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
>"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
"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
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
"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.