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A founding member of the pioneering hip-hop group Beastie Boys, Michael "Mike D" Diamond helped to bridge the gap between not only rock and rap but between black and white listeners with his group's irreverent, often surreal songs and music videos. Diamond co-founded the group as a teenager with Adam "MCA" Yauch, ushering it from a brief tenure as a punk act in the late 1970s to an early hip-hop act anchored by crude but deftly delivered anthems to debauchery like "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" They soon transformed themselves into a more mature, if still wryly humorous group that mixed their punk past with elements of jazz, electronica and heavy doses of samples from obscure records, earning Grammys along the way for the album Hello Nasty (1998) and its addictive single, "Intergalactic," and selling some 21 million records while wielding considerable influence on the next generation of rappers. Diamond became the group's business director, spearheading the launch of their Grand Royal record label and magazine, as well as co-founding the X-Large clothing line. The Beastie Boys came full circle in 2012 with their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but with the death of...
A founding member of the pioneering hip-hop group Beastie Boys, Michael "Mike D" Diamond helped to bridge the gap between not only rock and rap but between black and white listeners with his group's irreverent, often surreal songs and music videos. Diamond co-founded the group as a teenager with Adam "MCA" Yauch, ushering it from a brief tenure as a punk act in the late 1970s to an early hip-hop act anchored by crude but deftly delivered anthems to debauchery like "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" They soon transformed themselves into a more mature, if still wryly humorous group that mixed their punk past with elements of jazz, electronica and heavy doses of samples from obscure records, earning Grammys along the way for the album Hello Nasty (1998) and its addictive single, "Intergalactic," and selling some 21 million records while wielding considerable influence on the next generation of rappers. Diamond became the group's business director, spearheading the launch of their Grand Royal record label and magazine, as well as co-founding the X-Large clothing line. The Beastie Boys came full circle in 2012 with their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but with the death of co-founding member Adam Yauch only a month later, their career appeared to come to a close. But had Diamond never recorded another note with the Beastie Boys, he would still have had a quarter-century's worth of incredibly diverse popular music to his name.
Born Nov. 20, 1965 in New York City, he was, like his future bandmates, the product of an upper-middle-class Jewish upbringing. While still in high school, he began his music career, though not in hip-hop. Rather, Diamond gravitated towards punk rock, co-founding a band called The Young Aborigines in 1979. Diamond played drums and provided vocals for the group, which added fellow punk devotee Adam Yauch on bass. The act, which eventually changed its moniker to the Beastie Boys, soon became a fixture of the New York punk scene, landing opening slots on high-profile bills with the Misfits and Bad Brains, among other legendary acts. After recording the 1982 EP Polly Wog Stew, the band added guitarist Adam Horovitz of The Young and the Useless to their lineup. Longtime fans of early New York hip-hop, the Beastie Boys recorded their first rap track, "Cooky Puss," which incorporated a recording of an obscene prank call made by the group to a Carvel Ice Cream shop in 1983. The single became a cult favorite on the underground club scene, convincing the Beastie Boys to shift their attentions to rap.
After adopting the hip-hop monikers MCA (Yauch), Mike D (Diamond) and Ad-Rock (Horovitz), the Beastie Boys recorded their first hip-hop EP, Rock Hard (1985) for Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, who had launched their own rap label, Def Jam, from their dorm room at New York University. The Beastie Boys' individual vocal styles and delivery were immediately apparent and meshed almost perfectly, with Diamond's brassy voice offering brash counterpoint to Horovitz's bratty nasal honk and Yauch's hoarse, guttural bray. The group soon made their feature film debut in "Krush Groove" (1985), which was loosely based on Simmons' experiences during the early days of Def Jam. Their single "She's On It," which was featured on the film's soundtrack, reached the Top 10 on the U.K. singles chart, which helped to launch their popularity in Europe. However, the Beastie Boys remained virtually unknown in America until they landed the opening slot on Madonna's Virgin Tour. While the pop singer's fan base did not warm to the group's raunchy on-stage banter, the exposure afforded to such a high-profile tour boosted their visibility to a national level.
In 1986, their debut album, Licensed to Ill - buoyed by the hilariously crass single "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!), became not only the first rap album to hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100, but also the biggest selling rap album of the decade. Critics complained that the Beasties' material was crude, misogynistic and altogether mindless, which may have been part of their appeal to young male listeners of all races. But the album, produced by Rubin, shrewdly drew parallels between the boys-will-be-boys attitude and ear-splitting volume of heavy metal and punk to rap, which was underscored by the presence of Slayer guitarist Kerry King on the song "No Sleep til Brooklyn." The Beasties soon launched their first world tour, which was punctuated by numerous arrests and lawsuits, as well as a rash of thefts involving Volkswagen car hood ornaments in an homage to Diamond's stage wear, which featured an oversized VW icon on a thick linked chain. By 1987, the group had quit Def Jam over personal and financial differences, leaving industry observers to wonder how they would top their astonishing debut success.
After signing to Capitol Records, the Beastie Boys surprised fans and critics alike with Paul's Boutique (1989), a clever pastiche of carefully chosen samples from obscure funk and soul records and updated sonic references to recording styles of the past driven by their new producers, the Dust Brothers. The band's humor had also mellowed to show a distinctly self-deprecating side, as evidenced in their music video for the lead single, "Hey Ladies," which featured the Beasties as hapless disco dandies. Though it failed to reproduce the incredible success of Licensed to Ill, Paul's Boutique gave the Beastie Boys credibility in both mainstream music and hip-hop, where they were feted for their detailed musical knowledge and skillful production. It also served as the launching pad for a string of creatively inspired albums that showcased the band's versatility while remaining true to their "old school" hip-hop origins. The double-platinum Check Your Head (1992) saw the group pick up live instruments for the first time since the early '80s and pay tribute to their punk past with a hardcore take on the Sly and the Family Stone song "Time for Livin'."
In 1994, the group returned to the top of the Billboard album charts with Ill Communication, the same year they co-headlined the Lollapalooza Festival with Smashing Pumpkins. They continued to broaden their musical horizons with the punk EP Aglio e Olio (1995) and the soul/funk instrumental record The In Sound from Way Out! (1996). During this period, Diamond took the leading role in the band's business ventures, including their own label, Grand Royal, which signed former Beastie Boys drummer Kate Schellenbach's group, Luscious Jackson, as well as Sean Lennon, Ben Lee, Atari Teenage Riot and others. He also spearheaded the group's short-lived but hilariously offbeat publishing venture, Grand Royal magazine, and was among the original partners in X-Large, a clothing line which soon became de rigueur among urban/hip -hop musicians and fans. In 1993, Diamond married director Tamra Davis, who had helmed the 1989 music video for their single "Netty's Girl."
During this period, the Beastie Boys remained remarkably active as musicians. Their chart-topping 1998 album Hello Nasty was perhaps their most eclectic recording to date, featuring a heady mix of hip-hop and rock as well as soul, bossa nova and salsa. It captured Grammys for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for the single "Intergalactic." The Top 20 best-of album The Sounds of Science (1999) preceded a planned tour with Rage Against the Machine and Busta Rhymes, but the Beasties were forced to cancel their participation after Diamond was involved in a serious bicycling accident, which required surgery and extensive rehabilitation. During this period, he recorded a tongue-in-cheek country record called Country Mike's Greatest Hits (1999), which was given as a Christmas present to friends and family.
Following his recovery, Diamond teamed with Alanis Morrissette to organize an effort to remove coal industry lobbyist J. Steven Griles from his post as Deputy Secretary of the Interior. He was also named as the defendant in Newton v. Diamond, a landmark legal case regarding the fair use of music sampling. Composer James Newton attempted to sue the group over the use of a six-second flute passage from his composition, "Choir." The suit was eventually dismissed after it was decided that the brief segment, which had been authorized by Newton's label and paid for by the Beastie Boys, did not qualify as a significant portion of the original song, and therefore insufficient to sustain a claim for copyright infringement.
The Beastie Boys served as their own producers for To the Five Boroughs, which returned them to the top of the albums chart in 2004. Another all-instrumental album, The Mix-Up (2007), saw slightly less sales but netted a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album. Its follow-up, Hot Sauce Committee, was slated for release in 2009, but Yauch was diagnosed with cancerous tumors in both his parotid gland and a lymph node. The record and subsequent tour was postponed while Yauch underwent successful surgery and radiation treatment. The album, retitled Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, which resembled the previous incarnation save for one track, shot to No. 2 on the album charts in 2011, while its second single, a duet with Nas on "Too Many Rappers," received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. The Yaunch-directed video for "Make Some Noise" paid tribute to their gonzo video for "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)," with actors Seth Rogen (sporting Diamond's trademark porkpie hat and VW necklace), Elijah Wood and Danny McBride playing the younger Beasties as they continued their mischievous reign of terror. The Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. Diamond and Horovitz paid loving tribute to Yauch, who was absent from the ceremony, reigniting media speculation that he had again fallen ill. Rumors were sadly proven correct on May 4, 2012, when his death was announced on the Beastie Boys website. His passing marked what appeared to be the end of one of the most accomplished and creative musical acts in hip-hop history.
By Paul Gaita
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