit and co, but despite that charmless mutant offspring misinterpreting what went before, the good far outweighs the bad.
Skipping from talk of skin colour, how many rap groups from the early 1980s are still together and more importantly, how many would you still pay to see? That’s the real mark of the Beastie Boys’ achievement. Some argued that forty-somethings spitting fly gibberish over distorted drums might have started to lose its appeal as an MP3, but live they could still crush it. Plus, they really seemed to be friends offstage — this was no marriage of convenience, which makes Adam’s passing all the more heartbreaking.
At a push, if I had to pick, MCA was the best rapper of the trio — as with the equally missed Guru, it’s mostly the voice, with those gruff tones counteracting the nasal nerdery at work. I’m particularly fond of his insanely stoned delivery on an early demo of ‘Car Thief’. Yauch’s film work (not dissimilar to George Harrison’s work with Handmade) with Oscilloscope Laboratories is significant too in supporting great output — ‘Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot’, directed by Adam, was strong. This is just a scraping of what MCA achieved too — it’s the art of turning music, art, clothing, film, sport and print into one big playroom, but somehow adding integrity into the mix too. Nobody else will ever match that, but even a handful of lessons learnt are enough to keep things moving.
Goodbye Adam Yauch — cheers for everything.
The images below are taken from this ‘Spin’ article from 1998 that’s a must-read.
Here’s the whole of ‘Tougher Than Leather’ in all its trashy glory. MCA just jeers and pulls some faces when he’s off the stage, but that doesn’t stop the Beastie Boys cameos from being excellent.
Farewell Peter Falk. Forget Burberry’s smart ‘Art of the Trench’ initiative — Peter made ruffled look aspirational. Who wouldn’t want to get one up on smug, murdering company CEOs, landowners and wealthy philanderers and their villainy at the last moment? Detective Columbo wasn’t like the rest of the feds — he did his thing with a shambolic veneer that concealed a mastermind. It’s unlikely that Falk would be too annoyed at being typecast in that role with the whole nation commemorating his passing by pausing by doorways hunched and saying that line in a gruff voice — he was grateful for the Columbo role because he’d been in a succession of TV mobster roles prior to the 1971-2003 run of mysteries (only 68 episodes in 32 years).
Still, Peter’s work with Cassavetes —1970’s ‘Husbands’ (which was the subject of a post here a while back on Ben Gazzara) is a classic and the 1969’s trashy greatness of ‘Machine Gun McCain’ (where they met),1974’s ‘A Woman Under the Influence’ and 1976’s ‘Mikey and Nicky’ is equally notable, mixing b-movies with John’s uncompromising sense of the real. That mix gave Falk’s career a real depth, but I’m glad he got to work with another of my favourite directors — Mr. Walter Hill — in 2002’s overlooked ‘Undisputed.’ While many of Falk’s final roles were mob figures, Mendy Ripstein is the best of them — all world-weary menace, and his language during a particular outburst stays classic.
With Master P, Silkk the Shocker (who’d made Columbo reference on CD six years prior), C-Murder and Boz performing in ‘Undisputed’ as the Gat Boyz and Puff Daddy in the far weaker ‘Made’ the previous year, in which Falk was equally mobbed out as Max, Falk had some brushes with hip-hop heavyweights. That allows for a mildly tenuous segue way into references to Columbo on rap tracks. Most rappers pepper their lyrics with the televisual pop culture references, but Columbo seemed to be a popular one – unusual to see ‘the man’ celebrated like he was, but there’s a fair few negative references to sneaky cops using the fictional character’s name. Nowadays only elders like Malice make reference to things like “…avoiding the Kojak,” but once it was no real surprise. After all, Theo Kojak and Frank Columbo were hardly Rampart-style douchebag types while they were doing their jobs — Columbo barely even carried a gun.
It’s fitting that Prodigy — a man who once released a street album appropriately called ‘Return of the Mac’ has the best ‘Columbo’ reference on the title track of ‘HNIC’ but in hastily concocting this list I had to omit the presumed references to New York’s Columbo crime family, of which the Mobb were occasionally prone. LIFE’s images of Falk, Cassavetes and Gazzara at the latter’s 1982 third wedding (to Elke Krivat) are excellent, while Falk’s solo appearance on a 1975 ‘Rolling Stone’ has a certain slovenly elegance that’s pleasantly at odds with Bryan Ferry’s advertised dandyism. Fuck an iron.
(Note the sheer volume of ‘Jumbo’ and ‘Gumbo’ rhymes)
“Met this girl at the party and she started to flirt/I told her some rhymes and she pulled up her skirt/Spent some bank — I got a high powered jumbo/Rolled up a wooly and I watched Columbo…”
Beastie Boys ‘The New Style’ 1986
“I roll into the party as if I was Five-O/Book investigation biters like Columbo/Pushing rap for some info in exchange for a jumbo/And when I find a sucker it’s time to play Rambo…”
EPMD ‘Get Off the Bandwagon’1988
“If you’re on a drug tip, don’t be a Dumbo/Police investigate like Columbo if they think you’re sellin’ jumbo…”
Kool G Rap ‘Rikers Island’ 1990
“Stupid ass nigga, sewed your ass the raw/Cause the bitch in the ride ain’t nothin’ but the Law/Attached with the wire, Columbo for hire/So now the Law was on their way/Stupid ass nigga had the burp in his tray…”
Above the Law ‘One Time Two Many’ 1994
“Y’all niggas soup, I’m gumbo, ready to rumble, ready to tumble/Yo’ girlfriend outta line, I’ma catch her like Columbo/Tongue twistin’ like an Uzi, y’all niggas can’t do me…”
Silkk the Shocker ‘How We Mobb’1996
“I scope like Columbo/Pose like Mutombo/And blaze MC’s with rumblo…”
Show & A.G. ‘Put it in Your System’ 1998
“I drive up and down Harlem blocks, iced out watch, knots in my socks, cops think I’m selling rocks/Pulling me over to see if I’m drunk but I’m sober/They wouldn’t fuck with me if I drove a Nova. Listen Columbo, you’re mad because your money come slow…”
Big L ‘Da Enemy’ 1999
“Too hot to hold, too hard to handle when I unload?Still knockin’ jumbo watchin’ for Columbo/Rock it to the top of the pot like gumbo…”
Rame Royal ‘Stick Wit Her’ w/ B-Legit, Niki Scarfo and Richie Rich 1999
“Dunn, I catch you while you shoppin’ for kicks/Surprise bitch/Shoot outs is spontaneous and oh, from now on call me Columbo/’Cause I come through wrinkled up, think I give a fuck?”
Prodigy ‘H.N.I.C.’ 2000
“Slang rocks and snort coke, we cook keys like gumbo drops/We chop O-Z’s to jumbo rocks, pay off Columbo cops…”
Yukmouth ‘Spitz Network’ w/ Brotha Lynch Hung 2001
Lately I’ve been working on some copy writing and despite attempting an avowedly anti-1993 stance here, a recent research mission (more to follow later) unearthed one of my favourite ad campaigns for a record – the brave Blood of Abraham LP on Ruthless with the ‘JESUS WAS A BLACK JEW’ line. It caught many a Source reader’s attention, but alas, that didn’t translate to sales. I never was a Crazy Town (a group that Brett “Epic” Mazur was a member of) fan, but Mazik’s role in starting Conveyor at Fred Segal is well worthy of note — as is the subsequent music video direction. Few groups would have the balls to run this ad and it’s a confrontational classic.
I’m still bugged out to see my writing anywhere, but to spot it on the point-of-sale for the Free Run+ 2 City Series, the 1948 iPads installed in the new Nike Sportswear east London store and on the wall of the mezzanine section upstairs was strange. Not as strange as seeing your work reflected in a pool of water, but strange nonetheless.