I once made the grandiose assertion that the Beastie Boys saved my life. The context was, in our preparations to see the B-Boys live in 1998, several of us were sharing our favorite Beasties memories.
My claim that they saved my life stemmed from the year my family spent in San Leandro, CA. Our arrival in the Bay Area over the holidays of 1986 coincided with the explosion of the Beasties’ Licensed to Ill. In the coming weeks, as I struggled to fit in at a new school in a new state, Licensed to Ill was not only the soundtrack for my commute home each afternoon1, but also how I gained traction with my new classmates.
While hip-hop had, at best, marginal acceptance by the white population of my Kansas City high school in 1986, the kids in Cali had gone bonkers for it. Race did not seem to matter: the white kids, the black kids, the Hispanic kids, the Asian kids, pretty much everyone in SL had embraced the Beasties, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and the other early practitioners of the hip-hop arts. In an ironic twist, kids who listened to mainstream pop and rock were the outsiders at SL.
So, the fact that I spent much of my headphone time on the bus listening to Licensed to Ill and could quote lyrics with the kids I sat by helped break some of that ice I needed to chop through to start making friends. While there were certainly some lonely moments that first spring at SL, it would be an exaggeration to say that I ever felt like our move was a mistake or that I was in a bad place, drifting down a path that could lead to trouble.
The Beastie Boys didn’t save my life. But it’s kind of fun to say that they did.
Anyway, here’s a fun oral history of how the Beasties got together and recorded their first album. For what it’s worth, I thought Paul’s Boutique was cool before it was cool to think it was cool. So I’ll always have that going for me. Which is nice.
DMC: For the first couple of days of the tour, the towns we were playing were in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee—this was the black South. We expected to hear boos, so we were reluctant to be on the side of the stage, to see them get disappointed. But then from the dressing room, we’d hear “Yeaaaaaah! Yeaaahhh!” It was the black audience, praising these dudes. The reason they were so good: It wasn’t white punk rockers trying to be black emcees. They wasn’t talking about gold chains or Cadillacs. They were white rappers rapping about what they did. Real recognize real.
- Which consisted of some combination of two bus rides. San Leandro, like many California schools, did not have school buses and it took adept maneuvering on the public bus lines to navigate the modest distance to our neighborhood. ↩