When Adam and Adam and Mike became best buds, chillin’ like villains on New York’s Lower East Side well over 20 years ago, rap would never be the same. Darryl Jenifer—bassist for legendary Rasta-punk outfit Bad Brains—was there when it happened. In the `04 season, Mass Appeal was on the set when these four OG’s crossed paths somewhere on Canal Street.
Well, it was a longtime ago as I remember—you know, back in the early `80s. I was fresh off the wicked streets of Southeast Washington DC. The Brains would land a gig at famed Bowery-based punk rock haven CBGB’s, and after said show, this bass-playing punk returned to his beloved southern `hood, a full fledged New York mo’fucka (I promptly purchased my first long, wool bum coat from the bum coat store down on the Lower East Side. Official.).
Anyways, to make a long story short, coming to New York was a trip for a black-teenaged-punker-turned-Rastafari. And living under the stage of the infamous 171A studio was a real lesson in tryin’ to make it.
I used to somehow organize myself a shower somewhere Downtown, throw on my Clarks and khakis, and head out to the health food store for my daily bar of raw tofu and two pounds of raw cashews with soy milk. Then it was off to the Rat Cage (yeah, Rastas frequented Rat Cage Records on the regular) where I’d be chillin’ out in front on the neighboring stoop. It was at that very spot where I remember first encountering the Beastie Boys, who, too, were on some punk shit.
I remember Mike D (Michael Diamond) chillin’ on the south side with a pack of bag lady-looking teen age phillies. Then Adrock (Adam Horovitz) would appear as if he’d just arrived from some buck-wild white projects—I dunno, Stuyvesant or something? (Or maybe that was the name of his high school?) Mr. Yauch (aka MCA) always looked like some sort of hardcore musician, constantly sporting his combat boots and some tight-ass, Clash pants that would be choking the hell out of his skinny ass legs. Oh yeah, they also had a chick drummer named Kate (Beastie Boys plus one more…) Those were the days, son. Those were the days.
Yeah, the Beastie Boys…Sometimes I think that name came from the Brains barking “beast-beast!” when 5-0 would roll through, but who knows? I do recall the time when Yauch previewed their Pollywog Stew EP for me through a pair of one of them old school, size-of-coconuts airline headphones. The next thing I knew, they were on tour with Madonna. The rest, as they say, is New York history. Which is fitting, because their new album—To the 5 Boroughs [Capitol]—is all about the fertile grounds that they’ve always represented. These Big Apple rap dons are still doing it up. Maximum respect.
Adam “MCA” Yauch (to Darryl Jenifer): When did you move up here from DC?
Darryl Jenifer: `79, `80. We thought Chrystie Street was “Uptown”; we thought St. Marks Place was “Uptown.” For a long time, I thought that was as far as Manhattan went…
Michael “Mike D” Diamond: Who like, got you guys to move up here?
Darryl: Jimmi Quidd and his band the Dots played in DC at the Atlantis Club—which is now the 9:30 club. We had just started being punks…me and my man Sid went down there to see them. Jimmi said, “I wanna get you guys in CBGB’s.” And that was the biggest thing in the world for us. We came up here, did the show. They gave us free beer…the dude with the construction hat.
Mike D: Construction hat?
Darryl: There was a guy, a white dude, big. He was quiet. He worked at CBGB’s and he used to wear a yellow hard hat all the time. I think we came up here and played with the Stimulators at Tier 3. Harley [Flanagan, later of the Cro-Mags] was like a little kid.
MCA: Yeah, I think I saw that Stimulators/Bad Brains show…
Darryl: Yeah. So now you guys. This guy right here [motions to MCA], I seen him outside the club with the boots on…
MCA: Steel capped DMs.
Darryl: This guy [motions to Adam “Adrock” Horovitz], I remember him coming down from somewhere, stepping down into the Rat Cage, making jokes, being a wise guy.
Adrock: That sounds about right.
Darryl: I remember this guy [motions to Mike D] chillin’ across the street on the stoop with chicks. So what brought you guys down on the New York City punk rock?
Mike D: That’s probably how we all met—going to your shows. I remember going to see the Stimulators at Tier 3. Yauch, I probably saw him at a few shows in a row. He was quiet, and I was kinda quiet. And this is New York. You’re from DC; you were probably more outgoing. If you see someone like you at a club you’d probably be like, “Hey, what’s up?” But in New York you kinda just got dirty looks.
MCA: Really dirty looks…
Mike D: Yeah, we definitely probably gave each other dirty looks. And then, we kinda met through Tanya, Abby or…A lot of this stuff went down at the Rat Cage. The Rat Cage was just like a big central gathering place.
MCA: There was this guy Dave Parsons who started out selling records on the street. And then [producer] Jerry Williams had this club, this place called 171A—which was 171 Avenue A. So the Bad Brains wound up living at 171A, then Dave asked Jerry if he could sell records out of his cellar. So Jerry basically opened up those iron gates on the floor and you would just kinda walk down these stone steps, duck your head. Dave would be down there with a coupla milk crates worth of records. For a while that was his store. Then he moved to 9th Street. So a lot of people used to just hang out around his store.
Mike D: I think we probably hung out the most with you [Adrock] starting at like the 9th Street Rat Cage.
Darryl: [Laughs] This guy [Adrock], I remember when this guy was real young. You’ve always had the same look on your face. You must have been about what, 16 or something? I seem to remember always teasing you about how I was your dad.
Adrock: Nah, that was the other Adam—Adam Tracy. I remember specifically one time, because we were outside of the Mudd Club, and Adam Tracy just took like two Black Beauties—he was like 14, taking speed. He was freaking out and sweating. And you were there, like, “What’s wrong with you?!” And he was like, “Aaah, I just took some ups.” So you kept snappin’ on him for like five minutes straight, and he went on and on about “ups.”
MCA: The Lower East Side was definitely way more dangerous than it is now. If you went east past Avenue A, you were definitely concerned about getting robbed.
Mike D: Avenue A was the borderline. You weren’t looking to go past A. Now it’s like, Avenue C is bougie.
Darryl: I got robbed on Avenue A and 10th Street. Two guys, a knife…
MCA: D is a big guy, so for him to get robbed…
Darryl: These guys were like, “We’re the police!”—I guess they saw me selling weed or some shit. Back when we first came up here, we used to go down and buy the little pieces of the chicken wings—that little part with the feather—they used to sell those for like 50 for a dollar…
Adrock: Kansas Fried…
Darryl: Yeah, in like, little spots, in little bodegas. We’d buy nickel bags, make 15 joints, sell `em, get more money, buy macaroni and cheese, buy some fucking wings, find somebody’s house, eat it there. We were just trying to be a band in New York. That’s what the Lower East Side was like back then.
MCA: Back then, beyond Avenue A was mostly people selling heroin in abandoned buildings; a lotta junkies. It was a pretty desperate vibe. When you went into that zone, you definitely felt a little uncomfortable. The further east you walked, the more uncomfortable it felt.
Mike D: You weren’t looking to go past Avenue A unless you were rollin’ kinda thick and had a buncha people.
Darryl: Sorta like the Forbidden Zone on The Planet of the Apes [20th Century Fox, `68]?
MCA: I felt that way about it. I wasn’t crossing over that line. One time I went over there with some friend of mine from school who was a junkie—he wanted to go there to buy dope. So I was like, “All right, I’ll walk over with you.” But it was strictly junkies and abandoned buildings.
Mike D: Then, all of a sudden, punks were starting to make squats in some of the buildings.
Darryl: That was like `85 and shit.
MCA: Dave Parsons was living in one of those…
Mike D: Then dudes like John Bloodclot and Harley [members of The Cro-Mags] were living in squats.
MCA: When I was a kid, almost before the punk rock days, I used to go out to Flushing all the time to go to a skate park.
Mike D: Aside from hanging out with this fool [MCA], I didn’t really fuck with Brooklyn. Not until hip hop, actually. Hip hop expanded my world. But I just remember more, like, being in Manhattan and then all of a sudden like, all those guys like Jimmy Gestapo and all those bands… It was like all of a sudden Astoria hardcore came on strong. All of a sudden, like, Queens just took the title. Hardcore? Queens just claimed it. You had that band the Mob…
Darryl: Can you really see the Mob taking the title [Laughs]?
Mike D: No, come on now! What I’m saying is that it was kinda like an explosion. All of a sudden you had the Mob, Urban Waste, the Cavity Creeps. It was just a lot in a short period of time.
Adrock [to Darryl]: Did you listen to hardcore back then?