The Beastie Boys, a trio of nerdy Jewish kids from inner New York City, brought anti-establishment punk attitudes to a new generation and changed the shape of hip-hop forever.
Spike Jonze, who directed some of the band’s most iconic music videos including “Sabotage” and “Sure Shot”, helped define their flippant, juvenile brand that, more than three decades after their rapid rise to stardom, is still inseparable from everything Beastie Boys.
But no major pop artist can get ahead without a big dose of luck, and Michael Diamond (“Mike D”), Adam Horovitz (“Ad-Rock”) and Adam Yauch (“MCA”) were no different. Befriending an adolescent Rick Rubin just as his favours to the likes of Run DMC were beginning to pay off, The Beastie Boys gained the producer of a generation and an ally with the sort of connections they didn’t know they needed. But with those new friendships and obvious mainstream potential, The Beastie Boys had to make commercial decisions for the first time. They were advised to fire drummer Kate Schellenbach, a longtime friend they’d played with for years. They did it.
In a documentary which is about as close to the horse’s mouth as it can be — Jonze has co-written and directed Diamond and Horovitz hosting a “story of the band” event at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn — Beastie Boys Story is strikingly unflinching as far as celebrity introspectives go. Recalling the band’s image change after the smash hits “Fight for You Right” and “No Sleep till Brooklyn” propelled The Beastie Boys to fixture status on MTV, Diamond says, “We morphed from making fun of party bros to actually becoming those dudes.” Horovitz admits, “We didn’t know what was a joke and what wasn’t a joke at that time.” The band got sillier and the shows got rowdier. Parliament debated banning The Beastie Boys from entering the country. Most upsettingly, though, Horovitz says he didn’t even say “Hi” to Shellenbach when they were once at the deli at the same time, something that would’ve been inconceivable just a couple of years before.
And Diamond, Horovitz and Yauch were spending less and less time together. A hastened meet-up in LA spurned the three to start making music together, and they used the hits they’d come to find embarrassing to leverage a new record deal, and a new start. Alongside the Dust Brothers and free of Def Jam after a falling out with Rubin and Russell Simmons, The Beastie Boys got the creative freedom they’d always needed to thrive.
Jonze isn’t telling us that this is a particularly new story, but as far as it describes The Beastie Boys, it rings true. And their first-hand account of things — minus Yauch, who passed away in 2012 — is a valuable one. Yauch’s own voice is not missing from proceedings, however, with moving tributes from Horovitz and Diamond and the canny use of archive footage of Yauch.
Striking a balance between those meaningful moments and the kooky side of The Beastie Boys’ lives is a challenge, although nothing distant from Jonze’s own career in storytelling. As far as The Beastie Boys are concerned, however, it’s time to dust off those tapes.
Beastie Boys Story premieres globally on Apple TV+ on April 24.