The Beastie Boys Explain Why They Were Nearly Done After Licensed To Ill

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The Beastie Boys are a Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted group recognized for fusing Hip-Hop, Punk Rock, and Electronic music. Between the early 1980s and the early 2010s, the trio of Adam “MCA” Yauch, Michael “Mike D” Diamond, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz released eight studio albums. Exactly half of those releases topped the charts. The New York City band achieved longevity and a level of respect that is highly revered in Hip-Hop. However, that legacy was very nearly cut extremely short due to label woes, financial strains, and reported fatigue.

In a conversation with The Guardian‘s Miranda Sawyer ahead of October 30’s release of Beastie Boys Book, Ad-Rock and Mike D open up about the Beasties very nearly pulling the plug at the height of their meteoric rise.

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The Beasties’ 1986 Licensed To Ill became a #1 album, helping Def Jam Records diversify its success alongside another Rick Rubin-groomed act, LL Cool J.

“The Licensed to Ill-era came to a sticky end in 1987, with all three of the Beasties unhappy and barely speaking to one another,” Sawyer notes, pulling from the memoir. Reportedly, Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons gave the Beastie Boys an ultimatum to receive their royalties. The surviving members of the band do not address the reasons for not speaking in the interview. However, they do discuss the business at play with their label. “Russell [Simmons] was like, if you don’t go in the studio, then I’m not paying you,” Mike D reveals. “His calculation was that we would all be like, ‘Oh we want our millions. OK, Russell, we’re going to do it.’ But we were all immediately, ‘F*ck you.’”

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Ad-Rock adds, “[We remained cool with Def Jam] because it all worked out. Had it not worked out, had we broken up in ’87 – and we never got paid by Rick [Rubin] and Russell and Def Jam – it wouldn’t be fine.”

Licensed To Ill has since achieved diamond certification, selling more than 10 million copies. It is the only Def Jam release to do so, and the only 1980s Rap album on the list.

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The Beastie Boys never released a second project of any kind on Def Jam Records. Instead, the trio headed to the Hollywood, California-based Capitol imprint, where they remained for the duration of their recording career. “It was a rough time. [MCA] started another band. [Mike D] did too. And [Ad-Rock] went to Los Angeles, to make a film, Lost Angels. While there, he came across some musicians/producers called the Dust Brothers.”

Although the Dust Brothers-co-produced follow-up Paul’s Boutique garnered critical acclaim from some of the same music fans who condemned Licensed…, it lacked the commercial response. “Paul’s Boutique was a bust, right?” says Horovitz. “That was a bummer. We didn’t pause on it for a long time, we didn’t go through therapy, but it was weird. And because it was a bust, we didn’t go on tour. So we just started making Check Your Head at my apartment.” After living together in a rented L.A. mansion, the Beasties transitions to three separate residences across the City Of Angels by the early 1990s.

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The group’s last album was 2011’s Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two. Just over a year later, MCA passed away from cancer.

The Guardian feature also points out that painter Jean-Michel Basquiat reportedly asked to produce Paul’s Boutique. He died of a heroin overdose in 1988.

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The 590-page Beastie Boys Book publishes on Faber October 30.