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Welcome to the first of installment of a little something we’re going to call, “The Beastie Chronicles.” (Until we come up with a better title). In each piece, we’ll highlight someone in the Beastie world (past, present, and future). In this first edition, we sit down with HaringDMC, bka Andrew Katz, to discuss some of the rap legends who inspire him, namely, Chuck D & Beastie Boys. Andrew is the insanely talented artist responsible for the image of MCA Day. This event is an opportunity for Beastie Boys’ fans from around the world to stand together, celebrating the life of Adam “MCA” Yauch, who died of salivary cancer one year ago. MCA Day will be in Littlefield, Brooklyn, NYC at 11am on 5.4.13.
Ben Lifland: So, you’re an art teacher?
Andrew Katz: 18 years.
BL: 18 years in middle school art?
AK: That’s right.
BL: You must find that rewarding?
AK: I do. Not only do I find it rewarding, but also I’m able to practice what I preach. So, while I teach kids to be creative, and use their visual ideas to express themselves, I find more and more, that I’m doing the same thing. I’m able to use my art in a lot of ways to meet some of my heroes – to pay tribute to them through my art and so, not only do I tell my kids to do that, but I end up doing a lot of the same thing.
BL: Do your students appreciate your interest in hip-hop, or is Chuck D already too old for them?
AK: What’s interesting is that I use my artwork as a vehicle to share the things that I’m passionate about. Some of the artists that I admire, like Chuck D and Public Enemy, Beastie Boys and Boogie Down Productions – all these older, classic rap acts – they are interested because they see my passion. And I’ll use my artwork as an example to teach them how to critique their work. If I need a fresh set of eyes on something, I’ll ask, Hey, what do you think of this? And then they’ll ask probing questions, like, “What is that?” or “Who is that?” It’s an opportunity for me to tell them stories. I think they appreciate it. Now, as middle schoolers, they don’t necessarily always know who Chuck D is…
AK: If I say Public Enemy, sometimes they have heard of PE… There are always quite a few students of mine who are into current hip-hop artists, and then I’m able to sort of make the connection, and educate them on where a lot of it came from.
BL: I think that’s real important. A lot of kids just do not know the history of hip-hop, and you have an opportunity to teach them.
AK: I’m not a music teacher, but you know, I grew up with not only the music, but I also grew up with MTV, and I saw how a lot of these artists were further introduced to us visually. A lot of videos were shot in an artist’s neighborhood, so you could see where they lived, and they often referenced those environments and their origins within their lyrics.
AK: I think Chuck has a lot to say about current rap artists, even now. He’s not afraid to share his opinion about what’s going well and what is not going well. I think I’ve always been drawn to his strong convictions.
BL: Chuck definitely calls it like he sees it, and I think you’re right; he’s respected for that. He’s just always been a pioneer. I mean, I remember when on-line file sharing was coming out, and he was so far ahead of that curve.
AK: Yeah, even with twitter, he’s a self-proclaimed ‘twittiot’. I’ve heard him say that about himself. That’s sort of how I got connected with him was through twitter, and social media, which is playing a big part in sharing my own artwork. I was just talking with my wife about a lot of the stuff I’ve made. I care so much about it, and I don’t ever really want to sell it. I just want to collect it and use it as a vehicle to meet my heroes. If people are interested in it, that’s the best compliment in the world, but I don’t feel like I’m ready to part with any of it. It’s so much a part of my story, recently.
BL: So that picture of Chuck D… What did he say?
AK: One of my goals, even when I was younger, was to meet Chuck D. I’ve always been a great admirer of his strong convictions. And while I might not agree with every single thing he says, I’ve always admired his ability to articulate his message, and put it into a rap. Of course, his voice is really strong. But I didn’t want to just meet him and shake his hand. I wanted to talk with him. I’ve met a lot of other people, athletes who I’ve done other artwork of, and a lot of times, I’ll meet them for a split second, and they’ll sign a painting. But for some reason, I just really wanted to meet him. And then the twitter thing happened.
BL: What’s that?
AK: My buddy and I heard about Public Enemy doing the Hip-Hop Gods Tour that started in November. I got tickets for a show in DC the day they went on sale. And I couldn’t wait, I was just bouncing off the walls, and I had started using twitter after meeting Mike D back in September, to share that story. So, I was posting pictures of the people I was meeting. And the way I met Chuck D, was because I kept posting Public Enemy lyrics on twitter, and telling everyone about the show. I channeled my energy about being excited for the show into the drawing, and getting tickets, and then tweeting Public Enemy lyrics. And I used the drawing of Chuck as my icon for my twitter account. One night, I’m sitting there, and my phone vibrates, and I look down, and it’s from Chuck. He says, “Direct Message Me.”
So I did. And I thought he was going to do a cease-and-desist, or tell me to stop posting our lyrics. But it was the exact opposite.
AK: Well, he knew I was coming to the show because of all my posts. So he said, I have a proposal. I want to put you on the guest list for our show. I want to talk with you about something that we’re trying to do. I was freaking out… I thought that was the coolest thing in the world.
AK: So, I got even more excited. I brought the drawing with me to the show, and Chuck was emceeing. So, during the show, I showed him the artwork and he signed it. He wrote, “I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddlin’” from “Don’t Believe the Hype.” I ended up going back to meet him the next day, and I met Flavor Flav, and saw all these other bands from the Hip-Hop Gods Tour walking around this little hotel.
AK: Then they all took off on a bus, and I was there by myself, and then Chuck comes out of the elevator. He sits down and talks with me for about 20 minutes. And we swap stories, and he posed for the picture with me.
AK: The coolest part of it was just sitting down and talking, just talking about his expectations for the show. Because it was the day after the first tour date, and they ended up going on about 14 other dates, I think. I had read some material on line. He was really excited and proud of the show, but I think he was sort of disappointed with the lack of mainstream coverage. You know, it was such a cool idea to do this cross-country bus tour, with these classic rap acts.
AK: I think he was so proud of it, and the people who were involved were so hard working and devoted to the tour, but disappointed that they didn’t get a little bit more coverage.
AK: Then, at the end, I believe it was the day after the last date of the tour, was when [Public Enemy] was announced as the newest inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Which was a pretty cool coincidence – the tour had just wrapped, and then all of a sudden, they’re inducted. I’d like to think that his legacy is going to change even more, and for the better, because hopefully they’ll be getting some of the exposure and mentions that they haven’t been receiving. I mean, he’s one of the best, you know.
BL: I feel you. And what’s your opinion of Flav.
AK: It’s funny because I never had the same need to meet Flavor Flav that I had to meet Chuck. I mean it would have been cool to meet Flav, and I did, very briefly. He signed my vinyl copy of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. He’s very appreciative of the fans. He promised a whole bunch of people pictures and handshakes, and photos… And he delivered. He came down and posed for every picture, and shook every hand. I was sort of the last one because I was just waiting for Chuck. But I said, you know, I have this album, I should go up and ask him, and see if he’ll sign it. And he did. I told him the show last night was awesome.
He just stopped, and he’s like, ‘OHHH. You were there?? That’s AMAZING!’
I told him that we loved it, it was great.
And he goes, ‘No, no. Man, we loved YOU! We love you!’ And then he threw his arms around me, and he gave me this big bear hug. He’s, um, you know, he’s simultaneously the rudest, sort of foul-mouthed, crazy guy, but at the same time, he is so kind to people. I mean, he was so kind to the hotel staff, and to these people that were asking him for his autograph. But then he would talk about getting some motherfuckin’ hash browns at McDonald’s. And demanding his food quicker. It was really kind of funny just to observe him. He’s exactly the way you would picture him. I don’t think that any of it is an act. I think he’s just like that.
BL: Well, Chuck’s kept him around all these years for some reason, right?
AK: Yeah, I think there’s like a yin and yang thing going on there. You know, I was surprised at how soft-spoken Chuck is. He’s very relaxed. He wasn’t in any rush. I told him, I’m really glad you signed my artwork because this is what I do, I’m a teacher. He goes, ‘Oh, really, maybe I can come out to your school some time?’
It’s kind of cool to meet somebody that is that not only accessible, but who also wants to be that helpful and informative, and has a host of ideas that he wants to share with other people.
BL: That is awesome. And I share your joy that the Hall of Fame is giving PE the respect they deserve.
AK: Yeah, I’ve been a hip-hop fan for many, many years. The coolest part about this hip-hop stuff for me is how the artwork is encapsulating my feelings about the music in a personal way. It all started when we went to Cleveland last year for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
BL: You went?
AK: Yeah, when the Beastie Boys got in, we made the trip. I mean, it was cool that Guns N’ Roses got in. I’m sure there was a faction of people that were there to see that, but we were there to see the Beastie Boys. But at the time we went to Cleveland, nobody knew that MCA was sick again. I believe, in hindsight, we found out that he had been readmitted to the hospital that night.
AK: And he never made it back out.
AK: So, we were kind of making a weekend of it, and we went out on the town… But there’s just not a whole lot going on in Cleveland right now. The neat thing is that for the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony, which is there, I think, every three years.
BL: I think that’s right.
AK: They kind of roll out the red carpet for all of these dignitaries and stars. Everything is kind of fun. You have this vibe going on, because you can sort of see who is there for whom. I mean, we’re walking around, looking for somewhere to get something to eat and have some drinks before the ceremony. My wife and I are talking about where we should go, walking down this street. And we look up, and there, two feet from my wife is Adrock. Just standing on the corner, smoking a cigarette with these other two guys.
AK: I flipped out. I’m like, That’s him! Not only did we come to this city that we’re not familiar with, but we’re walking down the street and there’s the very guy we came to see. I mean, this is nuts.
So, we walked into the restaurant ahead of him, and we’re flipping out. I’m trying to see if anyone else even cares, that I just saw him. And we ended up meeting this other couple, and I said to them: There he is, right there. It stands to reason, that if Adrock is eating here, then the other guys are probably here, too. And he walks in and goes downstairs to this sort of banquet room that they had sectioned off I guess for them, and their party.
AK: Sure enough, about 10 minutes later, Adrock comes back up, and there’s this tall, lanky guy, following him out the door.
AK: And it was Mike D!
AK: I’m like, this is ridiculous. Of all the places we could have picked, they’re here. We still, at that point, didn’t know about MCA. So we thought, you know, maybe he’s here, too?
So, I took a bunch of pictures of them on the street, through the glass of the window.
I’m glad I got them, because there was a piece of paper in their hands. They’re kind of talking, and you can’t hear what they’re saying. But as it turns out, that piece of paper was MCA’s speech that they gave on stage about two hours later.
BL: Ahh, got it.
AK: So, I guess they were talking about what they were going to say at the show, and do. It was disappointing that they didn’t perform, for understandable reasons, of course, but I thought that the tribute that they did was great and what they said was great. Just being there was amazing. Not to mention, Chuck D and LL Cool J, who were announced as the inductors. That was pretty incredible, too.
BL: Yeah, I thought Chuck and LL did a great job.
BL: So, the picture of you with Mike D… Where’s that from?
AK: Oh, that. Well, I do all these portraits of baseball players. Every year I go up and meet the baseball legends up in Cooperstown. So, for years, I’ve wanted to do this Rod Carew painting, just in time to go up there. I really wanted to pay some kind of tribute to the Beastie Boys, as well. I was feeling the whole thing about MCA dying, but I don’t know where the idea came from… Well, obviously it came from “Sure Shot.” So, right before I met him, I’m like, I should get him to write… Instead of, I got mad hits like I was Rod Carew – he IS Rod Carew, so I’ll get him to write, ‘I’ve got mad hits.’ And it took a lot… I thought, Maybe he’s just going to look at me like I’m crazy.
AK: So, I was going to write it down on a little piece of paper to slip him when I shake his hand. I asked him, When you sign this, can you write, ‘I’ve got mad hits.’ And then sign your name.
AK: He looks at me, and I’m wondering, What’s he going to say
AK: He goes, ‘Ah, man — you too?’
AK: I’m like, What do you mean, You, too?
He goes, ‘Man, I just signed another record album with the same thing.’
BL: That’s hilarious!
AK: I’m like, That’s awesome, that’s so great.
AK: The funny thing is that the guy next to Rod, who’s handling the tickets and giving out pens for them to sign stuff… He’s like, ‘What’s this all about, anyway? What song is it from?’
I’m like, ‘It’s Sure Shot!’ Then I got to rap in front of Rod Carew.
I go, “I got more action than my man, John Woo, and I got mad hits like I was Rod Carew.” And then I pointed at him, and Rod smiled and then wrote it on there.
So, I’m just like, This is an awesome feeling. I felt like I had hit upon something at that point. I realized what I had to do.
BL: What was that?
AK: I’m realized that I needed to get the Beastie Boys to sign this. So, when I got home, I told my wife: I need to find them. And she’s like, ‘How are you going to do that, they’re not performing anymore.’
I’m like: Yeah, it’s going to be tough. So, I got on the internet, and I kind of looked for appearances. Then, one day, I hit the jackpot; I saw this thing that said, “Mike D to DJ the Brooklyn Foodie Extravaganza,” or something like that. All these famous chefs from NY, and I think, Paris, too, came to this little square in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Where they usually have the Brooklyn Flea Market, and he was going to DJ. So I told my wife, I’m going to go.
She’s like, What are you talking about? That’s like three-and-half hours away.
And I said, Yeah, but it’s on the weekend.
She goes, ‘Yeah, it’s on a Sunday night, and you have school the next day.’
AK: I’m like, That sounds good to me.
She goes, ‘I think you’re crazy. But if you want to go, if you want to do it, I’ll support you.’
I’m like, Well, that’s all I need to hear. I said, I’m going to go.
BL: Rock on.
AK: It turned out to be the most beautiful day of the year. So, I drove up there in the morning, and spent the whole day at Brooklyn Book Festival, which was the same day, and I met up with a former student of mine, who is grown up now. He heard I was in town. So, we met for a drink. Then I drove to Williamsburg. And I was a little worried that they weren’t going to let me in because I had this big folder with my painting in it.
AK: I’m also worrying, you know, Is he even going to be accessible?
AK: But I had based the whole day around this, so I’m like, Well, here goes. And they let in about 700 people, and almost all of them immediately got in line for food. But I couldn’t have cared less about the food. I was there to meet Mike D.
BL: Of course.
AK: So, I’m wondering, Where’s the DJ tent? So, picture this backdrop. It’s midtown Manhattan. We’re across the river from the Empire State Building. It’s getting dark out and I see the neon lights, and there’s this little white tent. It occurs to me, That’s where he’s going to set up. That’s where he’s going to be. So I walk over there, and there’s nobody – it’s just one guy standing there. So, I’m like this should work, I’ll be standing there, and when Mike D comes out to DJ, I’ll be here.
So I look up at the one guy that’s standing there, and I realize, it’s Mike D! I’m thinking, Oh my gosh, this is incredible. So I’m about to walk up to him, and I’m thinking, This is too easy. And this girl walks by with a clipboard, all dressed in black, and looks all official. I said, “Can I go up to Mike, and say hi?” And she goes, ‘Oh, do you know him? Is he a friend of yours?’ I said, Nah, I wouldn’t go that far.
AK: But I said, I did this painting and I really want to show it to him.
She’s like, ‘Well he’s going to be done in like 15 minutes. Why don’t you hang out and listen to some music and maybe you can talk with him when he’s done.’
AK: I told her, Well, I don’t want to break any rules or step on any toes.
And she’s like, ‘It’s no problem. There’s no rules. You’re fine.’
AK: And I saw this big security guard standing in the green room tent that was adjacent to the white tent, where Mike was setting up. So I went over to that guy, and I was like, I don’t want to crowd anybody. I’m just waiting to meet Mike D.
And he’s like, ‘Well, I think you’re in a perfect spot.’
AK: Yeah, he goes, ‘You should be good right there. He’s going to come over to this tent when he’s done and you can probably meet him.’
BL: That’s insane.
AK: I’m like, This is crazy. These are the nicest people in the world. In the meantime, he played like two or three songs. He had a really short set. I think he was surprised how short the set was. I was about ten feet from him and there was about 7 or 8 other people, just like me. Who were there to meet Mike D. I realized that one of them was this guy, Mike Kearney…
BL: Yeah, MCA Day!
AK: Exactly. Mike Kearney is standing next to me, and he’s got the MCA Day Hat on. I recognized him from the FB page. We had gone back and forth a couple times, but hadn’t made any huge connection. The weird thing is that when I pulled out the Rod Carew painting, a bunch of people go, “I’ve seen that before! I saw that on Facebook.”
I’m just like, This is crazy, you know. The world really is flat now – the way people are able to connect through social media.
AK: So we’re all waiting for him to finish, and then walk into that little tent, and then we’ll have to wait. But instead, when he’s done, Mike walks right over to us.
BL: No way.
AK: Yeah, he’s like, ‘Hey guys, What’s up?’ And they all sort of pushed me into the front. They’re like, ‘Show him.’
AK: So, I said, Hey, I did this painting of Rod Carew, and I got him to write your lyrics on it.
Mike goes, ‘What!? And he was cool with that?’
And I told him that I’d gotten a really great reaction.
So Mike asks, ‘Well, what do you want me to do?’
I’m like, I want you to put your name on it, too. That would be so cool.
And he said, ‘Ok,’ and he wrote “Mike D, Beastie Boys” on it. Then he turned around and took some pictures with everyone. Unfortunately, the picture of Mike and me is the only one I have of us. And it’s pretty dark.
BL: It’s still a money shot, bro.
AK: Sure, I was psyched. So, Mike shook everybody’s hands, took lots of pictures, and then kind of walked away.
BL: That’s awesome that everyone else was amped for you.
AK: Exactly. In fact, that’s sort of been parlayed into friendships with… Like I’ve become friends with Mike Kearney over Facebook. And right now, he’s working on this year’s MCA Day. And you know the skateboard, right?
BL: Hells yeah!
AK: Well, the top portion of the board, I sort of redrew it and did it digitally, so that it can be reproduced. I mean, the board was all hand-painted. So, I used Photoshop and I used some of my original drawings, scanning them in, and then adding color. And I just put out the new image.
BL: Right, the other one, with the lemons and the limes!
AK: Right, I wanted it to look like the skateboard, which was rounded at the top, and Mike said, Why don’t you square it off at the top… So it looks more like a sticker.
AK: Because my plan is to hand out stickers at MCA Day.
AK: I’ve been working on this cool graphic. And Mike was thinking that this could be the image for MCA Day.
BL: Get out.
AK: Yeah, I’m pretty stoked about that. It’s just snowballing. It’s been so much fun. And it seems that when you connect with the people who are involved with these things, you see that they are such good people.
BL: I wholeheartedly agree with that. The people who are out there, honoring MCA’s legacy, and the Beastie Boys in general – making these events happen – are the same people who were drawn to core Beastie values in the first place.
AK: Right. Look at the Tony Hawk Foundation and what they did with MCA’s board – that’s where the idea for my skateboard design came from. What an exciting project. Bucky Lasek was the one who got the MCA to sign the boards. And didn’t realize how sick MCA was at the time. But MCA was still enthusiastic.
BL: It’s crazy. Yauch died like two months later.
AK: I knew I didn’t have the money to win that board. But I just thought it was so cool. So I watched with a lot of anticipation, just to see how much it would raise for skate parks in low-income communities. And there was like a Ben Harper board, and Bob Dylan board, and a James Hetfield board, and Paul McCartney. But the MCA board was magical because it was like one of the last initiatives he was involved in, and obviously, I can’t buy it, but what can I do… To pay tribute to this man. Who I never met, who I saw perform a couple times, and yet, he still matters to me. His existence affected me in such a positive way. That’s the other thing about the Beastie Boys that I don’t think a lot of casual listeners understand. That we saw them grow up, and evolve into these admirable human beings.
AK: You and I aren’t much younger than them. Let’s face it, when they first came out, we were drawn to these antics, and their clever silliness. And yeah, they could rhyme, and they could put together a cool song. But they weren’t exactly socially conscious.
BL: You’re right about that.
AK: So when they started making these important statements on their later albums, it was so cool to watch. I don’t think anyone epitomized that as much as MCA. Same with Chuck D. That’s what draws me to them. These artists understand how their words have power, and they can wield that power for good…
Above, Andrew’s latest work.
Tune in next time when we go 1-1 with someone who worked for the Boys for over a decade — and has NEVER before been interviewed.