‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn’: The Story Behind The Anthem

The Beastie Boys jam is the theme song of this Sunday's VMAs, so MTV News gets behind the seminal song.

It’s the rallying cry of bands on their way home after a long tour. The drunken chorus of newly minted New Yorkers as they roll over the Brooklyn Bridge at 3 a.m. And now, nearly 30 years after the Beastie Boys dropped the seminal album Licensed To Ill, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” is the official anthem of the 2013 Video Music Awards.

The Beastie Boys’ debut studio album, Licensed to Ill, dropped in 1986, fresh from the new Def Jam Recordings, which was headed up at the time by Rick Rubin and the Boys’ then-manager Russell Simmons. The record contains some of the band’s biggest hits, including “Fight for Your Right” and the tribute to the borough that many of the guys called home: “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.”

A battle cry, a debaucherous ode to BK embraced New Yorkers and non-natives alike, the song also represented a shift in music — a merging of hip-hop and rock that the guys pulled off with their trademark tongue-in-cheek swagger. The accompanying video, featuring the Beasties’ friends and co-directed by Def Jam pal Ric Menello — who passed away in March — captured that same spirit.

In celebration of the jam’s history — and to get pumped for the Video Music Awards’ first time in Brooklyn — MTV News spoke with the people behind the song and video. They gave us a heartfelt and hilarious new-before-seen peek at Brooklyn’s own unofficial anthem.

A ‘Very New York Song’
Russell Simmons, Def Jam Recordings founder:
“It was perfect, you know, ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn.’ It was a very New York song, a very hip-hop song, a very — you know, Harlem and the Bronx was the home of hip-hop and ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn,’ I mean, it was a lot of things. It’s a lot of things [that] could go through your mind. A lot of things it implied.”

‘Poking Fun At Heavy Metal’
Adam Dubin, music video co-director:
“It’s a little bit of a take off on ‘No Sleep ’til Hammersmith,’ which is a classic Motörhead album. They were doing a take on that, which is why there’s so much heavy metal in the song. Because it’s a little bit of a — it’s not a spoof, but it’s sort of poking fun at heavy metal.”

Vincent Giordano, music video producer:
“Kerry King from Slayer plays the guitar solo, you know — it’s a very heavy band, you know. So there were all these elements that were fusing and then in years to come that was going to be the template.”

Simone Reyes, former Def Jam receptionist:
“I remember being at Chung King Studios, which is where all the magic happened in Chinatown with [engineer] Steve Ett and Rick [Rubin] and Russell [Simmons] and the Beastie Boys and all of our friends. And I remember just being like curled up on the couch one night — waiting for Adam [Yauch] I’m sure — and Rick sort of pounding in the door and saying, ‘We need a female voice on the chorus of “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”‘ and being like, ‘OK.’ And me and Lisa Kirk, who was Rick Rubin’s girlfriend at the time, going in there and just screaming. And you can hear like my voice so loud in that song, just screaming the ‘NO SLEEP TILL!’”

‘We’re Gonna Shoot This Video And Then We Can Party’
Dubin:
“The video for ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn’ came about from everybody just throwing their ideas in a hat. We had one starting point, which was make it funny, and with heavy metal. At that time there was actually — and this is 1986, 1987 — there was actually kind of a backlash against a band playing using turntables to play as opposed to using real instruments. So we decided to open the video with a joke about that.

Reyes:
“When it was time to do the video for ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn,’ it was shot at a place called The World, which was a place we went to every single night on the Lower East Side. It was literally like a Sunday — I think it was — and we got a call from Adam Horovitz, like: ‘Come to The World, but come early. We’re gonna shoot this video and then we can party after that.’ So it was always just our friends, getting together, and supporting our friends and doing what we would normally be doing — except maybe a couple of hours earlier.

‘The Gag Was Going To Be A Real Chimp’
Giordano:
“Originally you know, the gag was going to be a real chimp. He was going to play the guitar solo. And there was a chimp named at the time Zip the Chimp and he was on David Letterman and we really loved him. But it was going to cost a fortune and we just — I couldn’t…. He was really short. If Kerry King came and bumped him he would probably just like kick him out of the [venue]. And then Adam Dubin, he said, ‘Well, if we can’t have him we’ll find like a monkey suit [or] gorilla suit.’ So he found it. [It was] like $175 or something.

‘This Song Is The Perfect Choice’
Simmons:
This song — if you think of all of their work — this song really does represent the sound that they brought into the mainstream. This is the hip-hop that they created. And so this song is a perfect choice [for the 2013 Video Music Awards].

The 2013 VMAs kick off at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Sunday, August 25 from the Barclays Center.

Brenna Ehrlich is a reporter for MTV News as well as the senior writer/editor for the O Music Awards. In the past, she served as associate editor at Mashable, penned a netiquette column for CNN and co-authored the blog and book "Stuff Hipsters Hate." She likes trying not to die in moshpits and listening to songs on repeat. Follow her on Twitter for news on cats and punk bands.
@BrennaEhrlich