It's a few weeks from the kickoff of the Beastie Boys fall tour and Adam Horowitz is home in New York looking for the balance between rocking the arena crowds and making sense of an upcoming presidential election. Not to mention a more uncertain global future.
"It just seems more now than ever, we have a president that really is not looking out for us," he says. "It's like Bush doesn't give a shit about us. I think a lot of people are realizing that we really fucked up by letting him sort of make his way into the presidency."
Coming from a rapper whose band used to tour the world with a stage set adorned with John Holmes'-sized hydraulic penises and women dancing in cages, Ad-Rock's comments can be perceived two ways: This is the latest chapter in the Beastie Boys evolution as musicians and individuals, or it is just another wealthy rock star using their position to push a liberal agenda.
Ad-Rock (ne, Adam Horowitz) understands both sides of the coin. Sometimes people just don't want to hear their rock stars on the soap box. The controversy surrounding recent concerts by Pearl Jam, Linda Ronstandt and the Dixie Chicks have shown that more than a few fans turn to their favorite artists for entertainment, not perspective.
"I understand where someone is saying that," he says. "I've definitely been that person too, you know? I'm sure I'm still that person in a lot of ways... sometimes you just don't want to hear it. It's like you can't let George Bush and these people rule your whole life. They take up so much space already... so I just want to hear a band....
"Just like rock out, like I don't want to think about it, 'cause I think about it all the time," he laughs.
To be an American these days means to have current events on the mind-especially the closer we get to Nov. 2. But in a time when the general news media seem to be asleep at the wheel when it comes to asking the current administration tough questions, Ad-Rock and his partners in rhyme see a larger problem.
"I think it's difficult for the political press to do their job," he suggests. "It's like, who runs the media?
"The political press is shrinking and shrinking. Like a couple of good radio shows, at best, and you got some magazines and some papers and you have the Internet, I guess."
Some may call it grandstanding, but those who have followed the musical arc of the Beastie Boys understand that evolution is something they do.
Weaned on the breast milk of '80s hardcore bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat, and galvanized by the pioneering hip-hop of Run DMC, Public Enemy and the Sugarhill Gang, the B-Boys began their journey as snot-nosed hip-hop punks spitting "doody" rhymes about Brooklyn, Brass Monkey and the exploits of Paul Revere on 1986's Licensed to Ill. The album brought them success and helped legitimize hip-hop to the suits running the major record labels at the time-if white youth were making it, then white youth must be buying it, too.
After going sample-crazy psychedelic with 1989's masterpiece Paul's Boutique, the trio brought back live instrumentation and a hardcore edge in the early '90s with Check Your Head and its shinier companion, Ill Communication. Both were infused with a new sense of responsibility, of personal accountability.
The teaching of the Dalai Lama and the endless sonic possibilities of emerging recording technology replaced the beer and the bong. Gone were misogynistic raps and liquor anthems and in their place were tracks dealing with loss ("Gratitude"), the environment ("Something's Got to Give") and Buddhist teachings and culture ("Bodhisattva Vow"). 1998's Hello Nasty was a true musical bouillabaisse of the band's influences (especially old-school hip-hop of "3MCs and 1 DJ" and "Intergalactic") as well as small moves into new territory (the bossa nova inflected "I Don't Know").
One thing that remained intact from album to album was the group's tongue-in-cheek vocabulary of pop culture and its innate sense of beats that ignite concert halls and arenas. Songs like "So What'Cha Want," "Pass the Mic," "Sure Shot" and "Sabotage" ensured sellout tours and record sales in the millions.
Then six years passed between albums. The United States coasted through the mass paranoia of Y2K only to run smack into political scandal with that year's presidential election. Then 9/11 and another war with Iraq. The Boys are now on the far side of 30, some married with kids and some living mere blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood.
"We all live in downtown Manhattan, and we were all there," Adam "MCA" Yauch told the Ottawa Sun when asked about 9/11. "It was pretty intense. When the building started falling, there was like dust coming up toward my house. It stopped a few blocks away."
Having your hometown on constant alert for possible mass-destruction is something people like the Beastie Boys can't ignore nor escape. Despite the threat of infuriating some of its fan base, the trio released the all-hip-hop To the 5 Burroughs. It's part love letter to the city that made them and part call to action for fans to take political action this fall and help vote George W. Bush out of office.
"Some people just don't give a shit and don't understand, and unfortunately, they really need to pay attention for just a minute," Ad-Rock says. "Because they could be really fucked in the future... like really fucked... they don't understand how fucked they could be."
With the up-coming Rock for Change tour, including Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Dave Mathews and REM among others, more and more rockers are hoping to energize the largest and most apathetic voting demographic-Generation Y. This movement isn't lost on Ad-Rock.
"You see a lot of people-entertainers, musicians and whatnot-really getting political," he says. "I really believe that, more than I can remember, mainstream entertainers, movie actors and musicians are getting involved and that's because more than ever we have a president that doesn't care about us."
And so the Beastie Boys have come full circle. They blew up with a hip-hop album of party anthems and anarchistic nursery rhymes that was embraced by teenagers across the nation. It was also one of the albums that scared parents and politically active housewives enough to organize hearings on the messages contained in popular music.
The B-Boys are still fighting for your rights; they've just come to realize that one of those rights is to have leaders who represent the will of the people.
What sets the Beastie Boys apart from other rockers stepping to the political podium is they haven't forgotten about music's escapist function. To quote hip-hop legend KRS-One, it's "edutainment" for the masses. For those fans who just want to groove, the big beats and obscure samples are still intact. But maybe they'll walk away with an interest in at least becoming a participatory member of the voting nation.
With a stop in San Diego on the anniversary of 9/11, the thought of performing on the other side of the country, in the land of sunshine, on that haunted date, is a bit strange for Ad-Rock.
"It's definitely weird to be away from New York at that time," he says. "It should be interesting."
When asked what fans can expect on the current tour, the anarchic B-Boy tips to the other side of the B-Boy appeal:
"A lot of glitz, a lot of glamour, a lot of big names," he boasts, carnival-barker style. " It's a revue, it's a pageant!" BThe Beastie Boys play with Talib Kweli at Cox Arena, 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 11. $29.50-$40. 619-220-8497.