When Mike D phones up Rolling Stone on a Tuesday afternoon he gives a one-word answer as to what he’s been up to: writing. “I’m taking a break to call you,” he says. The MC is deep in the process of crafting a long-promised Beastie Boys memoir with co-founder Adam Horowitz. “It’s getting there,” he says. “It takes some work, as you know. We don’t have a deadline, and books take so long to finish ’til when it comes out, but we’re getting there.”
In breaks from writing, the rapper has been recording with dance duo Cassius – their single with Cat Power, “Action,” came out earlier this year – and working on recordings with Slaves. He’s also gearing up to launch his latest passion project: a new radio show on Apple Music’s Beats 1 radio network, where the likes of Dr. Dre, Corey Taylor and St. Vincent all have programs. He’ll be announcing the show later today on Zane Lowe’s program on the network.
The show, dubbed The Echo Chamber, will debut this Friday, July 15th, at 3 p.m. EST and will air biweekly at the same time with an encore airing the following Saturday at 3 a.m. EST. The way he describes it, The Echo Chamber will be a freeform program where he and other musicians play records they love – regardless of genre – and talk about music. Some of the artists he’ll be spinning include Chance the Rapper, Lil Yachty, ESG and Arthur Russell, and some of the guests he’ll have on the show will be Slaves, Cassius and Blood Orange. He recorded his first episode in his Malibu pool house.
In the typically funny and candid conversation that follows, Mike D reflects on his relationship with radio and where he expects the take it in the future.
Why did you want your own radio show?
In a way, it’s like a little bit like a fantasy that I’ve had since basically I started buying records as a 13-year-old. I’m still the same music fan. I would save my lunch money and go buy a seven-inch singles at the time, ’cause I was into punk rock. That evolved, ’cause I got turned on to different weird music like Liquid Liquid and ESG, different New York things, and then rap. So to actually be able to cut out the middle man and play records and have it be somehow part of a vocation is some weird wish fulfillment.
And ultimately, like any other musician, I feel like the shit that I like is better than the shit that anybody else likes [laughs].
So then what music will you be playing?
It will evolve over time. It’s heartbreaking sometimes, but I’m still fascinated with and stay rooted in current music. I vacillate between what’s current and things that I think have influenced me a lot. The show also depends on records that I’m working on at this moment as a producer. So if I have an artist that I’m working with, then we’ll play records that inspired us or that we were listening to in the studio and make it more about that.
I know you’ll be playing some Chance, some Lil Yachty and Arthur Russell.
I guess that’s a little bit all over the place.
“No one has ever asked me to do a radio show before.”
So how would you describe your selection, your taste?
I’m sure you’ve been asked to do radio shows before. Why did you want to do this with Beats 1?
First off, I know this might be shocking to you, but no one has asked me to do one before [laughs]. It’s not like they called me up at KISS FM and said, “Do a radio show.” Personally, I’m a little saddened and shocked by that. But that is the case.
But what I think works for me in terms of the Apple thing is that it works for me schedule-wise. I wouldn’t want to have to do it every day. Power to the people who do do it every day; I wouldn’t want it to be, like, my job-job. So the amount of work I have to do works for me, as I’m sure it does for the other artists with shows, whether it’s Dre or Josh Homme or Ezra [Koenig] or Q-Tip. Apple also makes sense to me, in terms of the shows being archived so people can access them when they want to. I don’t think the relevance of my show ends that Friday night.
It resonates, like your title, The Echo Chamber.
Or Echo Chamb-ah, with the fake Jamaican accent. That’s how I say it.
That’s how it’s pronounced?
If you so choose.
How did you come up with that title?
Dub has been a big influence in terms of production. It’s inspired so many people and so much music – in terms of music where mixing desk was the instrument. Central to that is the echo chamber, and I think there’s a little bit of a romantic thing there.
You recorded the first episode in your pool house. Can you set the scene for me?
It’s big and open, and it used to be a garage that I converted to be a pool house and theater and DJ room. The inspiration came when Zane Lowe called me and asked me to do the show. At the time, I was working on a record with an artist in my studio, and we’d take breaks to listen to music and play Ping-Pong, which is right outside my pool house. So when he called me, I thought, “Hmm, I should keep it like that, format-wise.” Anyone can go on and play “I Got the Keys,” a new DJ Khaled song, so why would anyone listen to my show? So I thought, “What if we took that and made that the radio show? That might be more interesting, to have a couple of people doing what they do and talking about music and why it’s inspiring to them or cool.”
Is that how you discover mostly these days?
While playing Ping-Pong, yes. And sadly, my Ping-Pong game does not reflect that. Not that good [laughs].
How do you discover new music these days? Just talking to fellow artists?
I think so. I feel very fortunate, because I either work with or cross paths with a lot of different musicians, and that’s how you find the coolest shit. Anyway, that’s my musician bias.
Also, when I was a little kid and I got into punk rock and the Clash and the Slits, that’s how I found about reggae. They were inspired by it and were very clear and open about that influence. Then it made me dig further, so it’s the same thing.
“I’m no Taylor Swift. And I mean that on multiple levels.”
One of the artists you’re having on the show is Blood Orange, Devonté Hynes. He recently tweeted out a video of you buying a download of his latest record, and obviously The Echo Chamber will be streaming on Beats 1. What do you make of where the music industry is going with regard to streaming, versus albums sold?
Uh, I don’t know. I just get it however I can get it. It’s interesting. Music is more available than ever. It’s up to people to figure out. Ultimately, it’s up to the business to figure out what the business is, monetizing that.
Some artists have pretty strong feelings about streaming.
I’m no Taylor Swift. And I mean that on multiple levels, actually.
You are not Taylor Swift, no. What have been your favorite records so far this year?
I do like the Blood Orange record. I like Chance’s album. I’m excited about the Slaves record that I have coming up. The new DJ Shadow [and] Run the Jewels track is pretty good.
So what do you talk about with your guests? Mostly music?
Yeah. We’ve touched on current events a little bit but it’s pretty much pretty music-focused. I’ve yet to go into, say, dating advice or romantic topics.
Let’s talk about radio as a whole. Did radio mean a lot to you when you were young?
Yeah. I’m going to fucking date myself. I grew up with a clock radio next to my bed. It was interesting; there were really good pop records then. You’d hear Michael Jackson, “P.Y.T.” – one of the best records ever made in a lot of ways – and then right after that you’d hear Paul Simon, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” or “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” There was a quality mix to that. That’s probably a bit different from pop now.
Do you remember the first time you heard the Beastie Boys on the radio?
Yes, I do. It’s more esoteric. We didn’t even have a record out. It was a demo tape, when we were a hardcore band and it was on a show called Noise the Show, which was a hardcore show on the NYU station. I’d listen to it, because hardcore was my shit at the time. I was a nerdy punk-rock kid. And then, I think, a guy who had worked on recording the demo with us went to NYU with this guy Tim Sommer, who would go on to be an A&R guy for a little while, and he gave Tim a copy of the demo tape and Tim played it on the show. I was, like, psyched out of my mind. It was probably, to this day, one of the biggest moments of my life [laughs]. I was maybe 15, 16.
“There’s obviously a lot of stuff on ‘Licensed to Ill’ that I’d like to never hear again.”
Then maybe five years later, you put out Licensed to Ill, which turns 30 this year. When’s the last time you listened to that?
I don’t listen to any of our records. But once in a while, if I’m DJing, I’ll go and try to see and listen to the instrumental or something or an a cappella or something and see what’s there. I’d say the last time I did it, it was interesting. I don’t know. I guess what stood out to me about it … you know, there’s obviously a lot of stuff on there that I’d like to never hear again. But there’s production on it and songs, we were really on top of something.
Rick Rubin recently told me how he’d make beats and you’d all just write lyrics to make each other laugh.
Yeah, that’s how it was. It was competitive in a good way. It was basically trying to make your friends crack up. I remember times when we’d be in Rick’s dorm room playing music way too loud. That’s what came out of it.