Q&A with Mike D. of the Beastie Boys

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Q: The Beastie Boys did a bit of an about-face. The band circa License to Ill seemed to espouse a certain persona of beer-drinking frat boys. Despite it being tongue-in-cheek, the band became initially associated with that stereotype. From there, the band has since gone out of its way to do a turnaround, from attempting to increase awareness of the plight of Tibet to issues of sexism and homophobia. How effective do you think the medium of music is as a tool of this type of social change?

A: Music has always had a really profound place in our world because music as a form just goes beyond how words can reach people, or for that matter, even how visual images can reach people. Music has the ability to touch or galvanize or grab people, if you will, in a truly transcendent way. It can either take a collective mass of people on a journey to a different place or inspire them to become involved in making their own music or to initiate some great social change. This is evident across cultures, across time and involves every different kind of music, whether you're talking about Hip Hop, Punk Rock, the many revolutions that have taken place within the brief history of Jazz, Gospel Music, or even the roots of Sanskrit as a language. It's an ancient language, going back thousands and thousands and thousands of years was always meant to be recited and sung, basically. I know it sounds a bit far-fetched on my part.

Q: Did You expect Hip Hop to become the major, cultural force that it is today?

A: Definitely not. When I first heard Hip Hop, like battle tapes or the first Sugarhill records, being someone who was into Punk Rock at the time, it totally blew me away. The only other music I was listening to at the time was Punk Rock and Reggae. All of a sudden, Hip Hop was almost, if not equally radical, way more radical than either Punk Rock or Reggae. It was combining beats and vocals and was really stripped down and getting its message across without having to be hugely produced. Instantly, I knew it was for me. I instantly became a huge fan of Hip Hop and held it on a very high pedestal. I had really high regard for it. We'd hooked up with Rick Rubin, who then went onto produce our first record. Through him and Russel Simmons, we met Run-DMC. That was a huge thing for us, because to me, Run-DMC were huge rock stars. "Sucker MC's" was out in New York, and that was a huge record and "Jam Mater Jay" was a huge record. They dropped their first album with "Rock Box" on it, and that was a huge song. To me they were tremendous stars. The fact that we were actually hanging out with them and around them when they were making records and on tour with them, I thought of that as really huge, but at the same time, if you'd asked at that time if I could foresee Hip Hop becoming the backbone of all kinds of popular music that's made today — whether its pop songs having looped beats or rock songs on rock — styled radio having guys rapping and having a D.J. in today's equivalent of heavy metal bands? I'd say no. There's no way I would have foreseen that.

Q: What are you currently excited about?

A: I'm always a bit eclectic, if you will. Hip Hop will always be an ongoing thing for me, and I don't just mean old Hip Hop. Like I said, I love the Neptune's production. I'm totally amazed with some of the songs they've done for Jay-Z and Ludacris. At the same time, I love having discovered Bhangra from being in taxicabs. Here in New York, you've got everything. There's even the other side of Indian music, like the whole devotional musical scene. That's how I met Bhagavan Das, and I produced a record for him. I met him through this small spiritual music scene, and he has just had an amazing voice. I had him sing on this Moby remix I was doing at the time, and I ended up making an album with him. That to me is one of the incredible things in New York. You can go from hearing incredible devotional music on Wednesday night, going out to see Radiohead play at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, and staying home on Friday listening to whatever you wanna listen to because its too crazy outside. And on your way back and forth to any these things, you get to check out whatever it is that your taxi driver's checkin' out.

Q: What do you think of the current mainstream?

A: That's a pretty broad question. Mainstream to me encompasses everything from N'Sync to P. Diddy to Jay-Z to Dr. Dre to J-Lo. In an interesting way, I wonder if we've ever had a time when mainstream actually has meant so many different things simultaneously. To me that's a potentially good thing, being the electric eclectic type of person.

Q: What's next?

A: Well, like I said, I did the music for that Bhagavan Das record, and that comes out in August. On the band front, that's in the Top Secret stage, because we're working in the lab so to speak, at the moment, and scientists like to keep their things secret.

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