Exclusive Features
Anniversaries, Cover Stories, Editorials,
Interviews, Lists, and Comprehensive Rankings

The Genius of the Beastie Boys in 10 Music Videos

on April 22, 2020, 11:00am
view all

“(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” from Licensed to Ill (1986)

Director: Adam Dubin and Ric Menello

Beastie Boys did a lot more than crash a friendly, little get-together in this ode to pranks, pies, and partying. They further propped up a still burgeoning MTV network, set the stage for their diamond-selling debut, Licensed to Ill, and hammered home the punk-next-door personas that would haunt them in the years to come. Rock, D, and MCA would perpetuate these characters onstage, in late-night TV spots, and even in future promotions like the “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” video (also directed by Dubin and Menello), where the three would crash not a party but a rock show. No, the look hasn’t aged well (though it’s leap years ahead of “She’s on It”), but there’s also a juvenile charm here that would stick with the Boys, even as they began a string of releases that would both prove their sophistication as musicians and change hip-hop forever. Anyway, kick it!

To the Mustaches!: Hell, other than MCA’s five-o’clock shadow, there’s barely a chin pube to be found on these baby-faced Beasties. As for the wardrobe, Mike D clearly did his homework and gets an A if the goal is b-boy wannabe. As for MCA and Ad-Rock, their looks scream more Arthur Fonzarelli and pizza delivery boy in a B-porno production, respectively.

“Shadrach” from Paul’s Boutique (1989)

Director: Nathanial Hörnblowér

While Licensed to Ill made the Beasties household hoodlums, it also pigeonholed them as the same frat-boy types they used to mock. Eager to disassociate themselves from that image, they left Def Jam, took some time off, and created Paul’s Boutique, a masterpiece both in scope of sampling and in multi-layering production. It’s fitting, then, that the album’s second single, “Shadrach”, received a music video that captured both the raw energy of the Beasties and the new sophistication they brought as artists and producers. Directed by Nathanial Hörnblowér (aka MCA), the video, consisting of individually painted frames, pops like a sidewalk chalk drawing come to life, showing clear inspiration from past New York art movements. Never again would the Beasties be mistaken for buffoons.

To the Mustaches!: Wardrobe and makeup time here were minimal unless you were one of the Klasky Csupo animation artists painting the video one frame at a time.

“So What’cha Want” from Check Your Head (1992)

Director: Nathanial Hörnblowér

By the time Check Your Head came out, the Beasties had already kicked in establishment doors and changed the rules of the game. However, that didn’t mean their rapping hands weren’t near the pulse of the world around them. The album and songs like “So What’cha Want” went lighter on the samples and saw the trio return to playing their own instruments. Between the brash, slowed-down punk sound, Pacific Northwest locale and attire, and photo-negative skies and visions of apocalyptic-level natural disasters, the band proved they were more Seattle than Seattle at a time when the Emerald City was far more popular music-wise than the Big Apple.

To the Mustaches!: Those beanies and flannel didn’t come from the 5 boroughs … maybe the Knicks ringed tee.

“Time for Livin'” from Check Your Head (1992)

Director: Spike Jonze

One of the reasons Spike Jonze was such a draw as a music video director in the mid-’90s were his roots in the skate scene. He had cut his future Oscar-winning teeth on photographing and filming skateboarders. And while Ad-Rock, Mike D, and MCA seemed content not to lace up here, no doubt a lot of Beastie fans felt seen or found the band through the skate scene. Skateboarding footage tethered to live shots of the former punk band covering Sly and the Family Stone’s “Time for Livin'” in full (they had sampled Sly on “Shadrach”) made for a dynamic duo of trick boarding and thrashing. It’s yet another way the Beastie Boys spoke to multiple scenes, and the collaboration with Jonze would lead to the band’s finest moment on video a couple years later.

To the Mustaches!: It wasn’t exactly a stretch turning the Beasties’ daily wardrobe of baggy pants, t-shirts, and sneakers into skating gear.

“Sabotage” from Ill Communication (1994)

Director: Spike Jonze

Certain music videos are markers — absolute capsules — for their time. More than that, they not only capture a time but offer viewers the very thing needed at that moment. Ironically, the Beasties’ quintessential ’90s video riffed on old cop shows from the ’70s. But in a year where the alternative rock bubble seemed ready to burst and Kurt Cobain, a few short months later, would take his own life, there’s something so necessarily silly about three Jewish rappers, dressed and coiffed as stereotypical ’70s cops, in high-speed pursuit of car-exploding action — all set to a brilliant, abrasive slice of rap-rock about being pissed off at studio producer Mario Caldato, Jr. It may not go down as Spike Jonze’s finest work, but it’ll make the highlight reel for sure.

To the Mustaches!: The wigs, the ‘staches, the shades, the ties … this is the dream haul that sends us back to thrift stores again and again.

Click ahead for more Beastie Boys genius…

view all