Ad-Rock on the End of the Beastie Boys, Iggy Azalea, and His New Acting Career

Adam Horovitz, aka Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys, opens up about his fine performance in Noah Baumbach’s new film While We’re Young, the state of NYC, and his uncertain future.

03.25.15 9:15 AM ET

The hell-raiser formerly known as Ad-Rock, who once claimed to “use the microphone like Picasso use clay,” laid waste to many a hotel room with Flava Flav, and fought for everyone’s right to party, has hung up his mic. Both he and fellow Beastie Boy Mike Diamond (“Mike D”) have chosen to disband the iconic rap group in honor its fallen founder, Adam “MCA” Yauch, who passed away in 2012 from cancer.

Now that the party’s over, Adam Horovitz has, apparently, gone Hollywood. “Get to know me. Read the trade sites. I’m in major motion pictures,” he says with a chuckle.

In While We’re Young, Horovitz plays a graying, stay-at-home dad who’s almost too comfortable in his adult shoes—pulling baby duty, listening to Wilco, and ripping on his fellow middle-aged pal, played by Ben Stiller, for wearing a fedora. Stiller’s character and his wife (Naomi Watts) are in the throes of a midlife crisis, spending all their free time gallivanting about New York City with a pair of hipper-than-thou hipsters (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried) who dabble in documentary filmmaking, take hip-hop dance classes, and make artisanal avocado ice cream. They soon realize their retro-obsessed new pals’ lives aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

The film, of course, provides a far different view of Horovitz than the one firmly implanted in our heads—that of the baseball cap- and gold chain-wearing, beer-guzzling MC. But these days, the 48-year-old musician is far closer to his film version than the music one. The native New Yorker says he spends his days “going to Knicks games, eating Chinese, or watching The Walking Dead” with his wife, punk goddess Kathleen Hanna. He even raves about a cheese-tasting his brother bought him for his last birthday.

We’re seated across from one another in a hotel room in Downtown Manhattan to discuss his surprisingly affecting turn in While We’re Young, and life after the Beastie Boys.

This film is about coming to terms with growing up, so how does it feel to be a rap OG?

Um… I’m middle school, so I wouldn’t know! We’re certainly older than whatever is the current rap group that I’ve never heard of right now, but when I started rapping, acts like Grandmaster Flash or KRS-One were the old school. So maybe I’m in the early stages of the middle school.

Speaking of KRS-One, we ran a story recently on this, but why do you think there isn’t that much respect for rap’s OGs? For instance, bands like Boston pack amphitheaters but if I wanted to see KRS-One, I could check him out in a smallish venue.

Right. Rap music is the only genre of music I can think of where nobody gives a shit about last year—let alone 20 or 30 years ago. Rap is the only super-current music. If you’re into reggae or dancehall and you don’t know Bob Marley, then you don’t really know what you’re listening to. But if you’re listening to rap and you’re 15, you’re like, “Grandmaster Flash? Who’s that? Public Enemy? Yeah, my dad told me about them once.” And that’s just how it is. We had to accept that as a band. We were told by rap stations, “We’re not going to play you guys,” and that was around the time of the second album! We got played a lot in the ’80s, and people are still like, “Aw, man, Licensed to Ill, I had that tape, man. What did you guys do after that?”

How do you feel about the state of rap?

I have no idea about the state of rap. I don’t pay attention. I just listen to old music that I have. Once a year, I’ll go do a digging search on things, and then listen to that for the next year or two. I like Kanye West… he makes good music.

Are the Beastie Boys kaput?

Oh, yeah. Adam [Yauch] started the band, so it’s done. I’m in transition right now. I’m transitioning. It’s an interesting time, I guess. I certainly knew that the Beastie Boys weren’t going to be the same thing forever, but I certainly hoped that we would just stop doing it for a while, Adam would make movies, and we’d just be friends for a while. So I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

Do you see you and Mike D making music in the future?

Oh god, I hope not! We’ve been together for so long. He does that thing where he talks while he chews! Nom-nom-nom. [Laughs]

People are pretty torn over this Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, claiming she’s guilty of gross cultural appropriation since her rap delivery mimics a black-dirty South accent. You guys never really caught too much shit for cultural appropriation.

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We wore fuckin’ Puma suits and do-rags, so of course we did! She sounds like Da Brat. I can’t say too much because I’ve heard literally one song of hers, and it’s not for me. I was gonna say it’s awful, and it is awful. But what do I know? It’s sold like 20 billion records, so people like it. I don’t care, more than anything.

There’s also this “Blurred Lines” sampling controversy going on right now where the estate of Marvin Gaye was awarded a $7.3 million judgment because Pharrell and Robin Thicke used a very similar bassline in their song. The Beastie Boys were involved in a similar sampling lawsuit in ’03 over “Pass the Mic,” only the court ruled that you weren’t liable.  

Legally, I’m not supposed to talk about it. But legally, alls I know is, if you were going to make a commercial and you use a band’s song, at some point wouldn’t you be like, “We should probably get the rights to this song if we’re going to use it for a commercial.” If you asked nine out of 10 people on the street, they’d say you should get the rights to it.

But with the “Blurred Lines” case, people are saying it’s problematic for the future of sampling and music.

Yeah, definitely. They weren’t allowed to hear the song in the case but they saw the charts for it, and if you’re basing a legal case on drum patterns and bass notes, it’s a billion songs! It’s a simple 4/4 drum pattern that every rap, rock, everything, uses.

Let’s talk While We’re Young. How did you and Noah Baumbach hook up?

Noah is an old friend of my sister because she worked with Wes Anderson and the Wilson brothers on Bottle Rocket, and Noah is friends with them, and we all used to eat together at Bar Pitti in the ’90s. That place is the greatest. The Rigatoni Pitti is my last meal. Anyway, I invited Noah to come see a band I’m in with my friend Bridget Everett called Bridgett Everett and the Tender Moments—I’m a “Tender Moment,” on and off the stage—so Noah came, and afterwards we were hanging out and having drinks, and he asked me to be in a movie. And that was it. He sent me the script the next day.

Jon Pack, Courtesy of A24

Had you tried to break into acting before? It’s really in your blood.

When I was a little kid I wanted to be an actor. That was my thing. And my mom gave me a guitar for my 12th birthday and I learned how to play, and that same year I heard The Ramones, and I guess everything changed. But I tried to do the acting thing back in like… 1988 or 1989. I was in Lost Angels and another one called Roadside Prophets in the ’80s. But I went on tons of auditions. I auditioned for so many different people—Oliver Stone for The Doors movie.

For the part of Jim Morrison?

I have no idea! I had an agent and now I realize why she stopped calling me because I’d just smoked a ton of pot with my friend Rob and we went to the audition—it was Oliver Stone, what’s the problem!—and I walked in and I’m like, “You’re not gonna cast me in this, huh?” and he said, “No, I’m not.” I auditioned for Jodie Foster and one of the members of the Monty Python cast. It was fun. I forget what the project was, but my audition was so bad for Jodie Foster and then I’m walking down MacDougal Street with a friend and I see her eating lunch with a bunch of people, so I go up and knock on the window and wave, and she waves back. My friend goes, “How do you know Jodie Foster?” and I was all, “Eh, I know people.”

Is acting something you want to pursue more now?

Well, with this, I was surprised I’m not awful, which I was really happy about. But I can’t imagine it. If people ask me to be in movies I’ll be in ’em, depending! I’m really bad at auditioning, which is why I stopped doing it.

You play a domesticated dad in While We’re Young, and you’re an older family man now. Was it tough for you to transition into that mode? You were pretty wild back in the day.

No, it’s not. You just go with what you’re workin’ with, you know what I’m sayin’? My wife [Kathleen Hanna] is the coolest person in the world and I get to hang out with her every day, and I’ve got great friends and I love my family… what’s the problem? So, as of today, I’m cool with all of it. Fifteen years from now, I don’t know. The only time I really notice [my age] is after basketball, or a lot of drinking. Although if you can still handle a lot of drinking at my age, that’s a bad sign. When you’re young, you just throw up and get back up again, but the spinning… I can’t do the spinning. I guess if you’re leading a healthy, grown-up lifestyle, your brain and your body are coexisting. And my back is killing me.

A big theme of While We’re Young is the disconnect between the younger and older generation. What are your thoughts on kids these days?

At least when I was a kid, everything was so boxed-in and specific. If you were a punk, you could not listen to rockabilly. If you wore a backpack, you had to do the one-shoulder. But with music, specifically, if you were a stoner you’d listen to Led Zeppelin, you wouldn’t listen to punk, and disco sucks, and all of that stuff. But now, because of the Internet, you’ll go to whatever site and listen to something and there are recommendations for different types of music, whereas when I was a kid it was, “Oh, I’m not looking at that.” Maybe kids are more open these days.

At the same time—and I think this is touched on in the film—is that kids are too open to stuff these days, so you have kids who are basically full of shit and will listen to a song from a band or see a trailer for a movie or an episode of a show and say, “Oh yeah, I know it.” It’s like cultural tapas. You taste all these different things instead of gorging yourself on the full meal.

I like tapas! But yeah, I hear ya. Back then, if you were a punk rocker you were a punk rocker. If you were a stoner you were a stoner and rocked the Frisbee, weed, and a wine bottle with a candle in it in the park. It’s difficult when you’re influenced by 30 different things to be those 30 different things at the same time, so it must be confusing to be 16 and go, “Man, there’s so much shit that’s so great.” But I’ll see a half-episode of Mad Men and be like, “I get it, I know what that is.” You get the reference. And there are so many reference points widely available.

As a New Yorker, how do you feel about the state of NYC?

It’s a bummer, man. It’s definitely a bummer. That’s what cities do—they change. Some cities go the completely opposite route and turn into fuckin’ ghost towns, but me and Kathleen went to see Patti Smith do this gig and someone asked her what she thought of New York City today, and she said, “It’s depressing. You can’t be a starving artist. You can’t move to New York to be an artist.” And there are struggling artists now in New York, but they’re not struggling for money, because if they’re living in New York their parents gave them money. So now you need to have four roommates and live in Queens. Nothing against Queens. But it’s definitely too expensive, and Brooklyn is now, too. It’s depressing.

Almost as depressing as the Knicks—although I do think it was part of Phil Jackson’s master plan, to torpedo this season for picks and revamp it in the offseason and through free agency.

I don’t trust it! There’s Phil Jackson, you’ve got another ex-Laker, Derek Fisher, as the coach, and you have an ex-Laker in Kurt Rambis as his assistant.

So you think this is a vast Lakers conspiracy?

That’s what I’m sayin’! It’s straight Hollywood.