On their Diamond-certified debut album Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys referenced Columbo, the Smurfs, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Barney Miller star Abe Vigoda, The Honeymooners, The Mary Tyler Moore Show actor Ted Knight, Mister Ed, The Gong Show, and variety show mainstay Phyllis Diller. Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “MCA” Yauch, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz’s pop culture-dropping lyrics continued throughout the entirety of their discography, including a Sleestaks namedrop on Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, so it’s surprising that they didn’t appear in more TV shows.
Looking at their IMDb, the Boys have dozens of “Themselves” credits for when they performed on Late Show with David Letterman and SNL and American Bandstand, which is definitely worth watching. They were also on the British series The Big Breakfast in 1994, where, according to this helpful YouTube description, they were joined by “puppets, Zig and Zag, inside the bathroom. MCA is dressed like his Sir Stewart Wallace character from the ‘Sabotage’ music video and has a Southern accent for some reason. Mike D is his usual cool self. And King Ad-rock has no idea what the hell is going on. My guess is that he was fried.” Good guess. But their pre-Beastie Boys Story filmography is sparse, relegated mostly to brief cameos in 1985’s Krush Groove, also featuring the Fat Boys and Run-D.M.C., and 1988’s Rick Rubin-directed Tougher Than Leather. Which makes their appearance on Futurama all the more delightful.
Ice Cube has Friday. Queen Latifah has Chicago. Beastie Boys have Robot Hell.
In the Futurama season one finale “Hell Is Other Robots,” after Bender (voiced by John DiMaggio) becomes addicted to electricity after “jacking on” after a Beastie Boys show at Madison Cube Garden, he joins the Temple of Robotology, where he vows to stop sinning. But when his co-workers, including Fry (Billy West) and Leela (Katey Sagal), become annoyed by his new holier-than-thou attitude, they attempt to bring him back to the dark side using alcohol and Hookerbots. It doesn’t take much work for Bender to return to his immoral ways, but when he denounces Robotology, he’s visited by the Robot Devil (Dan Castellaneta), who sends him to Robot Hell. “We know all your sins, Bender, and for each one we’ve prepared an agonizing and ironic punishment,” the Devil tells Mr. Rodriguez, while music begins to play. “Aw crap, singing,” Bender whines.
Yes, but also: the Beastie Boys.
“Hey, Bender, gonna make some noise / With your hard drive scratched by the Beastie Boys / That’s whatcha, whatcha, whatcha get on level five,” they rap before Bender and the Robot Devil plunge further into Hell. “Robot Hell” is notable for two reasons:
1) It’s the first musical number in the show’s history (“Whalers on the Moon,” although catchy as heck, does not count), later leading to the holiday-themed “Back to Work” and “I Want My Hands Back” from series highlight “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings.”
2) It contains one of the few lines of original dialogue in “Hell is Other Robots” from Mike D, who earlier in the episode had his head passed around at a concert like a beach ball (“Don’t forget to pick up a T-shirt!”), and Ad-Rock, who also provided the voice for Yauch (MCA was unavailable). But even getting just two of the Beasties was challenging.
“I’m a huge Beastie Boys fan, so this is a big thrill for me to have them on the show,” executive producer David X. Cohen said on the DVD commentary for the episode. “[But] there are only two actual boys in the episode, since we were never able to record Adam Yauch. I went to New York City with Ken Keeler, a writer on the show, and we waited three days by our cell phones, we were in theaters, restaurants, killing time. We’d had to stick on the very edge of the building, so we would have cell phone reception, ’cause they could call us at any moment, telling us they were willing to record, but they never were. So we went to New York for three days and flew back to L.A., not having done it.”
Eventually, they were about to record Mike D and Ad-Rock, who Cohen called “very nice once we got them in the studio.” They did have one demand, though: they “didn’t wanna” perform “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!),” according to “Hell is Other Robots” writer Eric Kaplan. Instead, what you get is “Intergalactic” and “Super Disco Breakin’,” both from Hello Nasty, which came out a year before the episode aired, and “Sabotage.”
It’s never explicitly stated why the Beastie Boys are in Hell, but that’s not my biggest question about the group’s cameo. This is: why Futurama? Futurama is great and all, don’t get me wrong, but it’s weird that the Beastie Boys were never on The Simpsons, right? A Simpsons guest spot is a right of passage for any musician, unless your name is Bob Dylan, Prince, or Bruce Springsteen, but through 680 episodes, the closest the Beastie Boys have come to Springfield is “Fight For Your Right” playing in one episode and “Girls” in another. (Technically, they could still show the Rappin’ Rabbis how it’s done, but it wouldn’t be the same without MCA, who died in 2012.) They apparently agreed to the appearance because they were “all big fans of Matt Groening, particularly Adam Yauch,” according to their publicist, which makes things even weirder. I’m sure there’s a simple explanation for this — or maybe the Beastie Boys just like space stuff.
Either way, they seemed to enjoy the experience: on “Too Many Rappers,” a single from their final album Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, the Beastie Boys stated that they’ll be in the rap game “until the year 3000 and beyond,” an apparent nod to Futurama. And all those decades later, they’ll still be busting mad rhymes with an 80% success rate.