The Beastie Boys turned curiosity into a form of art. They wanted to know more about what was around them and learn everything they could about what wasn’t. Forget about Kurt Cobain for a second: For kids like me, the Beastie Boys invented the 90s. Technology was changing fast and the world was shrinking rapidly. Between their music and label/magazine Grand Royal, the Beasties showed how to reach out and scoop up all the best parts. New York hip-hop and punk rock, Japanese pop, Jamaican dub– all of it could be gathered and re-assembled into something that reflected who you were. This sort of cultural mixing was nothing new, but the Beastie Boys brought it to the mainstream. They were ambassadors, but their hipness didn’t look down on anybody. It felt inclusive.
Related: Forrest Wickman on Adam Yauch’s legacy as successful NYC indie film mogul; Jen Doll on how, for her generational cohort, the Beasties provided “a form of musical New York PR—at least, a “PR” based in coolness, a new style of music, a new form of flouting the rules, a new kind of joy and energy.”
Flashback: NY Mag’s outstanding oral history of the Beastie Boys.
Update: Sarah Seltzer notes how Yauch and the Beasties addressed, renounced, and tried to make amends for their infamously regressive past:
When I think about the Beasties, I think first about the rebellious, obnoxious kids who first became famous. Then I inevitably remember their ability to move forward way past that phase, with rhymes like this one from MCA in the song “Sure Shot”: “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue/ The disrespect to women has got to be through/ To all the mothers and sisters and wives and friends/ I want to offer my love and respect to the end.
They also changed their offensive lyrics in concert and began to chastise regressive content in music — even their own.
As Ana Carey wrote last year, the Beasties prove that “being a sexist idiot in your youth … doesn’t mean that you can’t grow up and learn something.”