Few bands like being booed, but few bands are the Beastie Boys, a rock-rap trio who have fond memories of being hooted off the stage while opening for Madonna in 1985. “It was funny,” says Adam Yauch, 22, the eldest Beastie. “We were going for the boos. We didn’t want any bland reaction. If they aren’t going to walk out happy, they’ll walk out mad, but they won’t walk out wondering who played.”
Two years later, the Beastie attitude has paid off handsomely for Yauch, Mike Diamond, 21, and Adam Horovitz, 19. Their frat-rap single, (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!), is all over MTV, and their debut LP, Licensed to III, is No. 7 on Billboard’s pop chart and No. 3 on the magazine’s black music list, a coup for a white band. Their secret seems to reside in a deft combination of subversiveness and self-aware humor. On the one hand the boys all have proper rap nicknames (Yauch is “MCA,” Diamond “Mike D.” and Horovitz “King Ad-Rock”) and sing rude macho rhymes (“I met a girl at a party and she started to flirt/ I told her some rhymes and she pulled up her skirt”). On the other hand, while most rappers go for ostentatious upscale adornment, Diamond sports a VW medallion on a chain around his neck, and their LP includes the theme from Mister Ed. They pepper their language with rap vocabulary—”dis” for “disrespect,” “snap” for “insult”—but tend toward proper syntax. Frustrated that they’ve never been invited on Late Night With David Letterman, they’ve taken to courting the talk show host with insults. “He’s terrified we’re gonn dis him on his own show,” says Yauch. “He’s a genius but he’s a wussy,” adds Diamond. “Just say that he’s let down some really major fans and that he’s a fag.”
All three Beasties hail from well-to-do homes in New York City; Ad-Rock’s father is playwright Israel Horovitz. Yauch and Diamond formed a punk band in their early teens, became the rapping Beasties after Horovitz joined in 1983, and were soon signed by Def Jam records, the home of rap phenoms Run-D.M.C. and L.L. Cool J. Hardcore rap fans gave the Beasties the stamp of approval during last year’s Run-D.M.C. Raising Hell tour. “Our age has a lot to do with people not wanting to give us credit for what we do and giving [producer] Rick Rubin the credit,” says Diamond. “They can’t believe we actually co-produced our album and played all the instruments on it and we’re so young.”
Coming up, of course, is a Beastie movie, a haunted-house epic tentatively titled Scared Stupid. Maintaining their usual level of modesty, the boys say they’d like to persuade John Cleese to direct and Bill Murray and Robert De Niro to co-star. “We’re pretty confident that it really will be the greatest film anybody has ever made in the history of the entire world,” says Yauch.
Not only that, says Diamond, but “we’re trying to keep the budget small.”