Beastie Boys Battle Prodigy Over 'Smack My Bitch Up'

A public row ensues over punk-rappers' request that electronica group scratch song from its live set.

Although they say it was the last thing they intended, the Beastie Boys

have triggered something of an old-school, public MC battle with the

hip-hop-influenced electronica punks Prodigy.

Only this time, the bands aren't battling over domination of microphone

skills but over the use of a song.

According to statements from both groups, the row began last week with

a request from the Beasties that Prodigy scratch their controversial track

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Prodigy/Smack_My_Bitch_Up.ram"

>"Smack My Bitch Up" (RealAudio excerpt) from their set at

England's famed Reading Festival, where the B-Boys and dozens of

other groups were playing.

"We felt that the meaning of the song comes across clearly and that it

promotes violence against women," the Beastie Boys said in a release

issued Thursday (Sept. 3) by their publicity firm, Nasty Little Man.

Beastie rappers MCA (born Adam Yauch) and Mike D (born Mike

Diamond) called Prodigy mastermind Liam Howlett at his home last

Friday, the night before both bands were set to perform, Howlett said in a

statement.

"We decided that rather than make a media event out of it, we'd prefer to

call them and tell them privately how we felt," the B-Boys wrote in the

statement.

While acknowledging that their early-years antics -- such as featuring

caged women and inflatable penises onstage -- might make their request

sound hypocritical, the Beastie Boys said that in recent years, they've

tried to turn over a new leaf.

"We recently have been trying to be more careful in choosing what songs

we play, as well as changing some of the lyrics in songs we do play," the

B-Boys said. "We are in the process of learning from our mistakes and

feel that some of the things we did in the past that we thought were a joke

ended up having lasting negative effects."

Howlett, however, maintained that the rappers misinterpreted his song's

lyrics, which consist solely of the sampled line "Change my pitch up/

Smack my bitch up," and that the cut would stay in his band's set.

Informed by the Beasties that they would be compelled to comment on

the Prodigy song during their own set, Howlett and bandmates Maxim

Reality, Keith Flint and Leeroy Thornhill decided to beat the rappers to

the punch.

"When the Prodigy came onstage, midway through their set they said to

the crowd, 'The Beastie Boys asked us not to play this song, but we do

what the f--- we want,' " said Mike Watson, an employee with festival

press agent All Or Nothing, who watched both bands' shows.

Beastie Boy Ad-Rock (born Adam Horovitz) later returned the salvo

during the B-Boys' set, saying, "Where I come from, it isn't cool."

Afterward, Howlett said the issue had less to do with violence against

women than free speech. "I still respect their music, but I think they

should respect other people's freedom to express themselves," he said in

a statement released by the group's British label, XL Recordings.

The Reading incident isn't the first time Prodigy have come under fire for

"Smack My Bitch Up." Last year, the National Organization for Women

called for a boycott of Time-Warner for releasing the song on their

Maverick imprint. The Fat of the Land, the album featuring the

track, also was pulled from the shelves of Wal-Mart and Kmart stores.

Watson said it was difficult to gauge the reaction of the crowd of 55,000

but said he later spoke to some concert-goers who found it hard to

swallow the B-Boys' request.

"I spoke to a few people there who felt that the Beastie Boys didn't have

much of a right to impose their view on the Prodigy and consequently

onto the audience there," Watson said. "Especially since it was the

Beastie Boys. At one time in [their] career, they were one of the most

misogynist bands in the land."

While a public battle was not their original goal, the Beastie Boys said the

Reading controversy was worthwhile if it sparked debate on women's

issues. "If the publicity generated promotes awareness and discussion

on the topic, perhaps that is a good thing after all," the band said.