Ad-Rock, Rick Rubin and the Beastie Boys
Tonight, my family is moving a bunch of furniture through the house to accommodate having two rugs cleaned. Normally, this wouldn’t leave me in any kind of creative bind, but I’m also plain tired from posting once a day since the 23rd of December, 2010. I’m pretty burned out at the moment, but I’ll feel like a disappointment if I don’t give you guys your 1000 words today. So here’s what I’m gonna do: I’m gonna write a whole bunch of filler text here and a whole bunch down there to pad out an 800 word long article I wrote on Facebook almost two years ago. Enjoy!
I’m not Ad-rock’s biggest fan when he’s on the mic. (I’ve always been an MCA kind of guy. Mike D’s cool, but no MCA.) The fact that he was the vocalist when they went into power-punk trio mode always sorta got on my nerves. I always liked the texture of MCA’s voice and I always liked his lyrics. A nice balance of wordplay and insight.
Also, my favourite album of theirs has pretty much always been Paul’s Boutique. (with the exception of Country Mike’s Greatest Hits, but that ████’s just hysterical!) For one, no Ad-rock solos. The closest he comes to a solo is a duet with MCA in B-Boy Bouillabaisse and his solo in “3-Minute Rule”, a song comprised of three solos in a row. The beats were fresh and intricate, dense and just plain exciting. Loved it.
I have never liked Licensed to Ill. It’s juvenile, it’s sophomoric, the beats are flat, uninspired and just plain boring. Not to mention, two needless Ad-rock solos (I count “Girls” and “Paul Revere”, as both were written by him alone). Why? Why Beasties? Why would you do that?
As a fan of both the Beasties and Wikipedia, I read their article one day a few years ago when I was bored. It was an interesting and storied read. It includes their apology for their early homophobia, their later dedication to the Free Tibet campaign–however, their early history had a little fact that was on par with “911 is a Joke” in the way it made me re-evaluate a member of a crew.
The Beastie Boys started out as a three person hardcore punk band with original bassist Kate Schellenbach. (No idea what Adam Yauch played, but Mike Diamond was still on drums.) Then, they hired new vocalist Adam Horovitz. When they were playing shows as a punk band, they were discovered by record producer Rick Rubin, who convinced them to become a hip hop crew instead. (to my recollection these days, that’s because they’d already released “Cooky Puss”–a parody hip hop track)
Kate quit leaving the three man crew as it stands today.
She quit as they began production on their debut album, with Rick Rubin as producer. As the album was recorded, Rick was mostly angling for Ad-rock, who he felt was the real star of the group, to take up a solo career. This is why the big number of Ad-rock solos are on the album.
After production on the album ceased, Rick approached Ad-rock and asked him to leave the Beastie Boys and become a solo rapper. Here’s the important part: Ad-rock was so offended that anyone would ask him to leave a group he’d just joined that he told Rick no and the group moved across the continent to LA to write and record their next album.
That’s right. He dropped their producer and mentor at a time he could have experienced great solo success out of loyalty to a crew he’d only joined recently. He could have dropped MCA and Mike D and been a short lived solo star. Instead, he and the Beasties packed up and moved across the continent, dropping the guy who made them famous.
This also explains why MCA and Mike D both get solos in B-Boy Bouillabaisse (“Year and a Day” and “Mike on the Mic”) and Ad-rock doesn’t. This is why MCA opens and closes the album with the “All the Girls” bookends. He may not have done it consciously, he may not have done it deliberately, but Adrock still reduced his presence on the second album.
By the way, while Licensed to Ill was the first number one hip hop album in Billboard’s history, Paul’s Boutique was seen by the label as a commercial failure. It confused the fans they’d won with their early frat-rap style and thus sold like kegs of non-alcoholic beer. However, it was glowingly received by critics who appreciated their artistic maturity. Even Chuck D, the leader of Public Enemy, said that the “dirty secret” in the hip hop community was that “Paul’s Boutique had the best beats”. It’s wholly possible that Paul’s Boutique‘s multilayered, dense and speech heavy sampling technique influenced the Bomb Squad’s production of Fear of a Black Planet, known as Public Enemy’s other best album.
In any case. That little bit of their history is the reason I now see Ad-rock as a full-on member of the crew who deserves respect for his own merits. He had his chance to leave and enjoy fame on his own without having to split money three ways. He turned it down, choosing to follow up a number one album with a flop because he felt the integrity of the Beastie Boys as a group was more important than any short-lived fame he might enjoy on his own.
Big up, Ad-rock. Stay funky.
And now for filler part II, or as I call it, “practice notes”. I’m not sure if anyone noticed in this article, but I’m going to say it here: I researched none of this. I did not look up a single fact in this article in the process of writing it. What I did do, however, was write all the trivia from this period that I remembered, hung on the hook of Ad-Rock ditching solo fame with a rap guru to stick by a crew he’d barely joined. I know that much is pretty true-ish. There’s very little from this point in history that’s recorded, so even this should be taken with a grain of salt.