MICHAEL “MIKE D” DIAMOND is a rapper, musician, songwriter, drummer, and fashion designer, best known as a founding member of the pioneering hip- hop group The Beastie Boys. The Beastie Boys have been included in Rolling Stone’s “Top 100 Greatest Artists of All Time” and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2012. Eminem said, “It’s obvious to anyone how big of an influence the Beastie Boys were on me and so many others.” The Beastie Boys disbanded in 2012 after the death of one of the group’s founding members, Adam “MCA” Yauch. Mike currently hosts a Beats 1 radio show, The Echo Chamber.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
Wow, there are so many instances of moments that either didn’t go as we wanted at all as a band—ideas imagined and not realized, shows that seemed to last a lifetime because nothing would click—but perhaps the most “liberating” failure I can think of is an album of ours: Paul’s Boutique. Over time it turned out not to be such a failure, as a lot of people cite it as their favorite of our albums. But it does make us wonder what all of these people were so busy with at the time of its release that they couldn’t make it to a record store (really a CD store at the time) to part with $9.99.
So let’s set this up correctly and give some context: Paul’s Boutique was a huge commercial disappointment. We are talking major floperino here. Licensed To Ill had sold millions and millions of copies, and its songs and videos had been in microwave rotation for many months. A lot of people were waiting for us to just go away, to prove to them and the world that it was all a fluke. But on the other side, there were many people at a big record label penciling in Paul’s Boutique to the good in their profit line. Waiting for lightning to strike twice. Oops, their bad! Sadly, with no repeat anthem, videos, or even remotely similar songs to Licensed To Ill, Paul’s was too different for anyone except for a core contingent of freaks and weirdos: our true fans. At first, we were sort of in disbelief. We had worked so hard and believed in what we were making, and it was pretty much all over just some weeks after being released. No big hit songs or videos or arena tours. It was heartbreaking to let go of something that we had put all this effort and time into. So many words written, so many studio hours spent on so many vocal takes, endless different versions of songs, hours and hours of digital samples fussed over, not to mention the many Ping-Pong matches and air hockey games. We were gutted.
On the bright side of things, the album was critically well received. But this didn’t seem to do much for its popularity. After a bunch of the Capitol Records top staff had been let go, largely due to this very flop, we went to the label to plead our case, asking them to still focus on marketing our record. No dice. They had other things to focus on.
So why was this liberating? Because it allowed us to fully retreat from the world. To withdraw and just spend time. All that was left was the three of us. Our relationship and trust in each other. Hanging out and having very little to do. Waking up, having breakfast, smoking pot, buying some records, listening to those records, and maybe playing some music. We now had total artistic freedom. Nobody, including us, was wed to any commercial expectation. This gave us the creative freedom to make whatever we wanted, completely free from fear and expectation. In hindsight this was a huge gift.
Of course, this story isn’t totally fair. Like I said, Paul’s Boutique was not only critically well received but, over time, people caught on in their own way on their own time, and it went on to sell millions of copies, which is still huge for three white kids from NYC who were a hardcore punk band that decided to rap.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
For me, Transcendental Meditation is the biggest gift that keeps on giving. The older I get, the more I realize you never know when and where different lessons and practices are going to come from. I was on a surf trip on a boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The waves were firing, and things couldn’t have been better in a lot of ways. I was super fortunate and grateful to be where I was, but I was going through a great deal of emotional turmoil and drama. Thankfully, the core of the people on this trip were TM practitioners. I immediately felt the benefit before being given a proper initiation. As soon as I got back home, I was in the studio working on a record. Not only did I learn and get initiated, all of us working on the record did as well. It made it a more powerful shared experience. And practically speaking, it made it more viable to get the practice time in when working long hours in the studio. It is amazing what a great “reset” TM can be. The structural demands of TM are very doable in the context of our current lives. Twenty minutes when we get up and 20 minutes toward the end of the day when we really need it anyway. For me, it is a great safe place where I can go deeply into my own trauma and drama, free from fear—decreasing being reactive and clearing space to be proactive. My relationships with everyone benefit. Sometimes my kids are like, “Dad, why are you spending this time meditating?” But I am much better in my relationship as a dad with it. I’m much better in all my relationships with it.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?
Interesting question. My first tendency, especially when working on a song or music, is to keep going. Keep banging my head against the wall, hoping for a breakthrough, even if my poor head really f-ing hurts! But, I think with maturity (I am scared to admit to any maturity at all) I have learned that a reset is needed at times. This can take a few different forms. Here are some that have helped me:
TM: See above. Especially when I am overwhelmed, overtired, or just can’t figure something out and am becoming increasingly frustrated, spending 20 minutes doing TM can help me completely refocus and recharge. It often allows me to see things differently and be productive for hours, which equals a good return on investment.
Surfing: I am a lucky duck. I live in Malibu, California, with waves within walking distance. I spend a good amount of my time surfing with my kids all around the world, and it is worth every damn minute. I am well aware that most people are landlocked and are not afforded this luxury, but surf offers me a great reset. I instantly become so much more grateful and appreciative, and by being in nature’s playground, it offers perspective. The ocean and the wave are in control, not me. I am just a little speck trying to breathe and do the best I can.
Hanging with my kids: They won’t be kids forever, that is for damn sure! And sometimes I need a distraction from them! But I am always so grateful when we have amazing experiences and conversations together. It really does put things into perspective. One thing I am so grateful to be able to model: I was always included in my parents’ and their adult friends’ conversations, and I try to practice the same with my kids, valuing their ideas and thoughts.
Walking my dogs: By just taking a break and walking my dogs, I can usually figure a couple of things out.