Praising Licensed to Ill as “revolutionary,” Simmons revealed the album to be his personal Def Jam favorite. Despite his fondness for the band, the industry heavyweight was critical of the Beastie Boys departure from the label in 1988. While Simmons admired that the group remained true to their creative aspirations, he believed producer and Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin could have taken the band further. “Rick being the genius he was, I’m sure their next album would have been greater. I’m sure that had Rick stayed with the Beastie Boys they would have been Eminem or greater” he contended.
“They left because they couldn’t get along,” he shared. “They were young. They couldn’t get along with Lyor [Cohen] and Rick [Rubin]…Rick thought that the Beasties were kinda being placated to. And they weren’t being made to work properly.”
Simmons expressed his view that while the group stayed true to core fans, they could have built a broader audience without compromising creatively. He pointed to Rubin’s work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Slayer as evidence of the producer’s commercial savvy and creative vision. He also noted that the band never reached the same level of commercial success as their Def Jam debut.
Issues of creativity, commercial growth, and ultimately control run to the heart of many of the music industry’s biggest label-artist breakdowns. Simmons provides an interesting take on how the Beastie Boys may have progressed if they stayed with Def Jam as hip-hop fully burst into the mainstream. This said, considering Rubin’s controlling personality, the band’s days at Def Jam may have always been numbered.
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