The Beastie Boys helped establish hip-hop as the dominant force we know today with their emphatic 1986 debut release Licensed To Ill. The album was a breath of fresh air, a hybrid of the underground New York hip-hop scene and the punk movement, with the Beastie Boys channelling an attitude reminiscent of Joe Strummer among many others.
That album is one of the finest debut offerings of all time. It spawned splendid songs like ‘Brass Monkey’, ‘The New Style’ and ‘No Sleep Til Brooklyn’, but, controversially it would be the most played song from the album that the group would be least proud of recording. As this was their first release, many people didn’t understand that a large chunk of everything Beastie Boys related was drenched in irony and poking fun at areas of society. Then when they released the visceral, ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)’, most people took the song at face value much to the irritation of Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock.
The track established the group as stars, but the song’s novelty aspect could have trapped a lot of groups in its grasp. However, The Beastie Boys were wise to this and somehow resisted falling into the trap of being a joke group, even though they managed to keep their humour — they weren’t going to let one song define them.
‘Fight For Your Right’ was a parody of the frat culture of the day. Rather than being treated with the desired effect they intended, the track instead became an anthem celebrating the very thing it was poking fun at. Because it was their first hit single, this meant that it was a lot of people’s first introduction into The Beastie Boys’ world. They understandably took the group at face value and assumed they stood for standing for everything they detested.
“It was summer 1986. We wrote it in about five minutes,” Mike D recalled in 1987. “We were in the Palladium with Rick Rubin, drinking vodka and grapefruit juice, and ‘Fight for Your Right’ was written in the Michael Todd Room on napkins on top of those shitty lacy tables. I remember we made a point there of like, ‘Look, we gotta get shit done,’ and we sat at one table, really determined to accomplish something.”
Although, Mike D has fond memories of creating the track — how people interpreted the song was an entirely different story, “The only thing that upsets me is that we might have reinforced certain values of some people in our audience when our own values were actually totally different,” he lamented. “There were tons of guys singing along to [Fight for Your Right] who were oblivious to the fact it was a total goof on them. Irony is often missed.”
Thankfully, Beastie Boys didn’t allow themselves to get cornered into a niche novelty area of hip-hop. Although they resisted from ever taking themselves seriously, they always maintained that artistic integrity which they could have easily traded in for short term financial gains but that was never the Beastie Boys style.