Mix Master Mike Talks 'Beastie Boys Book,' New Role in Cypress Hill & Upcoming Movie About His Life
This week, one of the most beloved and impactful groups in rap history at long last releases its memoir, with a name that gets right to the point: Beastie Boys Book. But the 500-plus-page tome from the surviving members of Beastie Boys, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Mike “Mike D” Diamond doesn’t just tell the story of how they and the late Adam “MCA” Yauch -- through stories with titles including “Black Flag at the Peppermint Lounge,” “The Song That Changed Everything” and “Who at This Table Sucks Dick?” -- went from snotty New York hardcore punk kids to hip-hop legends, with a career that spanned more than 30 years. It also includes a graphic novel, a cookbook, rare photos, a map of the Beastie Boys’ New York, and contributions from the likes of Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson and Amy Poehler. There’s also a unique section written by a guy who had a front-row seat -- or more accurately, a behind-the-band spot -- to the second half of the Beasties’ storied career: celebrated turntable wizard Mix Master Mike.
Mike Schwartz had already made a major name for himself with innovative, scratch-centric skills by the mid-1990s-- including winning three consecutive DMC World DJ Championship titles -- when he met Adam Yauch, lobbied hard for a spot in the band and finally won one three years later. Mike joined the Beasties just before 1998’s Grammy-winning Hello Nasty and continued through their final album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, just prior to Yauch’s death from cancer.
These days, in addition to various side, solo and charity projects -- including two VR albums in the works -- Mike has joined another classic crew: Cypress Hill. He’s currently a featured performer on their tour in support of the recently released Elephants on Acid. But this week he returned to the Beastie Boys fold, to provide live scoring for the “Live and Direct” book tour, which launched, naturally, in New York, makes future stops in LA, San Francisco and London through November, and includes a Q&A with Ad-Rock and Mike D and a specially curated Beasties exhibition. A few days before those special dates got underway, Billboard spoke to Mix Master Mike about his varied projects -- including a movie in the works about his many-faceted life.
Mike! You’re in LA playing shows with Cypress Hill at the moment?
Yeah, we had a show last night at the El Rey, it was awesome. And then tonight there’s one at The Roxy. And then I’m leaving Sunday for New York. I have two Beastie book shows Monday and Tuesday and then I have two Cypress Hill shows in New York.
Before I get to the Beasties, let’s talk about what’s been going on recently with Cypress Hill. You guys were just recently in South America and Mexico?
Yeah, we did South America, we did all the big cities in Mexico. It was insane. Over two weeks we covered probably four countries and 15 cities.
I know they’re huge in Latin America. What’s it like being down there with them?
They’re gigantic there. Yeah, I mean, during the concert I could turn off verses and they’d be singing, the whole festival will be singing their songs. And the guys will do Spanish versions of their songs, like "[How Could I Just] Kill a Man” and whatnot. But the response is just enormous. And then me coming into the picture gives the band a whole other look, another sound. So it’s incredible.
I have to wonder: Any band right now, any U.S. artist touring Latin America or specifically Mexico, in the era of Donald Trump -- do you guys feel like you’re, in a sense, ambassadors of good will trying to clean up some of the mess that Trump has created?
Oh, definitely. But as far as me and the guys, we actually don’t really give a fuck, because people know what we stand for. We stand for art and we stand for the people. People know where we come from. We don’t let his operation get in the way of what we are trying to do. You know what I mean? He’s a sideshow. He’s a reality star. And we ain’t with that bullshit. We don’t give a fuck. There’s a lot of anti-Trump, “Fuck Trump” this and that -- it is what it is. Let it run its course, and I do believe that payback is a bitch, at some point. He’s creating his own destiny, with his actions.
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Can you talk about the history of you joining up with Cypress? The announcement was made earlier this year.
Yeah it was, I believe, April of this year? And B-Real had been trying to sit down and have a meeting with me for the past couple years. And I remember I’d go see him, 'cause we’d be at the Laker games and stuff like that, and B would always be telling me, “I need to talk to you, Mike, I got a proposition for you!” but we never really got to sit down, until one night he called me and he was like, “So this is the proposition!” And he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. And I said, “Hey, why not?” They wanted to implement a franchise player, so I was like, “OK, if I’m gonna join the band, it’s gonna be ‘Cypress Hill featuring Mix Master Mike,’” and so yeah, I guess you could say I’m kind of like the Bill Belichick of that operation.
So featuring Mix Master Mike -- does that mean you’re a quote-unquote official member?
No, for now -- B told me, “Hey, as long as you want to be a part of this, this is your role. You can be here for as long as you want.” And I’m flattered, 'cause these guys are legends. They changed music. So it’s kind of like I’m just going with it and having a good time with these guys. You know what I mean? And like what I’ve done with the Beasties’ live shows, it’s kind of a thing where I want to do the same thing as what I do with the Beasties. And B kind of wanted that. He was like, “I want what you did with the Beasties, do that with our live show.” So I was like, “Awesome.”
I guess it’s been now six years since Adam Yauch passed and the Beasties effectively ended, right?
So were you -- it’s not like you were necessarily looking to get back into a group situation, were you?
No, with me -- remember before joining the Beasties, I was always a solo artist, and I was putting out my own albums, being a DMC World Champion and touring the world. But no, it wasn’t really like that, it was more like, “Oh, wow, well now that Adam’s gone, I’m just gonna continue my solo career," and now it’s blossomed into me doing other stuff like me doing the virtual reality thing and whatnot -- I come in many different forms. But rest in peace to my brother Adam, and I hope he’s looking down, and I hope he’s proud. We just want to make him proud.
Regarding the Beastie Boys book, it’s definitely not your conventional autobiography. There’s a lot going on in it, right?
Definitely. There’s a lot of stuff. It’s not one of those basic books where you open it and it’s words, words, words, and in the middle there’s an insert with like four pages of pictures. This is -- it’s a book of everything, there’s a cookbook in there, there’s stories and all kinds of stuff. I wrote a story in there called “The Draco Report.”
And that kind of tells the story of how you met Adam in the first place?
Yeah! But I called it “The Draco Report” and I didn’t wanna approach it in a boring fashion, people know that story. People get it. So I turned it into a sci-fi story. I can’t explain it. I just made it an interesting read. And also I’m on the audio book too. I think I’m talking in a vocoder voice on the audio book.
Where does that name come from? The Draco Report?
Oh well, I mean, there’s different civilizations on Earth and sometimes I go visit these civilizations, and I bring back information. So I apply that to the story of how me and Adam met, and how I came to be one of the members of the Beastie Boys.
I can’t wait. And I heard there’s a map of the Beasties’ New York in it?
Yes! It’s so not the norm. Everything about the book is not normal. And that’s where the brilliance lies. It’s mysterious in a way. Everything we do, we want to take a left-field approach. And that’s what this book is: It’s a left-field approach, but it’s very, very knowledgeable.
Do you think the way that the group ended, in a tragic way, made it all the more important that this be a really special book?
Yeah, definitely. Mike and Adam did such a great job on the book. I mean -- this really wasn’t our wheelhouse, right? [Laughs] So those guys just took this approach of: “Let’s just make it fucking everything. Let’s make a book where, if I buy it, it would take years to decipher everything in that book.” I mean, it’s 600 pages of just “Oh shit!” It’s insane.
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You joined before Hello Nasty, after they were already huge stars, but the '90s were also a changing time for them, especially Yauch with the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. People were seeing him in a different light.
Yeah, you’re talking about this once “Fight for Your Right to Party” guy, insane rebel guy -- and now he’s hanging out with the Dalai Lama!
But that was the brilliance of Adam, and of him knowing when it was time to put away certain chapters in his life. That was his evolution, everything he had learned over the years. Because if you look at the Beasties, it’s all a lesson. And shit, for me, it was like a dream come true. I mean when I went to high school, Licensed to Ill was my soundtrack. And it was something where I always felt like, “I’m a part of this band -- and they don’t even know it!” so I think I kind of willed it to be. It was like my power of intention. You know, they say you become what you think, and I became what I thought! And me meeting Adam -- I met him in ’95 at a Rock Steady anniversary, and that was at the time when I was three-time world DJ champion.
And I used to send Adam these DJ battle videotapes in the mail, and when he wasn’t home I used to leave these crazy scratched answering-machine messages.
I was a persistent motherfucker! I was like, “I’m gonna transmit some sound waves and frequencies through his answering machine, and it’s got to get through to him!,” you know what I mean? I was causing my own awakening for him!
Even though they say music, maybe hip-hop in particular, is a young person’s game, the Beasties stayed exciting and vital until the end, and of course epitomized the rap-alternative connection. Do you think if Adam hadn’t gotten sick that they’d still be around today?
Oh no doubt. We would probably have an album out right now and probably be touring the world. 99.9 percent we would be on the road right now. There would be no reason for us to stop -- after To the 5 Boroughs and Hot Sauce, there would be no reason for us to stop.
Having come up in the '90s, what many see as hip-hop’s “golden age,” what are your thoughts on the past 10 or 15 years: the rise of Atlanta, the club orientation of hip-hop, and on into, more recently, mumble rap or the SoundCloud guys? It seems there’s a big generation gap these days.
Look, I’m a tastemaker. That’s what I am, before a musician and a DJ, I’m a tastemaker. It’s important to stay in touch with the kids and what kids are listening to today. I listen to Travis Scott, Astroworld is amazing. Of course I listen to Kendrick, Drake, J. Cole…
But no Lil Yachty?
I can’t say that I listen to Lil Yachty.
Or Lil Pump?
I don’t listen to the “Lil”s! Because honestly, when you talk about that, then it turns from hip-hop into Promethazine rap! Right? And they dumb it way way down!
I mean, it doesn’t bother me but it does bother a lot of people, it rubs them the wrong way. I mean look at Em! He went in on everybody, which was brilliant, it was like someone needed to stand up and speak up, and just kind of vent about the situation.
And you don’t think that ever comes across as the grumpy old man saying “Get off my lawn, kids”?
You know, it kinda does! But sometimes it’s kind of fun to smack at the youngsters and say, “You know what? At the end of the day, respect the architects.” You know, know who DJ Kool Herc is, know who Flash is, Premier, do the knowledge. Do the knowledge. If you want to mumble, mumble. But know where it came from. Study your lessons. That’s not to say we can’t learn from the young generation. But at the same time they can drive us into the ground, as humans, you know what I mean? Like this is what human existence has turned into? And everybody is so ADHD about listening to music now too.
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So you’ve got two albums on the way -- virtual reality projects. Are these a continuation of the one you did a couple of years ago?
So I started with -- I did Moon Base Invasion and I did Magma Chamber . Full 360 VR, and it’s won worldwide awards, it’s won Vega Awards, Global Trend Awards, and it’s been accepted at the Cannes Film Festival. So we’re off to a great start, and we’re gonna make three more projects, with my motion graphics artist Jonathan Winbush. So basically, the new Oculus Rift [VR headset] is coming out, and we want to provide content and have this album available when that launches. It’s the first virtual reality album-album. So I’m very proud of it.
And what’s the title?
The title right now, it’s called Wrath of Damien and there’s one called Plazma Ryfle. We’re kind of bouncing back and forth between album titles, but right now we’re focusing on the project itself, and the environments. Because we’re creating environments, each one different -- different worlds -- and the soundtrack dictates what that world looks like and what happens in that world, whatever it may be. The whole project is an awakening. So you go in there -- like with my last one, Moon Base Invasion, where I’m in the middle of the moon but the theory is that the moon is actually a starship built by aliens. So when you go into this world you’re thinking, “Wow, what if the moon really was a starship, and it was placed there as a death star was?” And these projects that I’m doing, they’re thought-provoking. It’s not just, “Oh cool, it’s virtual reality!”
You mentioned the Oculus Rift -- how accessible is this new one going to be?
Well, the new Oculus, for one thing, it’s wireless, no cords. So you’d actually be able to be walking around with it on your head. And the price point is only 300 bucks. So that’s the thing: It’s portable, wireless, and technology has gotten a lot better. It’s gonna open up a whole new universe. So those projects are coming beginning of next year.
Any other projects you’re up to?
I don’t know if you know that I do the music for Teen Titans, the animation series. So I’m doing stuff with Teen Titans, all their soundtrack work. I also want to give a shout-out to the charities that I’m involved in. I’m doing this thing called Beat Hunger, for a hunger relief foundation. And it’s me, Stewart Copeland, Sheila E, Stephen Perkins, and it’s trying to help with the hunger situation in Haiti. And the Michael J. Fox Foundation, for Parkinson’s, I’m a part of that as well. Along with my band, with Steve Jordan and Ronald Bell from Kool & the Gang.
A lot of irons in the fire! And there’s a movie in the works about your life?
Yeah, that movie is already written, the script is done.
Who’d you work with?
Blumhouse Productions. It’s a company called QC Entertainment, and they’re the guys that put out Get Out. So we’ll be in the casting stages probably by next year for the Mix Master Mike movie.
Does this go all the way back to [early crews] Shadow of the Prophet, Invisibl Skratch Piklz?
It’s definitely gonna touch on all of that, but it’s gonna bring you into my world, and how I grew up, and all the stuff I had to go through to get where I’m at today. It shows you my roots, like the fact that my dad’s a drummer and used to play for the Black Panther rallies back in the day -- he was the only white drummer in an all-black band. It touches on all these things that I went through and my bloodline and where I come from. But it’s an epic saga!
Do you have an actor in mind to play yourself?
You know, I was thinking about Rami Malek, but then I saw he was doing Bohemian Rhapsody, and I was like, “Aw shit!” but I know he would have been a great Mix Master Mike. Anyway, I’m looking at other characters too. I’ve got my scope open, but I know it’s gonna be tough to find somebody that’s fucking insane enough!
Are they gonna have to have turntable skills as well, or that can all be faked?
Well -- [Laughs] that’s where it gets tricky. But I want to try and make it as real as possible. I feel very blessed. And the movie isn’t just focused on the glory stuff. It’s all the stuff that I had to get through to get to where I’m at. It will definitely be an inspiring story for people, especially the next generation, to watch.
Mix Master Mike performs Friday night (Nov. 2) in Brooklyn with Cypress Hill. He rejoins the Beastie Boys’ Live and Direct book tour this weekend in Los Angeles.