The Beastie Boys & Rick Rubin Reunite and Revisit Their Formative Time Together in 1980s NYC

The Beast­ie Boys’ record-shat­ter­ing Licensed to Ill is thir­ty-four years old. This fact might mean noth­ing to you, or it might mean that you are thir­ty-four years old­er than the moment the album came out in Novem­ber of 1986, and sub­ur­ban par­ents around the coun­try, maybe even your par­ents, freaked out in uni­son. The album was a stroke of genius from pro­duc­er Rick Rubin, deliv­er­ing hip-hop safe for white kids while also giv­ing them per­mis­sion to be as obnox­ious as pos­si­ble.

Osten­si­bly a rap record, the first ever to hit num­ber one, Licensed to Ill also rode in on the crest of the mid-80s Satan­ic Pan­ic. Rubin’s deci­sion to set its exag­ger­at­ed­ly juve­nile rhymes to sam­ples of Black Sab­bath and Led Zep­pelin made a defi­ant statement—and bring­ing in Slayer’s Ker­ry King to play gui­tar on “No Sleep till Brook­lyn” real­ly rubbed it in. He was simul­ta­ne­ous­ly pro­duc­ing Slayer’s Reign in Blood, and both albums man­aged to ter­ri­fy, and appeal to, many of the same peo­ple.

Lyri­cal­ly, Licensed to Ill kept things light and goofy but also ampli­fied some cor­ro­sive misog­y­ny and homo­pho­bia, for which the band has made amends and apolo­gies over the years. Adam Horowitz called their per­sonas on the album “idiot car­i­ca­tures of our­selves.” Of its first, dis­card­ed, title, he says, “it was meant to be a joke about jock frat dudes.” They moved on and moved to L.A., show­ing very dif­fer­ent sides of them­selves on fol­low-up Paul’s Bou­tique. You’re prob­a­bly famil­iar with Rick Rubin’s post-Licensed to Ill career and all-around sta­tus as a hip-hop, met­al, rock, pop, coun­try, etc. pro­duc­er.

They hadn’t been in touch in around twen­ty years when Rubin and sur­viv­ing Beast­ie Boys Adam Horowitz and Michael Dia­mond sat down—over Zoom—recently for the Rubin-host­ed Bro­ken Record Pod­cast. There’s a lot of catch­ing up to do. They start at the very begin­ning, when the trio was still in high school and Rubin lived in the NYU dorms and occa­sion­al­ly went to class­es. From the per­spec­tive of their cur­rent selves, they real­ize how strange it was that they hard­ly knew any­thing about each oth­er at the time. There are also a few lin­ger­ing mis­un­der­stand­ings to clear up.

Join­ing them is Spike Jonze, direc­tor of the clas­sic video for “Sab­o­tage” and of the upcom­ing Beast­ie Boys Sto­ry (trail­er above). The film is a “love let­ter to hip hop’s gold­en age,” writes Kevin Eg Per­ry at NME, an “inti­mate, per­son­al sto­ry of their band and 40 years of friend­ship.” Every Beast­ie Boys ret­ro­spec­tive, and there have been a few late­ly, is tinged with sad­ness for the con­spic­u­ous absence of Adam Yauch (MCA).

He appears here in spir­it and on video, pro­ject­ed on a giant screen behind Horowitz and Dia­mond onstage in the live sto­ry­telling event filmed by Jonze. “They’re frank about the shit­ti­ness of some of their past behav­ior,” Per­ry notes, like fir­ing found­ing mem­ber Kate Schel­len­bach because she did­n’t fit their new tough-guy act. It’s a grown-up per­spec­tive that will sur­prise no one who has fol­lowed the course of their cre­ative and per­son­al evo­lu­tions.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch 36 Beast­ie Boys Videos Now Remas­tered in HD

Hear Every Sam­ple on the Beast­ie Boys’ Acclaimed Album, Paul’s Boutique–and Dis­cov­er Where They Came From

The Beast­ie Boys Release a New Free­wheel­ing Mem­oir, and a Star-Stud­ded 13-Hour Audio­book Fea­tur­ing Snoop Dogg, Elvis Costel­lo, Bette Midler, John Stew­art & Dozens More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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