The 8 Jews of Rap: The Beastie Boys

The 8 Jews of Rap: The Beastie Boys

Happy Hanukkah! The Jewish "Festival of Lights" comes early this year. (Blame the ancient Hebrew calendar for the annual confusion—it doesn't line up with our modern one.) Hanukkah is the time when Jews worldwide celebrate a miracle that supposedly happened at a temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C. Back then, a group of Jewish rebels called the Maccabees defeated the Greeks who had taken over the city. When they cleaned up the temple and rededicated the place to Judaism, they needed oil to burn in the lamps overnight. (For religious reasons, you were supposed to keep a lamp lit in a temple overnight.) They only had enough oil to burn for one night, but (here's the miracle) that little bit of oil burned for eight nights—long enough for them to get more oil, and keep things going. So that's why the holiday lasts for eight days. (Well, eight nights, technically, and seven days.) And why we light an eight-pronged candelabra called "the menorah," adding a new candle each night. And that's why, also, it seems like a good time to give thanks to some of the most notable Jews in hip-hop history. So sit back and light one (a candle) as we spin some records and the dreidel and celebrate the 8 Jews of Rap.  

Written by Jeff Rosenthal & Eric Rosenthal (@ItsTheReal)

The Beastie Boys, comprising Michael "Mike D" Diamond, Adam Horovitz "Ad-Rock," and Adam "MCA" Yauch, changed hip-hop music in countless ways, not least of which is the fact that for long strecthes, they—three New York City kids of Jewish heritage—were the most famous and successful and creative rappers on the planet.

Started as a punk rock band in the early 1980’s, they found their first real hit in “Cooky Puss,” a prank call-inspired dance song, which led to the Boys rapping more and more. Signed by their sometime-DJ Rick Rubin to his nascent label Def Jam, the Beasties represented their real-life truth through their music. The distillation of this truth: drinking, partying, chasing girls and drinking, resulted in their debut album Licensed to Ill, or as Rolling Stone (might have) once referred to it: “Three Idiots Create a Masterpiece.” Behind songs like "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)," "No Sleep till Brooklyn," "Hold It Now, Hit It," "Rhymin' and Stealin'" and “She's Crafty,” Licensed to Ill became the highest-selling rap album of the decade and the first rap album ever to hit no. 1 on the Billboard charts. To date, the album has sold more than nine million copies.

After leaving Def Jam, the Beasties went on to challenge themselves and their fans with albums that pushed boundaries, like Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head, and Ill Communication. When everyone zigged, they zagged; they took their message to other mediums, like music videos and magazines and film, in an effort to express themselves in ways never seen in the music business.

The boys always kept it true to themselves, evolving into family men who fought for Tibetan freedom but never stopped rapping about their love for New York City. On April 14, 2012, the Beastie Boys, three punk rockers with Jewish last names—rap superheroes to Jews and gentiles alike—were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Three weeks later, Adam Yauch succumbed to salivary gland cancer at the age of 47. Yisgadal v'yiskadash...

Check back tomorrow to see our next great Jew of rap.

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