New York hip hop antagonists Beastie Boys are a group who have often defied the very notion of pigeon-holing, blending elements of rap, punk and a myriad of samples into their own unique sound. So it feels somewhat fitting that any documentary on the trio should do the same.
A live recording of a sold-out stage show performed by the Boys’ two surviving members – Adam Horovitz (aka Ad-Rock) and Michael Diamond (Mike D) – at Brooklyn’s King’s Theatre back in April 2019, Beastie Boys Story offers a rounded overview of the band’s tumultuous history, though it may struggle to grip more casual fans. While a worldwide IMAX outing for the film has fallen victim to the current Covid-19 outbreak, Apple TV+ feels more than the natural home when it lands on the service on 24 April.
Longtime friend and collaborator Spike Jonze – director of both the stage show and this truncated feature doc – brings a certain level of invention to proceedings as Ad-Rock and Mike D take us back to Beastie Boys’ adolescent origins. In awe of hip hop pioneers like Run DMC, Kurtis Blow and DJ Afrika Bambaataa, and outgrowing the punk focus of their earliest incarnations, the group are established as a trio with the addition of Adam Yach (MCA) and begin touring the local circuits. After garnering some underground success with the song Cooky Puss, the threesome attracts the attention of Def Jam founders Rick Rubin and Russell Simons.
Their first record deal is consequently signed and Beastie Boys are launched into the stratosphere off the back of their inaugural 1986 album, Licensed to Ill – and most significantly the hit track (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!). The classic rags to riches arc seems complete, but as with most tales of fame and fortune, the boys burn out within a matter of years and are cast into the creative wilderness. It’s three years until their next album, Paul’s Boutique, but it’s not until 1994’s Ill Communication – and the single Sabotage – that the group have another commercial hit. With no talking heads to corroborate, this is very much their story – not necessarily the story.
A certain poignancy tinges the entire film/show, as most will be fully aware that the trio was reduced to a duo after the untimely death of Adam Yauch in 2012 following a long battle with parotid cancer. The tributes paid to Yauch throughout by both Horovitz and Diamond are genuinely touching, and it’s here that Beastie Boys Story breaks through its inherent – often distracting – staginess. While there is still a definitive, impartial Beastie Boys film in the offing, devout fans should be more than satisfied by this nostalgic oddity.
Beastie Boys Story is available to stream on Apple TV+ from 24 April.