Get Nice: Pharrell, Henry Rollins, Bad Brains, and More Pay Tribute to the Beastie Boys
Twenty-five years later, Check Your Head's influence still looms large.
With Check Your Head, the Beastie Boys forged their identity—and began to remake the 1990s in their own image. Here, everyone from tourmate Henry Rollins to Grand Royal Records signee Sean Lennon share what the Beasties mean to them.
I think the first time I met them was at a Black Flag show in NYC in 1983. They didn’t say much. I guess I met them again when we did shows together in 1992. My impression was that they were very intelligent and funny. I didn’t spend much time with them on tour but would talk with different members, mainly Yauch, now and then at the venues. I always watched them play. I saw them many times. No bad shows.
That [1992 Beastie Boys/Cypress Hill/Rollins Band] tour was different for a lot of reasons. The bands were in tour busses with pro drivers. There was plenty of money, food, access to whatever. It was nothing like being in a van and playing in clubs. The Beastie Boys, as far as I could tell, were very committed to doing good shows every night. I never saw a show that was dialed in. They [also] seemed quite health conscious.
They were playing instruments onstage [and] doing instrumentals, which ticked off some of their younger, MTV-raised audience who wanted to hear the three songs their attention span allowed. It was interesting to see kids in the front row cursing at them when they played an instrumental. I think it was part of the band breaking through to a much bigger audience. My impression was that they wanted to make their mark as real musicians and were honestly going for it. It made me like them more.
Sasha Frere-Jones, music critic
The first time I heard Mike D rap was on a thing he did with two other kids in our school [St. Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights], and it was like a pro-reading rap. It was under the name Beat Brothers. We talked about all kinds of music all day long, and he wasn’t bratty at all. Mike knew about every record in the world before anyone; he was that guy. We would talk about Ornette Coleman and Isaac Hayes and stuff like that.
When they went to Check Your Head, from there forward I was like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of who they are. That’s the people I remember.’ For the rest of their [career] they were pretty much who I remembered them to be.
Eric Bobo, Cypress Hill; former Beastie Boys percussionist
A friend of mine had a club in Hollywood that my little jazz band used to play at. He called me up and said Adam Horovitz from the Beastie Boys was interested in having me play at his wedding [to Ione Skye]. I’m like, ‘Get the fuck out of here.’ My band did the wedding march and everything.
A couple of months later, I got a call from Mike D asking if I was interested in going on the road for the Check Your Head tour. They needed a percussionist, and that was my main gig. We gelled very quickly—I mean, I had to gel with them; they were already tight. For those three or four years that I was with them, we were a machine. It was a mellower time; we’d let out the crazy energy on stage.
It was a transformative piece of work that unlocked what so many of us were feeling, but only they knew how to communicate.
Kate Schellenbach, Luscious Jackson; original member of the Beastie Boys
I grew up playing with them, and I knew what kind of stuff they were influenced by. I think what attracted us all together as friends—and I mean the girls in Luscious Jackson and the Beastie Boys and other people in the scene—was that there wasn’t really a snobbery around music. We were all pretty open minded and excited to turn everybody on to stuff. So when they started playing their instruments [again] and playing, like, odd-time-signature funk, it made perfect sense.
They were coming from a real DIY aesthetic of being in charge of everything—as opposed to a lot of bands who are controlled by their record labels. They were designing their own merchandise, marketing plans, records, videos, artwork. Signing with them [on the Grand Royal label], we knew we’d be treated the same way—and if you’re an artist with a strong point of view, that’s a great place to be.
They turned me on to a million things. They were all huge, huge mentors to me. I was such an ungrateful bastard when I was twenty and they signed me [to Grand Royal]. Like, I was thankful and I was blown away, but I should’ve been doing their dishes and vacuuming their house. They were my favorite band in the world.
I always used to tease them by calling them The Beastles, because to me, they were like my generation’s Beatles. When Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head came out, that was our Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. Check Your Head opened my mind to Indian music and world music and jazz—it all came at once and totally changed my life.
I’ve been tracking with this upright Kay bass that Yauch gave me for my twenty-first birthday. When he passed away, I was so sad, and I started using that bass to connect with him through the ether. It’s been a nice meditation, in a way, to just think about him and my life and how much the Beasties did for me.
Darryl Jenifer, Bad Brains
The Beastie Boys used to be fans of ours. We were kinda young—if I was twenty-one, they were in their teens, in high school—and we all used to hang out at this [record store] called Rat Cage on the Lower East Side. Next thing you know, hip-hop jumps off. They do their little version—better watch out! Sometimes when you do your little version, shit jumps off and then you’re that.
It was satire as far as I could tell. They were more serious about the rock than being hip-hoppers. But I guess it caught on.
There was no change in Adam [Yauch] or any of those cats, really. Me and Yauch were homies—he dug the way I kicked it on the bass and I dug the way his voice sounded rapping. I dug a lot of their music. I think it’s a great thing what those guys did.
DJ Hurricane, Beastie Boys DJ
On the tour, we’d start off hip-hop, then four or five songs into it, we’d switch it up and go into ‘Lighten Up,’ ‘Gratitude,’ ‘Maestro,’ and then we’d go back to a couple of hip-hop songs, then we’d go back to a medley of punk stuff, and then back to hip-hop. I created a scratch for ‘In 3’s’ that I’d do, ‘Time for Livin’’ I’d do backing vocals.
It had never been done before. It wasn’t like we could look at someone else and say ‘Well, they did it this way, let’s do it their way.’ There was no rap group out that was playing punk and rapping, who had a DJ and who were a band—that wasn’t being done at the time. But the show had to flow.
When I got into skateboarding, I thought, ‘I’ve got to only like punk rock.’ You know, genre orthodoxy. Being a white guy from the South, I felt a little bit out of my element being a part of hip-hop culture. [But] the great thing was knowing that the Beastie Boys came from punk and hardcore when Licensed to Ill came out, [so] it was sort of like, ‘It’s OK to check out this record.’
This idea that you had to stay in your lane genre-wise, and that some things had to stay with this ethnicity or this subculture… All of a sudden those rules were just being decimated. And I loved that. But then Check Your Head came out and they flipped it up once again—and of course all these things are subjective.
To me, Check Your Head is a masterpiece in that it let the Beastie Boys show their diversity in a way that pretty much no other hip-hop act had up to that point. It’s a total fusion record. [And] it comes across like they had some master plan intellectually, but, you know, I think they [just] trusted their instincts.