Mix Master Mike shot the intro scene to the Beastie Boys’s “Three MCs and One DJ” video 10 times over the course of eight hours in 1998. He would begin by walking from a coffee shop in New York City to the Beastie Boys’s “secret” rehearsal space—which he says was “basically a dungeon”—wearing a Ghostbusters proton pack he’d picked up from a Hollywood prop shop and a NASA spacesuit. MCA (Adam Yauch), Mike D (Michael Diamond), and Ad-Rock (Adam Horowitz) didn’t expect that, but this was Mix Master Mike’s first video with the Beasties and he wanted to make an impression.
“They had no fucking idea I was coming in with that,” Mix Master Mike tells High Times.“To see their faces when I walked in with that jetpack for the first time, they were like, ‘Yeah, he’s awesome.’ I needed something that was gonna stick in everyone’s minds.”
It took Mix Master Mike, whose real name is Michael Schwartz, almost two minutes to walk from the coffee shop and down the six flights of stairs to the room where Beasties were patiently waiting for him to put the needle on the record. Mike later found out they ended up using the first take, which makes him wonder if the nine extra takes was their way of hazing him. After all, these are the same guys who toured with a giant inflatable penis during the Licensed To Ill era and essentially made debauchery into a full-time (and very lucrative) job. But Mike didn’t care—he was just happy to be along for the ride.
Mix Master Mike, a founding member of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz turntablist crew and DMC World DJ Champion, was crab scratching his way into becoming the fourth Beastie. When he was asked to contribute to 1998’s Hello Nasty, the trio’s fourth studio album, he seized the opportunity to really show them what he could do. It would prove to be one the Beasties’ biggest albums, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with more than 681,000 copies sold in its opening week. It was almost like the Beastie Boys were getting a second chance.
Following the juggernaut that was Licensed To Ill, the Beastie Boys next two albums—Paul’s Boutique (1989) and Check Your Head (1992)—didn’t quite have the same impact as their predecessor. In fact, Paul’s Boutique was considered a “flop” upon its arrival. But by the mid-’90s, it seemed they started to hit their stride again. Ill Communication, released in 1994, landed at No. 1 and the Beasties were back on the proverbial top. Hello Nasty took it to an astronomical level, but Mike never anticipated that kind of success.
“I didn’t really think about none of that,” he remembers. “When I was in the studio with them, I was just liking what we were making. I was liking every song that we made and I was just like, ‘Man, this is awesome. I’m in a fucking dream right now.’ I just didn’t know it was gonna come with all this extra shit until we until we did the first show and I was like, ‘Oh fuck. This album is huge.’”
Mike was also busy promoting his own solo record, Anti-Theft Device, and he admits it was “a lot to take in.”
Hello Nasty turned 25 on July 14, so Mike has been reflecting on the making of the album more so than usual—despite having the platinum plaques in his house as constant reminders. Mike, a San Francisco native, holed up in New York for a month while they were recording it—and cannabis may or may not have been consumed along the way (wink).
“There might have been,” Mike says. “There were times when we would go out on the balcony, and I mean, some of it was heavily weed influenced, but it was just more internal excitement on my end that we were together. But yeah, there were a lot of joints, a lot of Zig-Zags [laughs]. I don’t know, but they probably smoked when they wrote ‘Three MCs.’ I remember being in the studio with Mario C [producer] when we did all the tracking for ‘Three MCs,’ and the guys disappeared. They said, ‘OK, we’re gonna go drive around and write lyrics.’ They probably did smoke. When they came back, they were [rapping], ‘I’ve got the D double O, D double O style.’”
At the time, Mix Master Mike wasn’t exactly a member of the Beastie Boys—at least not yet. DJ Hurricane, who began DJing for the group in 1986, was still considered part of the crew and heavily involved in the creation of both Check Your Head and Ill Communication. At one point, they had to have a serious conversation with both DJs.
“It’s kind of like a situation where after the Hello Nasty recording session, the guys brought me into one of the sound rooms,” he recalls. “We all sat on the floor and it was me, Adam, Adam H., and Mike. They were so happy with how the process came about and they asked me to become their DJ in that moment.”
But then Mike’s thoughts turned to DJ Hurricane—what would they tell him?
“I was just like, ‘Oh shit,’” he continues. “Being the empath I am, I was like, ‘What about Cane?’ And they’re like, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll tell Cane. I’m like, ‘OK cool.’ It was a situation where I said I was gonna take them to the next level when it comes to this department [DJing]. A couple of weeks after that session, they called Cane and let him know. I’m sure he was pretty heartbroken, but they told me Cane was more into rapping and was working on a solo album, so he’d be OK.”
Mix Master Mike wound up contributing to 2004’s To The 5 Boroughs, 2007’s The Mix-Up and 2011’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. Between The Mix-Up and Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, MCA was diagnosed with cancer. In 2012, Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but MCA was too sick to attend.
“We really didn’t care, like none of us really cared about it,” he says. “We’re just going with it. Actually, the boys were gangster about that situation. They were asked to be part of the Rock Hall two, three years prior, and they denied it. I thought, ‘Wow, you guys are probably the only dudes that have denied the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honor. It was gangster.”
MCA died a short time later on May 4, 2012, leaving the Beastie Boys in shambles—not just because the Beastie Boys would now cease to exist as a hip-hop group but because they lost their best friend. Over the last 11 years, Mike D and Ad-Rock haven’t made any more albums as the Beastie Boys, but they did release the Beastie Boys Book in 2018 and the accompanying documentary, Beastie Boys Story, in 2020. Mike, in the meantime, has done massive stadium tours with Metallica and Godsmack, released a slew of projects—both solo and collaborative—and is currently working on a documentary about his journey.
“I’m just working,” he says. “I’m working on scoring my documentary and getting and compiling all this footage. I’m getting my story together and doing an audiobook as well. I made 70 tracks during the pandemic, so I’m sitting on three or four albums right now. I’m just waiting for the right time to release them. But it’s crazy because my story just keeps going. I’m not done here.”
This story was originally published in the October 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.