Diamond: I did go [to Vassar] for a semester, and it was hard. I had to go [to my mom] and say, “It’s a total waste of your money and my time, because all I want to do is be in this band.” Rick and Russell were like, “You’re gonna make a video for ‘She’s On It.’” And in our minds, we were the biggest deal in the entire world. Our friends might not have agreed. But you know what I meanall of a sudden we were making a video, and it started to get shown. We were big on the local video channel U68.
Ross: They went up to perform at the Apollo, and Beastie Boys shows at this point were a little haphazard at best. But by the second song, Mike D’s doing the Jerry Lewis, and the whole Apollo Theater is going, “Go, white boys! Go, white boys!” In my head I’m like, “My friends are gonna be famous!”
Horovitz: And then the Madonna tour happened. We did like three songs, and then I did the electric boogaloo for a minute, and then we fucked with the audience. They hated us. Kids literally in tears, parents wanting to kill us. It was awesome. They wanted to kick us off the tour, and Madonna was like, “These guys are staying, these guys are great.” We got back to New York, and we were really feeling ourselves. We were crushing our old spots.
Diamond: Then it was like, we could go to our old spots as a full-time occupation. As far as we were concerned, we were getting paid to go to those places.
While on the Madonna tour, Yauch and Diamond had given keys to their Chinatown apartment to their buddies, who promptly trashed the place beyond habitability. Diamond’s new apartment, on Hudson Street, became unofficial headquarters. The band was now working on the music that would become Licensed to Ill. Before its release, in the fall, the trio would hit the road as Run DMC’s supporting act on the “Raising Hell” tour, which cemented their stage characters: Generally speaking, MCA was the bad boy, Ad-Rock the cute one, and Mike D the comedian.
Horovitz: That year was basically Mike’s house during the day, writing lyrics, going to the club, going to the studio, going back to the club. We would write and write and write, then read the lyrics out loud to see who liked what. And that’s kind of how we’ve always done it since then. Rick had a drum machine, and I used to go to his dorm room and make beats. I made the beat for LL Cool J’s first single, “I Need a Beat.” I bought an 808 at Rogue Music [the Roland TR-808 was one of the first programmable drum machines] with some of the settlement money.
Diamond: We would start with the music, and then Rick would clean it all up. Rick had the ability to make things sound legitimate and bigger, to make it sound like a record.
Rubin: Each one had a strong personality. When we came up with rhymes, we tried to cast them for the right character and the right voice.
Horovitz: It just sort of happened. It wasn’t like, “Okay I’m going to be like Melle Mel, you’re Kool Moe Dee.”
Diamond: We never broke it down like, “Okay, I’m the baritone.”
Chuck Eddy, music writer (who did a notorious Beasties piece in 1987 for Creem): They were smart, arty Jewish kids from New York, and they created these white-trash burnout characters with the help of Rubin. And they pulled it off.
Horovitz: One night at the studio, me and Adam and Mike, we’re waiting outside, drinking beers, and we see Run running down the street screaming, and DMC is way behind him. They were so excited: They’d come up with the idea for our song “Paul Revere” on the way there. We loved Run DMC—and then we were on tour with them. It was like: “Wow, if we’re hanging around with these dudes, it must mean we’re all right.”
DMC: For the first couple of days of the tour, the towns we were playing were in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee—this was the black South. We expected to hear boos, so we were reluctant to be on the side of the stage, to see them get disappointed. But then from the dressing room, we’d hear “Yeaaaaaah! Yeaaahhh!” It was the black audience, praising these dudes. The reason they were so good: It wasn’t white punk rockers trying to be black emcees. They wasn’t talking about gold chains or Cadillacs. They were white rappers rapping about what they did. Real recognize real.