Coming from white, middle-class, Jewish families, New York rappers Adam “Ad Rock” Horovitz, Mike “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “MCA” Yauch were always going to be outsiders in a genre that was rooted in the experience of life in the black ghettoes.
March 1987 saw the debut album from the Beastie Boys. Licensed To Ill was originally going to be called Don’t Be A Faggot but was toned down.
It became the first rap album to top the US charts and stayed at #1 for seven weeks.
In May of the same year, Ad-Rock was arrested in Liverpool, England, after being accused of hitting a female fan in the face with a can of beer. Faced with a barrage of beer cans from the audience at the Royal Court, Horovitz had batted some back. He was later acquitted.
The British tabloids piled on a few more sins, accusing the trio of insulting crippled and mentally handicapped children, not to mention causing an outbreak of theft of VW car ornaments which Beastie Boys fans wore as medallions.
Nonetheless, the hit single (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) (1987) propelled the Beasties album into the UK Top 10, as the group became the first sneering white boy brat rappers to get the tabloids bubbling with rage.
The group then spent much of the 90s organising a series of huge fund-and-awareness-raising concerts for the cause of a Free Tibet, and their (sadly short-lived) Grand Royal label saw them offering a helping hand to fellow artists, all proving that it was possible to transcend even the most problematic self-stereotyping.
Their last UK controversy was at the 1998 Reading Festival when they asked The Prodigy not to play Smack My Bitch Up as they were offended by its casual misogyny.
Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch died in May 2012, aged 47, following a three-year battle with cancer.
Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz
Adam “MCA” Yauch
Michael “Mike D” Diamond