B-Boys Get Heimishe For Heeb

I had a hunch. Looks like I was right. Heeb landed the Beasties.

We didn’t think of the cover concept for this issue—The Beastie Boys did. When we arrived at the Long Beach Arena in California to photograph them, their publicist greeted us with mixed news. The bad news was that the Beastie Boys weren’t digging any of our cover concepts. The good news was that they had spent the entire afternoon in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles scavenging for props for their own concept: delinquents in an alleyway playing dreydl instead of craps—a kind of Cooley High meets Welcome Back, Kotter.

The Beasties’ latest album, To The 5 Boroughs, has been widely acknowledged as a return to the old school, a paean to their early days in New York. But one element is entirely new: what Ad–Rock calls the embracing of the “funky–ass Jew.” Though they never explicitly addressed being Jewish in their lyrics, it’s always seemed to be part of their mystique: There was the classic song “Shadrach” about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the three furnace–surviving Jews living under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar from the Book of Daniel; Their confession that they ate shellfish on “B–Boy Bouillabaisse”; and the way that their Jewish surnames, Yauch, Horowitz and Diamond, remained part of their personas—coexisting alongside their hip–hop pseudonymns. Our proclivity to read Jewishness into their opus sometimes went to extremes. While the stoners played their Led Zep albums backwards in search of satanic messages, we decrypted “3MTA3” on the cover of an early album as verification of the rumor that the three had attended the Metropolitan Talmudic Academy in Washington Heights, N.Y., where as rumor had it, they were expelled for eating at White Castle.

It’s because of the Jewish signposts sprinkled throughout their work that their latest album feels like a Rosetta Stone. Whether in call–outs to “hide the matzoh” or “holler back challah bread” or the couplet “the truth is brutal/your grandma’s kugel,” the Beastie Boys are entering a new artistic stage, and pleasantly, it’s not one they’re shy discussing. I spoke with Adam Yauch and Adam Horowitz in the dining room outside their recording studio in New York, and Mike D by phone from Los Angeles, where he and his wife reside with their newborn baby. Over the course of our conversations, MCA showed me how to best simulate Borat’s Jew–claw; Ad–Rock nominated Mix Master Mike as the Schwartz of the Month; and Mike D asked me how to say pimp in Hebrew.

On newsstands now! Peep photos of the kiddush wine swilling, matzoh chomping B-boys here.

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