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Everything I Know About Love I Learned From… The Beastie Boys

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While we wait for the upcoming album The Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 1, we glean romantic lessons from the band's discography.

Everything I Know About Love I Learned From... The Beastie Boys

When I tell people that my favorite hip-hop artists are the Beastie Boys, no one ever really looks surprised — probably because I'm a white, upper-middle-class Jewish kid. Still, I've never felt like I couldn't back up my preference: the Beasties played a significant role in popularizing hip-hop, and their discography is filled with classics. And — on a more personal level — the Beastie Boys have taught me plenty about love:

1. You can't be a kid forever.

When Rick Rubin first took on the Beastie Boys as a pet project in the mid-1980s, they were a bunch of punk-rock brats who'd built their rep on a prank phone call to an ice-cream shop (the track "Cooky Puss"). And instead of turning them into Run-DMC knock-offs, Rubin amped up the ridiculousness as much as he possibly could, emphasizing the band's image as a group of over-the-top idiots who rapped about partying (uh, every song on Licensed To Ill), Olde English 40s mixed with orange juice ("Brass Monkey"), and doing something really wrong with a whiffle-ball bat ("Paul Revere"). It's all summed up in this 1987 clip (from the infamous Licensed to Ill tour VHS) of the Boys pouring honey, beer, and all types of food over a bunch of girls they brought backstage. But within a few years the Beasties were starting to outgrow their schtick, maturing not just as rappers and musicians, but as people too. The Licensed to Ill era is like one of those wonderfully screwed-up relationships when you're seventeen — it's fun and exciting at the time, but you know that something that unstable and stupid can't, and shouldn't, last forever.

2. Remember the past, but don't dwell on it.

In a 2006 interview with Terry Gross, the Beasties admitted to slightly altering lyrics from their first record. Specifically, "MCA's in the back cause he's skeezin' with a whore," from "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," is now "MCA's in the back and he's gotta Ouija board." Granted, they claim to have forgetten the original lyric, but c'mon. What's important, though, is that they haven't actually stopped performing these songs. Despite the sophomoric nature of their first recording, many of those tracks remain live show staples (not to mention the goofy, throw-back tracksuits they don during such performances), distributed equally among all their later material. Without constantly trying to relive the past, the band still recognizes these tracks as significant in their own way. Denying or trying to forget old relationships or flings is dangerous, but taking the time to reflect on and understand them — without dwelling — couldn't be healthier.

3. Don't be someone you're not.

Authenticity is the name of the game in hip-hop; careers live and die because of it. So it's somewhat of a miracle that the Beastie Boys ever got any critical respect. In an early interview, Mike D flat-out said that they were playing different characters, making them pretty much the original Ali Gs. But the Beasties soon recognized that they weren't really idiotic, immature pranksters (or at least, that they were more than just idiotic, immature pranksters), and their subsequent albums more accurately reflected their depth. On Check Your Head, Ill Communication, and Hello Nasty, they were still having fun with their music, but they were also rhyming about what was pertinent to them at the time, like dealing with paparazzi ("Sabotage"), being thankful ("Gratitude"), keeping in touch with hip-hop's roots ("Intergalactic") and giving love to their wives/girlfriends/parents ("Root Down," "Sure Shot"). Obviously, the same goes for dating — you're not going to get very far with anyone by acting like someone you're not. Sure, it's a lesson familiar from your generic romantic comedy, but that doesn't mean it's not a good one.

4. Don't let go of a good thing.

On "Sure Shot," Mike D raps, "You say I'm twenty-something and I should be slacking / But I'm working harder than ever, and you can call it macking." Today, the forty-four-year-old Mike D changes "twenty-something" to "thirty-something," but the message could not be clearer: in a career that spans three decades, the Beastie Boys are still going strong. They aren't necessarily prolific — they've recorded a fairly modest seven studio albums (including 2007's all-instrumental disc, The Mix-Up) — but the Beasties remain some of the most respected MCs in the game. And while MCA's throat-cancer diagnosis put a hold on their upcoming album, The Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 1, early single "Too Many Rappers" (featuring Nas), sounds like classic Beastie Boys. Even into their forties, the Beasties show no signs of slacking, and they've got no reason to. If you've found something — or someone — you love, why would you want to give it up?