Together, a young trio of MCs called the Beastie Boys and a fledgling producer named Rick Rubin created one of the most iconic hip-hop albums of all time, 1986’s Licensed to Ill. It’s a legendary project that’s responsible for launching both of their respective careers, and now the two parties have sat down to reminisce about its creation for the first time in over 20 years.
The surviving members of the Beastie Boys, Mike “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, hopped on Rubin’s Broken Record podcast to joyfully recollect their early days in ’80s New York, touring with Run-DMC and Madonna, and the making of the pivotal Licensed to Ill. The Boys were joined by their longtime friend and renowned director Spike Jonze, who just released a Beastie Boys documentary earlier this year.
An hour-long, compact oral history of their early days, the episode saw the three warmly recall all the times spent hanging out in Rubin’s NYU dorm and frequenting notorious NYC nightclubs — the outings that would eventually inform the groundwork for their breakthrough. They also touched on the story behind “Brass Monkey”.
At one point, Rubin contrasted his Long Island upbringing with the Boys’ inner-city adolescence, explaining how much of a culture gap there was between the two regions despite their close proximity. “Where I was, it was hard to find out anything about anything,” Rubin said. “I spent a lot of time in the library doing research, and even that research wasn’t [the] sort of ‘culture of the moment’ research, it was about learning about things I was interested in and spending a lot of time in records was my closest way of having any kind of connection to culture.”
“I didn’t know what was cool, coming where I came from,” added the 57-year-old Def Jam co-founder. “And the beauty of that was, I could see and hear everything. There was very little peer pressure about that where I lived. If you were in the city, there was stuff that was cool to like and not cool to like, and that could have a limiting effect.”
There was also a discussion regarding the origins of Mike D’s infamous Volkswagen necklace. Ad-Rock recalled it came from a friend, who’d had it hanging up on her wall. “She just took it off a car, and for some reason, I had it and put it on a string, and you [Mike D] took it,” he recounted. “That’s what I love about being a teenager, just how much stuff goes from one kid to the next to the next.”
Mike D offered a slightly more dramatic series of events. “In my revisionist history, it’s almost like I feel like I was knighted,” he said. “It was bestowed upon me, and then I could become Mike D.”
One of the most interesting tidbits in the whole episode was when Rubin finally admitted why he infamously quit being Beastie Boys’ live DJ in the middle of their tour with Madonna. At the time, he claimed it was an ear infection, but even after all these years, Diamond and Horovitz weren’t sure if that was just an excuse. In lieu of spoiling, you’re going to have to listen to the whole podcast to find out what the real reason was.
You can stream the full Beastie Boys episode of Broken Record below. Purchase Licensed to Ill here.