Behind the Meaning of the Band Name: Beastie Boys

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Just three young men from New York City.

That’s how it started out. MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D got together as a trio in the ’80s in the Big Apple and first formed a punk band. But soon they got turned onto hip-hop in a major way and began rhyming together. Almost overnight, the trio became one of the most influential and important rap acts in the history of the genre.

In The Beginning

In the beginning, the group produced party songs, like the ubiquitous “Fight For Your Right (To Party).” But as the guys grew and matured, they were more focused on spiritual practices and, thus, their lyrics became more thoughtful, their music more complex.

Formed formally in 1978, the rap group would later put out instrumental albums with them playing all the instruments. Michael Diamond (Mike D) played drums, Adam Yauch (MCA) played bass and Adam Horovitz (Ad Rock) played guitar. When they formed as a punk band early on, though, Mike D was the vocalist, Jeremy Shatan played bass, John Berry played guitar and Kate Schellenbach played drums. Shatan left in 1981 and MCA replaced him on the four-string.

The Name, The Music

At that time, the band changed its name to Beastie Boys. Berry left soon after and was replaced by Horovitz. The legend was officially born.

The Beastie Boys’ first song was a comic rap tune called “Cooky Puss,” named after a confection produced by the ice cream cake company, Carvel. In 1985, before releasing their seminal 1986 (party) rap album, Licensed to Ill, the group toured as an opening act for Madonna. Licensed to Ill was the first rap record to top the Billboard 200 chart.

Three years later, the group released their sophomore album, Paul’s Boutique, which at first was met with resistance from critics but has gone on to be thought of as one of the best rap records of all time, with cerebral lyrics, innovative production, and boundary-pushing work. The group’s popular album, Check Your Head, dropped in 1992 and Ill Communication came after in 1994.

Hello Nasty, with the hit “Intergalactic,” dropped in 1998, followed in 2004 with the New York City-themed To the 5Boroughs and the instrumental 2007 LP, The Mix Up. MCA sadly passed away in 2012 and the band’s last album together, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, was released in 2011. The group has sold more than 20 million albums in the United States, including seven platinum LPs from 1986 to 2004. At one point, Licensed to Ill was the best-selling rap album ever.

The trio was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, only the third rap group ever to earn that distinction.

The Name Continued

In an interview with Charlie Rose in 2007, MCA said that it was former member, John Berry, who suggested the name “Beastie Boys.” The trio at some point in their careers began to say that “Beastie” was an acronym that stood to mean, “Boys Entering Anarchistic States Towards Inner Excellence.” However, in the same interview, MCA and Mike D said that was only applied after the fact, an “afterthought,” after Beastie Boys was already selected.

Bonus: the Members’ Names

Adam Yauch took on his name MCA as an acronym standing for “Master of Ceremonies Adam.”

Michael Diamond took on his name Mike D as a simple abbreviation of his own name.

Adam Horovitz took on his name Ad-Rock as an abbreviation of his first name with the word rock after to signify musical prowess and power.

Photo: Capitol Records

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