As the first white rap group of any importance, the Beastie Boys received the scorn of critics and strident hip-hop musicians, who accused them of cultural pirating, especially since they began as a hardcore punk group in 1981. But the Beasties weren't pirating -- they treated rap as part of a post-punk musical underground, where the do-it-yourself aesthetics of hip-hop and punk weren't that far apart. Of course, the exaggerated b-boy and frat-boy parodies of their unexpected hit debut album, Licensed to Ill, didn't help their cause. For much of the mid-'80s, the Beastie Boys were considered as macho clowns, and while their ambitious, Dust Brothers-produced second album, Paul's Boutique, dismissed that theory, it was ignored by both the public and the press at the time. In retrospect, it was one of the first albums to predict the genre-bending, self-referential pop kaleidoscope of '90s pop. The Beasties refined their eclectic approach with 1992's Check Your Head, where they played their own instruments. Check Your Head brought the Beasties back to the top of the charts, and within a few years, they were considered one of the most influential and ambitious groups of the '90s, cultivating a musical community not only through their music, but with their record label, Grand Royal, and their magazine of the same name.
It was remarkable turn of events for a group that demonstrated no significant musical talent on their first records. All three members of the Beastie Boys -- Mike D (born Mike Diamond, November 20, 1966), MCA (born Adam Yauch, August 5, 1965), and Ad-Rock (born Adam Horovitz, October 31, 1967) -- came from wealthy middle-class Jewish families in New York and had become involved in the city's punk underground when they were teenagers in the early '80s.
Diamond and Yauch formed the Beastie Boys with drummer Kate Schellenbach and guitarist John Berry in 1981, and the group began playing underground clubs around New York. The following year, the Beasties released the 7" EP Pollywog Stew on the indie Rat Cage to little attention. That year, the band met Horovitz, who had formed the hardcore group the Young and the Useless. By early 1983, Schellenbach and Berry had left the group -- they would later join Luscious Jackson and Thwig, respectively -- and Horovitz had joined the Beasties. The revamped group released the rap record "Cookie Puss" as a 12" single later in 1983. Based on a prank phone call the group made to Carvel Ice Cream, the single became an underground hit in New York. By early 1984, however, they had abandoned punk and turned their attention to rap.