Heds and Dreds: The Beastie Boys’ Reggae Jones

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Words by Jesse Serwer and DJ Gravy—

Being ambassadors for reggae music is not one of the things the Beastie Boys are well known for but the group’s members—Ad-Rock, Mike D and the late, great MCA, Adam Yauch, who died Friday from throat cancer—were all, in their own ways, students and aficionados of Jamaican music. It’s something you can hear on “Beastie Revolution,” from 1983’s Cookie Puss EP—the one that saw the former hardcore punk band develop into a boundary-pushing hip-hop outfit—and on their very last release, The Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. (We just saw Mike D freaking out over vintage dancehall at a Johnny Osbourne show on Long Island last summer.)

Back before the Internet took over, Beastie Boys lyrics were where many teenagers of my generation learned about interesting music we otherwise wouldn’t have known about. Stuff like Rammellzee, Jimmy Smith and Lee Dorsey. I doubt that I knew the name “Lee Perry” before Ill Communication dropped during the last weeks of my freshman year in high school but I can say for sure that it was the references to Scratch on that album and his cover story in the Beasties’ magazine Grand Royal that started me on my journey into dub music. Click through below for some more examples of how reggae has colored the Beasties’ eclectic catalog. And thank you, Adam Yauch, for taking my peers and I on an incredible musical odyssey these last 26 years. —Jesse Serwer

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  • The Beasties truly represented my musical path more than any other group ever. I came of age (11-13) going to see to hardcore bands like Bad Brains and Murphy’s Law, who obviously both had big reggae/ska influences. At the same time, I was being introduced to “The Harder They Come” soundtrack (which includes the “Stop That Train” sample), Eek A Mouse, Steel Pulse, Yellowman and the like. I remember, my boy had all these reggae artist names scrawled on his book bag, and it just had a HUGE effect on me. I went and found all those artists.

    After being raised on classic rock, yacht rock and 80s music, hardcore and punk were the next logical step. Then, all the hardcore kids in Boston (where I grew up) took off their Doc Martens, and put on sneakers, started listening to/going to more reggae, ska and hip-hop shows, and called themselves “sneaker boys”. Precisely at this time, I moved to NYC. I never went to another hardcore show again. I got completely obsessed with listening to Red Alert, Stretch Armstrong, Kid Capri and Silver Dee on the radio, and just got consumed by hip-hop. Later on, I went back and caught back up on all these previous phases, which was great therapy.

    The Beasties represent the true nature of hip-hop and dj culture to me. The people that started hip-hop (and dj culture), just loved music. ALL KINDS. But the Beasties also had a musical progression that mirrored mine, which transcends any of that for me. The connection between reggae, punk, hardcore and hip-hop is something that I think many people who call themselves “hip-hop fans” just don’t even understand. Kudos for shedding a little light on some of these connections!

  • Jesse Serwer

    Great comment, Synapse. I see we had a lot of common in our musical paths growing up. I got bit by the hip-hop bug early, thanks very specifically to License to Ill (and also Raising Hell), but got real into hardcore and punk right around the same age bracket you speak of. It was incredible during that Check Your Head era to discover the rap group who’d made my favorite album up to that point were also a punk band, too! At that time music was really divided. My friends who liked rock hated hip-hop and vice versa. The Beasties confirmed for me how those divisions were ridiculous while educating me to more and more musical styles in the process.

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  • The Beasties definitely helped introduce me to some great music in my youth. Great read. You pointed out some samples and references I hadn’t noticed before. Two more favorites of mine, both from Ill Communication, are the intro to ‘Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing’ by Big Youth on ‘Futterman’s Rule’ and Scratch’s proclamation of “(Music to) rock the nation” from ‘Dub Revolution’ featured on ‘Flute Loop.’