All the Beastie Boys wanted to do was fight for their right to party, and they did that and then some. Originally formed as a punk band, the Beastie Boys would evolve to become one of the most seminal figures in hip-hop and along the way, they would show the hip-hop world that white guys could indeed rhyme with the best.
The Beastie Boys formed in New York City in 1981 as the “Young Aborigines,” which was supposed to be a hardcore punk band. The original group consisted of Michael Diamond (Mike D), Adam Yauch (MCA), John Berry, and Kate Schellenbach. After recording the EP, Polly Wog, in 1982, Berry, who played the guitar, left the group and was replaced by Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock).
The next year, the group scored a minor hit in “Cooky P**s,” which was made in the form of a rap song. Soon after, Schellenbach left the group, leaving just Diamond, Yauch and Horovitz to carry the mantel. Seeing that hip-hop was going to be their ticket to stardom, they ditched punk and started recording hip-hop singles in 1984.
The trio had a string of success as the genre was in the middle of a transition from the party rap era of the early ‘80s to the “Krush Groove, b-boy” era of the middle of the decade. Their rhymes caught the attention of Rick Rubin, who after he formed Def Jam Records with Russell Simmons, signed the group that same year. After appearing on the cult classic hip-hop film Krush Groove, they became Madonna’s opening act on her Like A Virgin world tour in 1985, and the very next year, they released their debut album, Licensed to Ill.
Licensed to Ill was the album that brought the world “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!),” which is one of best party jams of all-time. “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” became a number seven smash on the Hot 100, and the video became a fixture on MTV.
The album itself was historic, as it sold over 26 million copies, making it the highest-selling rap album of the ‘80s, and today, Licensed to Ill has sold over 50 million copies worldwide and has been certified Diamond. But soon after Licensed to Ill, they had a fall out with Rick Rubin, and due to this, they left Def Jam and moved over to Capitol Records in 1988.
If you ask any artist, the type of success the group had with Licensed to Ill would hard to follow up, and the Beastie Boys attempted to do the seemingly impossible with 1989’s Paul’s Boutique. Paul’s Boutique was a masterpiece and is considered, creatively, one of the best hip-hop records of all time. Commercially, it wasn’t on the same level as Licensed to Ill (but it was going to be hard to top that album anyway), but creatively, it surpassed its predecessor, and it was still a commercial success.
After the critical and commercial success of Paul’s Boutique, Capitol Records allowed the Beastie Boys to create their own label, Grand Royal, and it would be in conjunction with Capitol, who would continue to distribute their records. The first album to be released under the Grand Royal label was 1992’s Check Your Head, which went to number 10 on the Billboard 200 and became their second straight double Platinum record. Check Your Head would mark the first time the group would experiment more with other sounds, such as jazz and funk, and critics were in love with the record.
Two years later, the Beastie Boys rolled out III Communication, which would be their second chart topper (Licensed to Ill was the first), and go three-time Platinum. Leading the way were “Sabotage,” which was a hit on the Modern Rock charts (#18), and “Get It Together,” which hit the top 10 on the Dance charts.
That same year, the group headlined the Lollapalooza touring festival, and in 1995, the Beastie Boys were still riding high when a U.S. tour to promote Ill Communication was sold out within minutes. A dollar from all of the tickets sold would go to local charities where the tour stopped (they were huge humanitarians), and they also headlined a South American and Southeast Asian tour for the first time.
In 1996, they recorded and released their fifth album, 1996’s Hello Nasty, and just like Ill Communication, it debut at number one on the Billboard 200, but the difference between those two was that Hello Nasty also debuted at number one in England, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden, and it just missed out on the top spot in Canada and Japan. In short, the LP was a worldwide smash.
Two years later, the group was presented with the coveted and prestigious "Video Vanguard Award" at the MTV Video Music Awards, which highlighted their contribution to music videos. The Beastie Boys also made history that year by becoming the first artists in history to make their music available for mp3 downloads.
The group was on such a high wave that even their anthology record, The Sounds of Science, was a smash, heading to number 19 on the Billboard 200 and number 14 on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts, and their sixth album, 2004’s To the 5 Boroughs, would again top the charts, this time on both the Billboard 200 and the R&B charts, and go Platinum.
But after riding a high crest for 22 years, the Beastie Boys began to show cracks in their previously impenetrable sound foundation.
First, their seventh studio album, 2007’s The Mix-Up, confused fans as to whether it would be an album with lyrics or an instrumental. It was indeed an instrumental, and it did win a Grammy Award in 2008 for “Best Pop Instrumental Album.” But compared to their previous LPs, The Mix-Up was a disappointment commercially, going only to number 15 on the Billboard 200 and was the first Beastie Boys album to fail to be certified Gold or Platinum.
Then, on July 20, 2009, in the middle of recording their eighth studio album, Hot Sauce Committee Pts. 1 and 2, Yauch took to the group’s YouTube channel and announced that the trio would cancel several tour dates. The reason? Doctors found that Yauch had a cancerous tumor in his parotid glad and lymph node, and the group would be unable to tour.
Yauch’s medical condition delayed Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 1 indefinitely, but the group promised that part two would still be released on time in 2011. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, but Yauch’s medical conditioned worsened, and he was unable to attend the event. On May 4, 2012, Adam “MCA” Yauch lost his battle with cancer. He was just 47 years old.
In 2013, a children’s playground in Brooklyn was renamed in Yauch’s honor, and the next year, Mike D and Horowitz announced to the press that in respect for Yauch, they were retiring the "Beastie Boys" name, effectively ending the group.