While Eminem is certainly an influential rap artist, anyone who thinks that he was the first one to challenge the notion of rap and hip hop as mediums meant solely for the African American community is sorely mistaken. The Clash began emulating certain standards of hip hop early on in “The Magnificent Seven.” This midpoint between rap and rock was also utilized by Run-DMC, who often placed rock beats in their rap music. Then there was the Beastie Boys, who began as a hardcore punk outfit in 1981 but eventually grew to be known for their hip hop music.
As both hip hop artists and punk rock musicians, the Beastie Boys had a versatile knowledge when it came to music. Not only were they instrumentally gifted and able to belt out a melody when necessary, but their knowledge of old-school hip hop artists such as Afrika Bambaataa and the Cold Crush Brothers enabled them to rap with the best of them. Their curious love of both rock and rap eventually led to their placement alongside Run-DMC as one of the only hip hop groups to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Beastie Boys reached the top of the charts in 1986 with their first studio album, Licensed to Ill. This album included one of their all-time hit singles, “Brass Monkey.” It also included the song “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” one of the better early songs that demonstrated their ability to combine the tenets of both rap and rock music. That same year, the relationship between Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys grew when they went on tour together with Whodini and LL Cool J. It was three years before their next album, Paul’s Boutique. Rather than try to put out a new album every year, the Beastie Boys focused on releasing an album when they had the beats to justify it. This allowed them time to perfect some of their 1990s hits such as “Sabotage” (on Ill Communication) and “Intergalactic” (on Hello Nasty).
There are too many songs to name, but it doesn’t matter—the songs themselves are not what made the Beastie Boys who they were in the 1980s and 1990s. They were a group that rose to fame because, unlike some other white rappers, they were not trying to play to a different culture as if they understood what it meant to be black. They knew who they were, and they played to that. They rapped about stereotypical white concerns such as skateboarding, and each member of the group had a distinct personality. Mike D (the drummer) was known for his laid-back yet scrutinizing personality. MCA (the bassist) was a bit more mature than the others, but he still maintained the party lifestyle as well as any of them. Ad-Rock (the guitarist) was the group’s standard party animal, the joker of the group.
In short, the Beastie Boys were a mixing pot of all the elements that drove pop culture in the 1980s and 1990s, and they still continue to embody those same aspects in their music and performances to this day. The hip hop beats, the rock melodies, and the boy band personality traits have taken them far. They have developed a true formula for success, and not once did they have to change who they were in order to achieve it.
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