White House — The Unreleased Beastie Boys Album

In 1987 the Beastie Boys were Mike D, MCA and Adrock — aka Michael Diamond, Adam Yauch and Adam Horowitz. The group had just released Licensed To Ill on Def Jam in 1986, and it had blown everyone’s expectations reaching #1 on the Billboard 200 charts in May 1987 and staying there for seven consecutive weeks. After touring the highly successful album the group became unenthused with what the label wanted from them, namely Licensed To Ill Part II, and the Beastie Boys left Def Jam, signed with Capitol and in 1989 released their second album Paul’s Boutique.

While Paul’s Boutique has gone on to be recognised as one of Hip Hop’s greatest albums, at the time the album flopped. Fans perhaps wanted more of Fight For Your Right To Party and weren’t quite ready for Shadrach, and if Def Jam had had their way that was exactly what fans would have got. As the Beastie Boys were finishing Paul’s Boutique Def Jam began hinting to the press that they had their own Beastie Boys album coming soon called White House. So what happened?

Together Forever

When all the touring was done, Russell wanted to throw them back in the studio straightaway and have them make an album. They were just not ready for it. Russell didn’t really see it ’cause he hadn’t been there. He was insisting, and that’s when the lawsuits against Def Jam and Rush Management began.

The Beastie Boys sued Def Jam for unpaid royalties which began a back and forth fued between both parties. The Beastie Boys meanwhile had signed with Capital Records and began work on their next album which Def Jam took issue with and threatened to release their own album of unreleased Beastie Boys songs.

Spin wrote about the Def Jam album in their October 1989 issue. Citing an earlier report from Billboard they claimed the album was to be called White House and would be made up of “bits and pieces of raps left over from Licensed To Ill.” But was there enough for an album?

A number of tracks were recorded and left off Licensed To Ill, and on top of this there are alternative versions of many of the albums songs which include minor differences in the raps. These alternative versions have found their way to fans through bootlegs such as Original Ill and feature everything from minor mixing changes to extra rap verses. But outside of these alternative mixes the following tracks were also available to fill up the White House album.

White House — Speculative Tracklisting

Rock Hard / Party’s Getting Rough / Beastie Groove

Reveiewed by John Leyland in the June 1985 issue of Spin, he claimed “no one has a beat this big and this wet. While the platter delivers ample boasts for the buck, the Beasties never take themselves or their genre too seriously.” Rock Hard and it’s clever sampling of AC/DC’s Back In Black was later listed in Spin’s Greatest Guitar Moments from their April 1989 issue, beating out Jimi Hendricks and The Kinks.

In 1985 the Beastie Boys included the song as part of their setlist while touring with Madonna, Yauch would later explain to Spin Magazine:

At the time, we had “Slow and Low,” “Beastie Groove,” and “Rock Hard.” We went into the studio and recorded “She’s on It” so we’d have another song to perform live. We were doing a cover of T La Rock and Jazzy Jay’s “It’s Yours” because we didn’t have enough of our own songs.

Ultimately Rock Hard was witheld from the album due to the AC/DC sample never being cleared by Def Jam (and AC/DC refusing them permission to do so) and the 12" was withdrawn from sale in 1985. The Beastie Boys tried again to clear the sample so it could feature on their Anthology compilation but were unsuccesful.

Adrock described Rock Hard as “a terrible song” in 2018’s Beastie Boys Book, and continued:

…we loved rap music and wanted to be rappers so bad, we wanted to be Run-DMC so bad. We really liked it at the time, but listening to it now it sounds like child actors trying desperately to make the words we were saying sound believable.

Beastie Groove and Party’s Getting Rough were the B-sides for Rock Hard, and there was also an instrumental version of Beastie Groove on some copies.

In the February 8 1985 issue of CMJ New Music Report Rock Hard was breifly reviewed, but Beastie Groove was the song that earn’t the highest praise with the reviewer insiting that “The better choice here is “Beastie Groove,” a bonus beat buster that shows just how well they can rhyme. The scratch by DJ Double R also must be heard.”

After Rock Hard was withdrawn these tracks only appeared on bootlegs until 2007 when it was re-released by Def Jam as part of their Def Jam Classics series.

She’s On It

I’m Down

Mike D became quite vocal in his frustrations with Michael Jackson, telling East Coast Rocker in 1987:

There have been a couple of songs that we haven’t been able to put out, and a couple of radio spots we made that haven’t been aired, things like that. But I gotta say this — if I ever see Michael Jackson, I’m gonna light his Jeri curls on fire. I’m gonna sneak up on him with a can of lighter and go to work. I think if they had a 3-D movie in Disneyworld of Adrock punching Michael Jackson’s face, they’d get a good draw.

Jackson reportedly hated the song as well as The Beastie Boys at the time and the song has remained unreleased.

Scenario

Well, chilling on the corner this one time
Cooling at the party, I’m running them lines
Smoking that crack, saying them rhymes
Counting my bank just to pass the time
Met a young girl throwing that base
Boyfriend beefed, he was on my case
Took her to the place, threw the mattress in her face
Shot homeboy in his motherfucking face

The song did feature in the 1990 film Pump Up The Volume where Christian Slater’s character plays it on his radio show with the introduction “a song that was so controversial they couldn’t put it on their first album”, and also raps over the top of it.

Desperado

Of the unreleased copies, there are two versions of Desperado that have found there way to the public, the first is a studio demo and the second is a recording from the 1988 film Tougher Than Leather where the Beastie Boys perform the song on stage. This second version is much better quality, but unfortunately also features dialogue from the film which is frustrating if all you want to hear is the music.

Drum Machine

MCA’s lyrics advertise the amazing features of drum machines:

Now there’s a thing called the drum machine
You don’t need good rhythm to sound real mean
Quantize a beat through the tempo control
To make good music the inevitable goal
With a VCO and a VCA
You might add on some digital delay
In the mix
Use tricks
And if it don’t sound good it can still be fixed

Drum Machine was rumoured to be considered for inclusion on White House to fill out the tracklisting according to Dan LeRoy’s The Greatest Music Never Sold book.

Cookie Puss

Which leaves us with the following album (here’s a YouTube playlist so you can listen along):

  1. Rock Hard
  2. Party’s Getting Rough
  3. Beastie Groove
  4. She’s On It
  5. I’m Down
  6. Scenario
  7. Desperado
  8. Drum Machine
  9. Cookie Puss

Let’s Remix It

Public Enemy were riding high from their recent It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back album which was released by Def Jam in 1988. The previous year they had joined the Beastie Boys on the Licensed To Ill tour around America, and in 1989 were in the midst of recording their next album Fear of a Black Planet.

Def Jam asked Chuck D to go through the Beastie Boys’ demos and create new instrumentals with his production group The Bomb Squad. While bringing in Chuck D was a stroke of genius in terms of the potential hightened production value, it would also mean the downfall of the album as when Chuck heard Paul’s Boutique he decided to step away from White House and thus the album never saw release. Chuck explained to Dan Leroy in his book The Greatest Music Never Sold:

We didn’t know the Beasties were coming out with anything, so we thought it’d be a wise idea to get into those old tracks and make something. But that didn’t happen…We didn’t realize that the Beasties were so adamant against it. That’s kinda why it didn’t go any further. In the end, it was nothin’ but a thought.

While Chuck may remember the album as nothing but a thought, that hasn’t stopped rumours of its existance from swirling, and the album has often been misreported as consisting of house remixes of Licensed To Ill, with the intention to embarrass the Beastie Boys and ruin their public image. Oddly this rumour was started and carried by the Beastie Boys themselves, with Mike D initially reporting it to Spin in October 1989. At the time Spin assured readers that Mike D was mistaken and had simply misunderstood the meaning of the White House title. But the rumour has persisted, and the Beastie Boys discussed them further with LA Weekly in 1989:

WEEKLY: Have you heard White House?

MIKE D: No-one’s heard it.

MCA: The only reason he’s doing it is to hassle us.

AD-ROCK: It’s garbage, it’s trash.

MCA: They’re talking about using vocal tracks sampled into House music, and apart from the fact that we’re not fond of House music … it’s just weak to have … I can’t even figure out what he’s using … all he has is a couple of lines or some shit.

MIKE D: It’s not like he has huge vaults filled with master tapes of us. It’s just every musician’s nightmare. Not only your past coming back to haunt you but your past in songs you know you won’t like.

The rumours continued through to 2018 when in the Beastie Boys own book Adrock brought it up again:

Allegedly, Russell threatened to put a record of unreleased songs of ours [and] call it White House and have somebody remix them to theme of this hot new sound called House music.

At the end of the day writer Dan LeRoy was likely correct when he descibed the White House album as “a threat, not a promise.” Whether it was going to be an album containing B-sides and demos, Chuck D remixes, or even a house remix album, at the end of the day nothing was released.

While the Beastie Boys had initially sued Def Jam over unpaid royalties relating to Licensed To Ill, and Def Jam then sued the Beastie Boys and Capitol Records for breach of contract, it appears that the parties agreed for the group not to pursue the royalties in exchange for release from their Def Jam commitments, leading to Def Jam agreeing not to release the album. This is also likley why no unreleased tracks have been officially made available in the intervening years.

Further Reading

Spin - An Oral History of the Beastie Boys: “The Story of Yo” (1998)

Def Jam at 30 — Rock Hard(2014)

An Australian writer with a passion for research. In 2020 he published Making Psyence Fiction, a book on the creation of UNKLE’s debut album. www.jamesgaunt.com

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