YouTube HOF: The Beastie Boys
Nathaniel Hornblower, 1992
Alex Pappademas: “This is our traditional clothing. You may joke about it — but I may joke about you walking around in a business suit someplace, and maybe that’s silly to me, OK? Maybe I’m laughing at you right now!” RIP Nathaniel Hornblower, who had all the ideas for Star Wars and everything. Yodel at your boy.
Chris Ryan: I know “Sabotage,” “Hey Ladies,” and “Party …” are the Holy Trinity of Beastie Boys music videos, but for some reason this clip (for the lead track on Check Your Head) always stays with me as the Beastie Boys video; it’s something about the combo of fish-eye lens, scratchy 8mm subway footage, psychedelic go-go dancers, and blunted performance footage that just encapsulates the group. It was, of course, directed by Adam Yauch.
“No Sleep Till Brooklyn”
Mark Lisanti: This video — the greatest of the Licensed to Ill videos — has:
- Kerry King from Slayer having his Eddie Van Halen in “Beat It” moment;
- A gorilla playing a guitar;
- The Beasties in glam drag;
- The legendary Yauch intro verse at 2:29;
- MCA firing a tommy gun into a Marshall stack
- The extension of the official party week from seven to eight days;
- Someone’s head falling off.
End of transmission.
Milk Dee, “Spam”
Andy Greenwald: For all their extracurricular interests — kung-fu movies, Tibetan freedom, giant inflatable dongs — the Beasties never did much recording without their Boys. Mostly that’s a good thing. (Take Country Mike’s Greatest Hits — please!) But the trio’s best rapper, Ad-Rock, did lend his uncorked whine to “Spam,” the standout track from Never Dated, the lone solo release by Audio Two’s (you know, “Top Billin'”) peripatetic Milk Dee. The thing to remember is that this lo-fi boom-bap sounded incredibly dated when it was released in 1995 — Milk seems mostly interested in naming NBA players and expressing surprise at the “white boy” knocking at his door — but it’s still hella fun, two old-school knuckleheads mouthing off and cracking each other up. It’s not “The New Style” — but there was still plenty of time for that.
Amos Barshad: This is from their DVD anthology, and it’s so weird: Sofia Coppola and Zoe Cassavetes interviewing the Beastie Boys, in character as their “Sabotage” alter-egos:
MCA: “We live with men, we work with men, and we sleep with men — and there’s nothing wrong with that … we all have girlfriends.”
Sofia: “Oh, you’re not single.”
MCA: “Well, I’m single. If you know what I’m saying.”
Hip-hop will never be as (intentionally) funny again.
“Ch-Check It Out,” Letterman, 2004
Rembert Browne: So “Sabotage” and “Intergalactic” are probably two of the 10 best rap videos ever made. The argument over which video is better is always a fun five-hour conversation, so in the interest of time, I figured ignore both and jump to another gem.
This Letterman performance of “Ch-Check It Out” from 2004 has long been one of my favorite live performances. Watching the Beasties emerge from the subway and rap while doing their signature three-man weave down Broadway is too cool, and then the explosion that is MCA yelling “Shazam and Abracadabra” as they hit the stage is classic. Oh, and then there’s the last 20 seconds of them just terrorizing Dave as he sits in the dark. So great.
David Jacoby: Mike D has problems. Problems riding his banana-seat bike and problems with women. Ya see, his girl is fine and everything, but he saw this girl in Netty’s the other day with the boomin’ system up top AND in the back. I won’t go into further detail because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but this highlight of the super underappreciated Skillz to Pay the Bills VHS is just so damn whimsical, stupid, and Beastie-ish it feels appropriate for this list.
Hanging With MTV, 1992
Molly Lambert: Beasties on Hangin’ With MTV playing songs from Check Your Head as the house band and talking to a Yankees-jersey-wearing John Norris. I especially loved the live instrumentation and the bong-water-soaked beanies and flannels of this era of The Beastie Boys. Their photos papered my cool friends’ bedrooms and lockers. It always seemed so much fun to be them. I don’t like talking about them in the past tense because it bums me out.
Saturday Night Live, 1998
Dan Silver: For all the humor and creativity on display in their videos, the greatness of the Beastie Boys’ live shows is often overlooked. For my money, they were the greatest live act I’d ever seen (don’t believe me, just rent Awesome; I Fucking Shot That!). And for their countless live performances taped and/or filmed, the only one that has captured my memory of them is this musical-guest stint on SNL in 1998. The actual musical performance starts at 1:20 (past the King Ad-Rock’s feeble attempt at sketch comedy). This appearance was to promote “Hello Nasty,” but the guys mixed up the SNL format by bringing some old with the new. For the new, they started with a performance of “Three MCs and One DJ,” where a Crispin Glover–looking Mike D, a playful as ever Ad-Rock, and smooth MCA showcased why these three have been able to sustain their popularity over the years by putting on a clinic of how a metaphoric mic gets passed back and forth. And for the old, the Beasties strapped on their fake mustaches, sideburns, and instruments (Mike D forever on the drums, Ad-Rock on the lead guitar, and MCA on the bass) to execute an unforgettable version of “Sabotage.” And at 5:36 we’re reminded once again of the heartbreaking loss of Adam Yauch (a.k.a. MCA) as his bass guitar breaks the silence and blasts out “Sabotage”’s iconic bass riff. Mike, Adam, and Adam have always made a concerted effort to present themselves as a rock-solid familial trio when out as the Beastie Boys; it’s hard to imagine an album with Q-Tip filling in on a track and Common on another ever being released. So Hot Sauce Committee is most likely the last time we’ll get new tracks from the Boys (and it’s my 2-years-old’s favorite album, I might add). But Internet, ah, the Internet. The Internet has allowed us to magically tap into the past and experience it as if it were rolling out fresh, and this SNL performance is what I’ll always go back to first when I need my Beastie Boys fix. #RIPMCA
Michael Weinreb: Let us set aside for a moment the youth in the Chess King sweater with the most epic mullet of ’86, and Oprah’s coining of the timeless phrase, “How the four-letter word are you?,” and Bob Guccione Jr. getting in the motherfucking ring, and Jello Biafra’s psychedelic socks, and the difficulty of raising Christian children in a society overrun with X-rated cassettes (historical note: The word “cassette” was utilized as a pejorative by Christian parents in tortoiseshell frames, and occasionally by Casey Kasem), and let us focus on the fact that three young misfits from NYC prompted Tipper Gore to utter, on national television, the phrase, “20-foot inflatable penis.” Which just about makes up for all the porno mags your mom ever threw away.
“Get It Together,” The Tibetan Freedom Concert, 1996
Jonah Keri: This is what the Beastie Boys meant for me. Ill rhymes, guest appearances by otherworldly musicians (be it samples of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” or in this case Q-Tip owning the mic), great basketball references (“See I’ve got heart like John Starks, hitting mad sparks, pass me the mic and I’ll be rocking the whole park”), and in their final two decades, a commitment to standing up for sometimes unpopular causes, in this case with a nod to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.
Bill Barnwell: This is a 45-minute Beastie Boys performance from Glasgow in 1999 that aired on MTV. Even if you don’t have the patience to watch the full set, you owe it to yourself to watch the Beastie Boys sprint onstage at 2:37 like they’ve been shot out of a cannon. That whole first verse of “Super Disco Breakin'” seems like it’s the most fun anyone’s ever had at any show ever, fans and band alike.