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Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies
Click to order via Amazon

By Brian Coleman

Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Villard (June 12, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0812977750

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
THE BEASTIE BOYS- CHECK YOUR HEAD

While the learning curve for most groups sets them in full
motion after their first album, the Beastie Boys took a bit
longer. But this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the
search for their true group identity, they made some pretty amazing music
along the way, like 1986’s Licensed to Ill (Def Jam/CBS) and 1989’s Paul’s
Boutique
(Capitol). Even so, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they didn’t
truly find themselves until the third time around, six years after their debut.
Paul’s Boutique, produced by the Beasties and the Dust Brothers and released
on July 25, 1989, was universally revered by fans and almost unanimously
jocked by critics. But the group suffered greatly from a lack of label
support and low initial sales numbers. In fact, the album wouldn’t be certified
platinum until 1995. (For an in-depth look at this album, Dan LeRoy’s
book Paul’s Boutique [Continuum, 2006] is highly recommended.) Because
of their situation with Capitol, the fall of 1989 wasn’t as carefree as the
trio—who had recently relocated from their hometown of New York to the
very different world of Los Angeles—might have hoped.

Adam Yauch, aka MCA, explains: “Check Your Head really got under
way on the heels of the failure of Paul’s Boutique [laughs], shortly after the
president of Capitol Records told us that he wouldn’t be able to focus on
our album because he had a new Donny Osmond album coming out. He
told us that we should just move on, that we should just forget about Paul’s
Boutique
and start on the next record.” Aside from a very quick promo
jaunt, there was almost zero touring for Paul’s Boutique.

MCA continues: “After that disheartening reaction from Capitol, we just
started setting up instruments at Adam’s [the other Adam of the group,
Adam Horovitz, aka Adrock] place and started jamming. Mark [future group
keyboardist “Money” Mark Ramos Nishita] brought over a keyboard and we
had a mini setup there.” Devoted fans of the group know the three members
started out in the early and mid-eighties on the heels of two different punk
rock groups: one called the Beastie Boys, one called the Young and the Useless.
Each of the trio played an instrument—Yauch on bass, Adrock on guitar,
and Mike D (Diamond) on drums—but the three men hadn’t played their
instruments on a regular basis for years. The jam sessions at Adrock’s apartment
brought their love of playing together back in quick fashion.

Mike D remembers: “Once we started playing at Adrock’s, that was really
the initial stuff for Check Your Head. This was after Paul’s Boutique
was out, and we all had our own apartments in L.A. We had little drums
and little amps, and we just started playing together.”

Even though the final product wouldn’t hit stores for almost three years,
the course had been set for the Beasties. Sampling, the lifeblood of almost
all hip-hop groups at the time, would take a backseat to the three MCs actually
playing (and, truth be told, playing pretty well). Some producers, of
course, do rhyme, and some also DJ and play instruments. But few, if any,
have done all four with as much success. It was a precedent that has not
been equaled or bettered in hip-hop to this day.

Mike says: “I don’t know if I’d say that Paul’s Boutique took the sampling
thing as far as it could be taken, but we came close. So we definitely
didn’t want to jump right back into that same direction.” One reason for the
change could have also been an economic one. Check Your Head producer/
engineer Mario Caldato Jr. says that the sample clearances for Paul’s
Boutique
were between $200,000 and $250,000, on top of their expensive
studio bills. And Money Mark says: “The way I always heard it was that
their accountant told them that they couldn’t make any money with all
those samples, so they tried a different route.”

Soon enough, Adrock’s neighbors complained about the funky noises
coming from his living room, so the group moved to a rehearsal space—
Cole Rehearsal Studios in Hollywood. Yauch explains: “We played there
for a couple months. And while we were there we’d just set up a couple
mics and record onto DAT [digital audio tape].”

At Adrock’s and at Cole, another key component to the Check Your Head
equation, the Brazilian-born and L.A.–raised Caldato, was in attendance.
Caldato, a sometime bassist, already had an impressive engineering track
record when he met the Beasties in the late eighties. After building the
basic but effective Delicious Vinyl Studios in label founder and co-owner
Matt Dike’s living room (which consisted of an eight-track board, an [E-mu]
SP-1200 sampler, and a vocal booth modified from an old coat closet), he
went on to engineer all Delicious Vinyl releases in 1988 and 1989. These included
multiplatinum albums by Tone-Lo¯ c (Lo¯ c’ed After Dark, 1989) and
Young MC (Stone Cold Rhymin’, 1989).

Since Dike was part of the original incarnation of the Dust Brothers
(along with John King and Mike Simpson), who produced Paul’s Boutique,
Caldato knew the group and was brought in to engineer the second Beasties
album. Caldato produced one song on the album, a skit called “Ask for Janice.”
He remembers: “Working on Paul’s Boutique was definitely much bigger
for me than the Delicious Vinyl stuff, even though those records had
sold a lot. The Beasties were top billin’ and they had tons of money. I was
getting ten dollars an hour working for Matt Dike, and the Beasties paid me
twenty-five dollars an hour.”

Mike D explains: “It was a lot of fun making Paul’s Boutique, but we
spent I don’t know how many hours and days in all of these fancy-ass studios
like Ocean Way and the Record Plant. We were probably paying two
thousand dollars a day to work that way, so after that album we were like:
‘Okay, that was a lot of fun, but that was also pretty stupid.’

”Caldato says that after Paul’s Boutique, the Beasties and the Dust Brothers
were in a disagreement over money and royalty percentages, so as they
started conceptualizing their next record, it was unlikely that the two
camps would work together again. Mario opines: “It was a bummer that
things worked out that way, because everyone had so much fun making
Paul’s Boutique. But when Check Your Head started to take shape, the
Beasties just wanted more control.”

Caldato, who was still on the best of terms with the Beasties inside and
outside the studio, stepped in as co-producer. He says: “After Paul’s Boutique
was out, I was still hanging out with the Beasties just about every day.
They weren’t from L.A., so they liked hanging with someone who was from
here, because they still didn’t feel like they were locals.” And as for
Caldato’s new title of producer for the group, he says, “Engineering and
production really go hand in hand, in my opinion, so stepping up to that
level wasn’t a big thing. We all worked really well together.”

“By early 1990, things really started to take shape,” recalls Caldato. “We’d
be listening to a Meters record and they’d say: ‘Hey, we should try and do a
cover of that.’ And so they’d do their own version. From Adrock’s to Cole, I
was just following them around and recording. Before you know it, the basis
for [Check Your Head album tracks] ‘Something’s Got to Give’ and ‘Pow’ are
taking shape. By that time, I had gotten my old eight-track board from Delicious
Vinyl and would set it up wherever they were. We had the first money
for the album budget from Capitol, sixty thousand dollars, and we got a good
tape recording setup and a mixing board. That’s all we needed, because I had
everything else. I wasn’t messing with anything related to Delicious Vinyl at
that point. I was working full-time for the Beasties.”

\“We definitely wanted to spend our next recording budget on our own
studio, so we could have more freedom,” says Yauch. “When you’re in a
commercial studio, you just have to think a different way, like: ‘Let’s knock
this song out and get out of here.’ This time around we wanted to be able to
experiment. So after a little while we started to look around for a space, and
that’s when we found G-Son.”

The soon-to-be-crowned G-Son Studios, located at 32181⁄2 Glendale Boulevard
in the “uncool” and “weird” Atwater section of L.A. (as described
by the Beasties and Caldato), was an old ballroom, and it was to be the
Beasties’ personal clubhouse for the foreseeable future. Caldato remembers:
“G-Son was at one time called the Atwater Community Center. It was
basically a ballroom with a wood floor and a domed ceiling. It had a crazy sound
that echoed out in the middle. It was being used as a rehearsal-studio type of
place and the guy who rented it to us, Tony Riparetti, had
his own equipment in there.

[Author’s note: Mark and Mario agree that the owner of the building’s name was Bill,
and that the Beasties likely subleased part of Riparetti’s space.
]

We rented the big room from him because he
wasn’t using it. I think our rent was $1,000 or $1,500 a month. Th...

 



 

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