As creator and host of pioneering video show Video Music Box, "Uncle Ralph" McDaniels has seen the Beastie Boys' career flourish firsthand for more than 30 years. "The Box" was one of the first outlets to play the group's videos and in the early 1980s, McDaniels quickly recognized the nuclear bomb-sized impact the group would have on hip hop. McDaniels shared his thoughts on the Beasties' legacy and death of Adam "MCA" Yauch to Fuse.
When we were doing Video Music Box in 1986, we used to have days where we would have artists come up to the station in downtown Manhattan. It was [Def Jam’s] Russell Simmons or Lyor Cohen who said, “I want to send the Beasties over to do some interviews.” There was a who’s who of ‘80s rappers and the boys came through and hung out. It was overwhelming to them because these were all rappers that they were fans of. You can tell they were like, “Whoa, how did we get here?”
They came out in a good year because it was the emergence of Video Music Box, MTV, etc. Prior to that, you were hearing the songs late night on the radio or in the club, but now you were seeing it in your home. People didn’t have to go to South Bronx or Bed-Stuy. They can just sit in their house and watch. The Beasties had that advantage that other artists prior to them didn’t.
For a lot of early hip hop heads, [the group’s 1986 first single] “Hold It, Now Hit It” was immediately a hit. It was a regular song you’d hear in Union Square that, at the time, was predominantly African-American and Latino. But they were automatically accepted into that world.
You knew they were going to big right from the beginning. You could see that the audience was now much bigger than it had been. When they came out, you saw the reaction. Suburban clubs that didn’t play hip hop were playing Beastie Boys records. You saw that they were moving into areas that some African-American artists didn’t have the opportunity to do.
Adam and the rest of the guys had that authenticity. You saw them in the clubs. You hung out with them. They were part of the scene and always had their roots in hip hop. Some people didn’t see their punk roots as authentic, but they were just doing what they do. At the time, punk and hip hop were synonymous in downtown Manhattan. We didn’t necessarily roll with the punkers, but we knew what they were into and the energy was the same, so you respected them all the same.
Adam realized that once the Beastie Boys had a platform, that they could make a change with what they said and they took advantage of that. They took on so many causes over the years and that’s where hip hop’s original idea was: to get information out on things going on in our community. They’ve done a lot of different things in their career, but it always led back to what hip hop was all about.
I think the legacy of Adam and the Beastie Boys is that they did their own thing. They didn’t try to be anybody else or fit in. And that’s not easy at all with the pressures of a label or some young guy going, “Yo, you need to do this.” They did it the way they felt it and that’s what life is about it. Just do what you do and hope that somebody recognizes it and appreciates it. - As told to Jason Newman