An open letter to MCA of the Beastie Boys

Posted on 15 November 2010


Dear MCA

I read online recently that you’re feeling better following your cancer scare last year; that the treatment has gone well and you’re getting your strength back.

Over in the UK, you may or may not know, but the open letter has made a somewhat unusual and eccentric comeback recently. Chef Gordon Ramsay’s open letter to his mother-in-law not to break off family ties following a family feud appeared in a national newspaper. In the letter, Ramsay publicly pleads to his mother-in-law and dismisses his father-in-law, as if cheating on their daughter didn’t humiliate them both enough.

Ramsay’s actions have had a positive effect though, drawing attention to the power of the open letter. This reminded me of one of my favourite Beastie Boys tracks: An Open Letter to NYC, which packs a powerful and heartfelt appraisal of the strength of New Yorkers following the 9/11attacks.

I also thought of you. Some famous people choose to conduct everything they do in public, which demonstrates a painful and bleating sense of neediness that is frankly embarrassing.  You have conducted yourself with dignity and have dealt with your illness in private, which is truly admirable.

I listened to some of your lyrics from An Open Letter to NYC where you address the city. Your words could equally be addressed to you during this difficult time in your life: “I see you’re still strong after all that’s gone on / Life long we dedicate this song / Just a little something to show some respect / To the city that blends and mends and tests.”

I was there at the Brixton Academy during your first UK tour when you had dancing girls in cages, sprayed the crowd with lager and a huge inflatable cock on stage. (I think I remember the last bit correctly.) All in all your performance on stage at the Brixton Academy resonated with my adolescence – wanting to party, not really giving a fuck and not having to take too seriously anything happening around me. Licensed to Ill was the soundtrack to my teens; Brass Monkey the lead track.

Whilst I don’t want to kick you when you’re down, you weren’t my favourite Beastie Boy when you all burst on to the scene. At the time I felt Mike D had the better flow; Adrock had the poster boy looks. I always felt you looked like a petrol-head biker who’d just got off his Suzuki.

But I feel I’ve grown up and grown more with you than the others in the group. Once the haze of Paul’s Boutique settled, I was leaving college and finding my way in the world. At this time you emerged on Check Your Head with Bodhisattva Vow, which gave a renewed perspective on life: “I try to make my every action for that highest good / With the altruistic wish to achieve Buddhahood / So I pledge here before everyone who’s listening / To try to make my every action for the good of all beings / For the rest of my lifetimes and even beyond / I vow to do my best to do no harm.”

I loved Bodhisattva Vow and started to take notice of what you were saying. I’ve since admired the work you’ve done for the Free Tibet Campaign, which marks you out from the average rapper. You’ve also proven to be a driving creative force, filming many of the Beastie Boys’ videos and also setting up Oscilloscope Laboratories, a fully-fledged independent film distribution company. I was inspired by your Beastie Boys’ concert film Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That!

As I’ve been writing this open letter to you I’ve listened back to your vocals and lyrics. I take back my earlier comment. At a time of auto-tunes and sanitized pop-rap your gravelly voice marks you out. When you rapped alongside Nas last year on Too Many Rappers, turning one of his lyrics over to your own experience, your lines jumped out from an already outstanding track: “Yo, I been in the game since before you was born / I might still be emceein’ even after you’re gone / Strange thought, I know, but my skills still grow / The 80’s, the 90’s, 2000’s and so / On and on until the crack of dawn / Until the year 3000 and beyond / Stay up all night and I emcee and never die, cuz death is the cousin of sleep.”

I can empathise with where you’re at: one of my best friends was diagnosed and then successfully treated for cancer last year, too. I admire you. I’m a big fan. But don’t worry I’m not going to turn up at your house with an under-sized “No. 1 MCA Fan” t’shirt. I just want to say from afar: stay strong and get better. We all want you back in the game for the rest of our lifetimes, and even beyond.

All the best,

B-Boy Slippers

Listen to: Brass Monkey An Open Letter to NYC by Beastie Boys

Watch this: Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That!