MCA (What Does It Mean?) – Questlove and Respect To The End
there’s a funny story rick rubin once told me about the first time the beastie boys met schooly d.
lemme do a quick side note. “PSK (What Does It Mean?)” came out in the fall of 1985. that song alone (and its followup “Gucci Time”) had timely influence on The Beastie Boys—from cadence to minimalist loud drums to menacing attitude. (sure, the other BBoy blueprint of influence RUN DMC were street smart. but they weren’t thugs. they were cool) Of course the dominos fell and you can EASILY hear the Beastie influence on the debut ‘NWA & The Posse’ album—which of course if you throw Public Enemy’s production in the mix their sophomore followup: Straight Outta Compton becomes a birth of a nation.
all that said……. they were clearly expecting a gangsterized caricature when meeting mr weaver from west philly. after all this is one of the first dudes to personify the “guns b****** & hoes weed & coke” with dead pan seriousness.
instead. they met a polite dude from west philly.
head scratching time.
i first met the beastie boys spring of 1987. —well kinda
my parents took me straight outta performing arts school for a couple of years in hopes of building a better future jeopardy contestant (?!) so off to city center academy i went in 84. it was a small liberal school on 17th street. 22 students taking advanced courses inside a church that also leased space to a quasi anti planned parenthood establishment.
(go head and head scratch)
we were given a solid hour off for lunch. my 70,000 records didn’t expand themselves. so i used that lunch hour (and my lunch money) to high tail it to 13th & chestnut EVERY tuesday (new albums out that day) to Sound Of Market Record Store. normally for something as monumental as me seeing recording artists i admire my normally photogenic mind can recall every detail. its a lil blurry but i “think” i ran to get the (then) new Nikki Rap & Scratch “I Go Rambo” 12 inch (philadelphians into hip hop around 40 are gasping with “OH SNAP! I REMEMBER THAT JAWN!!” thoughts)—i had routing down to a science: 15 mins to walk from 17th/Spruce to 13th/Chestnut if i was brisk about it. 15 mins to browse and have the store play me something i wasn’t up on. 15 mins to run to Space Port real quick and play a video game —but cops would dead that to cut down of kids cutting class—and another 15 to high tail it back in time for chemistry.
around 17th & walnut i saw my first ever tour bus. it was grey and blue. and like blamo right there! mike d & hurricane! it was a thrilling moment for me cause i was a longtime supporter of the group. just like fans do to me now with Organix (they always “best album ever questo!” to me letting me know how far their fandom goes. of course its not the most horrible example of my discography, but clearly its amateur hour for the roots)— anywho i chose my 3 mins with Mike to tell him i was down since arguing with my cousins their ethnicity (“The Beastie Groove” was a LONGTIME staple of Lady B’s Power 99 fm rapshow on sunday afternoon after church in 84—his quip “you just fessin man i don’t even wanna hear it you just fessin!” to their idiot engineer they were “given them long dollars” to clearly woulda had me wagering my left hand that this group was obviously born somewhere in The Heights around
190th street (go to the 2:20 mark). i mean even the up and coming latin rascals were giving their boom bastic magic with their trademark snare patches. THEY HAD TO BE PUERTO RICAN!—mike chuckled a lil somethin and hurricane gave me a “you lil dweeb” pound and i was out. that day i learned there is nothing in the world a straight up music geek could ever say to an artist that will knock that artist off their feet the same way that artist knocks us off our feet when we hear their music. as hard as we try to return the favor, we just better off with giving them dap and keeping it moving.—-damn this is a long parenthesis afterthought—but i was 16! gimme a break!)
The Beastie Boys were kind enough to spread the love to us on their second go round in 95. (86’s license to ill was brilliant albeit perceived novelty masterpiece, their followups 89’s paul’s boutique & 91’s check your head were necessary sacrifice/build destroy exercises that RARELY work in entertainment (they traded in quick fast teen bop stardom in for rebuilding a credible fan base that would prove loyal til the very end). so once again they defied the odds in 94 with ill communication and wound up back where they started from: Stadiums.
we as a group were struggling to get our bearings in america after spending 2 years in europe & abroad in the woodshed playing to empty clubs and bars. the Boys sacrifice move of “art with commerce” pretty much gave us a large fishing net to cast out and gather our future audience (most of the american fans that tell me “i was there during Organix” crew pretty much are universal in the “I’ve seen you 20 times and the 1st time was with The Beastie Boys!”)
that was my first taste in tour life in america. everything that i’ve ever learned and applied to this day started with this tour:
custom backdrops can add a sense of drama to the stage? that tour. lights are just as an important element as the music? that tour. “the opening act cannot be louder than the headliners!!!!” ha ha we heard that EVERYNIGHT. setting the musical soundtrack in the audience with a cool mix of songs or actually djn music before the show starts? that tour. quadrophonic sound and the engineer being just as important as the band itself? that tour. rider?! wait i can have a fresh box of peanut butter capn crunch AND 6 fresh bottles of dr bonner soap everynight?!?!!? that tour. record shopping in EVERY CITY?!?! that tour. you mean each member has his own tour bus?! THAT keeps the peace? that tour. wait you have a separate room to practice music in backstage?!?! that tour. this basketball court goes wherever you go?!?! that tour. you determine the dinner everynight on the rider?!? that tour. you mean this go kart racing track is gonna stay open for us after midnight when the show is over? that tour. you don’t have to do the same songs every night? like a new show every other day? that tour.
man. this was the education that has sustained me into the business i have now. my passion for sneakers? those guys. making my own custom t shirts? (I’ve made about 2000 in the past 10 years) those guys. my passion for funk records and 45s id pay $500 a record for? those guys. now I’m going through my parents basement looking for old Ebony’s from the 70s and now I’m becoming a pop culture junkie scouring the earth for soul train episodes? those guys. standing for what i politically believe in even if its not popular?
all those guys.
i was expecting the most hedonistic party all night sleep all day experience that spring of 95. all the stuff i heard? the “trim coordinators” the making out with madonna backstage madness, the switching places when the bell is rung? i mean I’m straight up….i was ready for some rowdy assholes to give me a gazillion stories id tell my kids for days. instead i got….
like how did the Roots become the trouble makers of the tour? (weed incident in houston, got maced in austin, “fair warning” in atlanta, almost kicked off in long island) lol yes the most responsible group in hip hop were once lil runts (really i wanna say show business, but once we get to year 30 i’ll brag about that). it took about 14 days but we soon learned that you always show up on time, you never pull a brat/diva move as opening act, and you treat people with respect. by 3rd week we were old pros.
i was constantly begging them cats to do more license/boutique selections. it was like pulling teeth to hear “paul revere” and it was more like “hold it? nah forget it” they’d laugh at my frustration city after city. then one day in st louis:
i kinda eased into a role where i lost the fanboyism and gained the “cool dude” posture that allowed me to gain more access to my heroes.
it was just the four of us. shooting some hoops in the truck storage area (a tradition for those guys before showtime) and they were already to switch up some songs in the lineup. i played the back grabbing rebounds passing it back to them kinda like a ball boy’s role for the team about to hit the court warming up.—they were a song short in the new lineup and were tryna figure out what they could muster up. so then i went for the gusto:
“how about “The New Style”? y’all aint done that in like forever.—-
there was silence….
“wait who starts it?…..
“center stage on the mic….”
“because your girlfriend is cattin….”
“ahmir what’s my line?……”
“oh yeah ‘Father To Many Married To None…..”
‘should we just do 2 verses?”
i lost it “y’all crazy?!?! the breakdown is the best part of the entire song! why do “New Style” if you don’t let all the fly “skimmers feel the beat…..mmmmmmmm drop!”
i convinced em.
they rehearsed the song like 4 times in a row acapella to an audience of me as Dave Seville meets Doug Fresh (what you thought i was gonna let them do my JAM and me not keep the beat?)
i was less geeking out about being there for a legendary moment more than i was peeking at seeing my future.
is this all what it lead up to? come out the gate rowdy and fightin’….and then gain spiritual enlightenment down the line?
the same guy who had “twin sisters in the bed” was now offering women (wives, mothers, & sisters) love and respect to the end.
and you know what? they actually made being “square” kinda cool. i know the Boys are going down in history as “first white act this” and “video pioneers that” and blah blah blah….
but id like to acknowledge that they are truly rocks most realized group. (not hip hop but all music really)
you really don’t see many audiences willing to go where their leaders take them once said audience gets comfortable with a position—i mean even the beatles imploded 5 years post spiritual enlightenment. i mean did we really expect the most thoughtful mature considerate act in music to be the same brats who gave us Licensed To Ill?
i *gasp?!?!?* like the rest of america reading Paul’s Boutique‘s four star lead review in Rolling Stone the week i graduated high school with Axl on the cover.
i was like “they made an artistic expression that THESE guys are bowing down to? no way!!!!!!!
i was head scratching.
as i do with most of these rants i type now and reflect later. I’m just going off the top of my head and seeing where it leads me.
i just wanna thank the guys for an awesome 28 year run. it was an honor paying tribute to you guys two weeks ago and we are forever enlightened.
-?uestlove in the place to be.