Across three consecutive albums—1992’s Check Your Head, 1994’s Ill Communication, and 1998’s Hello Nasty—the Beastie Boys had a memorable habit of shouting out their collaborator and co-producer Mario Caldato Jr. “Mario C, you can’t front on that,” Mike D says from far away at the beginning of “So What’cha Want.” In “Intergalactic,” we learn that he likes to keep it clean. (“It gets pretty messy with a bunch of guys,” says Caldato. “I was always tidying, keeping the tapes organized, putting the records away, putting all the cables and mess away.”) To this day, Caldato says those namechecked inclusions were never thought out beforehand.
“It was always spontaneous,” he recalls. “When the guys would do these rhymes, a lot of times not all of it was written. So someone would have a line, but they didn’t have the next one and would just say something, putting in a filler rhyme about me. It just ended up sticking.”
Long before Mike D, MCA, and Ad-Rock altered the course of his life, the São Paulo–born, Los Angeles–raised Caldato spent his youth playing in bands, DJing, amassing a substantial collection of music gear, and investing countless hours behind the desk mastering the technical minutiae of recording. As he got older, his self-taught expertise as a soundman came in handy when a chance encounter at a nightclub introduced him to another LA DJ named Matt Dike, who recruited Caldato to help in constructing a makeshift studio in Dike’s apartment. Together with another friend, Michael Ross, Dike began using the space Caldato had built to invite up-and-coming artists to record, with Caldato serving as their engineer and co-producer.
Under the banner of Dike and Ross’s newly formed Delicious Vinyl label, the enterprise earned quick success, delivering the early hits of Tone-Loc (“Wild Thing,” “Funky Cold Medina”) and Young MC (“Bust a Move”). The team then set their sights on working with the Beastie Boys, who were looking to start the follow-up to their massively successful debut LP Licensed to Ill. After they impressed the trio with tracks written by a pair of Delicious Vinyl acquisitions—Michael “E.Z. Mike” Simpson and John “King Gizmo” King (a.k.a. The Dust Brothers)—work soon began on what would become the rap group’s seminal 1989 album, Paul’s Boutique.
“I never imagined working with these guys,” says Caldato, who served as that record’s engineer (and picked up a production credit on “Ask for Janice”). “I was once working at this all-black nightclub in South LA as the soundman. The guys [there] would always be playing the Beastie Boys’ first record and a DJ there would always be calling me out, saying, ‘Hey, Beastie Boy!’ I had no idea what he meant by that. And he turned around the record sleeve and showed me it was three white guys. I didn’t even know they were white!”
“It was two and a half years of jamming and horsing around to come up with Check Your Head.“
Despite its initial commercial failure, Paul’s Boutique became a crucial stepping stone in the relationship between Caldato and the band. With the group choosing not to tour behind the album, Caldato says that he and the Beasties simply “hung out a lot.” These hangout sessions eventually turned into extensive jam sessions, with Caldato and “Money” Mark Ramos-Nishita building them a custom recording studio and recreation hall in the LA neighborhood of Atwater Village.
“It was a clubhouse, basically,” he says of the space eventually dubbed G-Son Studios, where Caldato and the Beasties went on to co-produce Check Your Head and parts of Ill Communication and Hello Nasty. “It was two and a half years of jamming and horsing around to come up with Check Your Head. It was a lot of working and reworking and arranging and stuff like that. But there was no pressure. There was nobody coming in and saying, ‘Hey, turn in the record next week.’ There was none of that, and it was great. When we had it done it was exactly the way we wanted it. And from that point on, we were always in control.” He’d go on to produce records by Super Furry Animals, Jack Johnson, and Beck in the Northern Hemisphere and Marcelo D2, Seu Jorge, and Marisa Monte in the Southern Hemisphere, and he still works out of a studio in Eagle Rock, not far from the old G-Son location.
Looking back, everything Caldato ever learned about his role, and how to do it well, he learned on the job; it’s in his nature. “As a kid, I learned how to make and fix stuff at home. We would never call the plumber or the electrician. We’d do everything ourselves. Same thing with the studio,” he says. “It was really hands-on learning, making mistakes. We had some experiences and put them all together, and it really flourished. [We] had a beautiful run.” FL