A PUBLIC ROW ENSUES OVER PUNK-RAPPERS' REQUEST THAT ELECTRONICA GROUP SCRATCH SONG FROM ITS LIVE SET.
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 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 statement.
"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 statement.
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 the punch.
"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.