Music History

Before the Beastie Boys’ Debut LP, There Was ‘MCA and Burzootie’

Listen to a rare gem from the late, great, Adam Yauch

beastie boys rick rubin

Photograph by Josh Cheuse

I thought I was an expert on Beastie Boys history. I’ve read just about every scrap of information devoted to the hip-hop greats (I highly recommend the superb Paul’s Boutique book in the 33⅓ series). None of them ever mentioned the name MCA and Burzootie. Leave it to self-proclaimed “hip-hop connoisseur” Questlove to uncover this lost gem.

When Rolling Stone interviewed Questlove at the Beasties’ 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, he dropped some old-school knowledge about the trio. “They had a couple 12” records on Def Jam before their breakout Licensed to Ill record,” Questlove said. “They had a song called ‘Drum Machine’ – which was actually not even under the Beastie Boys moniker, but was under [the name] MCA and Burzootie. That’s one of their rare gems that I can’t believe never saw the light of day. It’s an excellent hip-hop song.”

‘Drum Machine’ was released in 1985. The song is a collaboration between MCA (Adam Yauch) and Jay “Burzootie” Burnett, whose Shakedown Sound Studios is namechecked in the first verse. The song’s production is reminiscent of Afrika Bambaata’s Kraftwerk-influenced electronic style. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Jay Burnett worked with Bambaata as well; he has a mixing credit on Bambaata’s genre-shaping masterpiece, Planet Rock: the Album.

Here’s the interview with Questlove:

Here’s some fun extra credit: in 2011, some eagle-eyed Beasties buffs used architectural clues to track down the location of the photo at the top of this post.

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