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Mike D’s Endless Summer: How Former Beastie Boy Found New Peace in Malibu

Veteran rapper talks Beats 1 radio show, Beastie Boys’ upcoming memoir, the zen of surfing and more.

Veteran rapper talks Beats 1 radio show, Beastie Boys' upcoming memoir, the zen of surfing and more.

Mike Diamond climbs out of his hot tub, changes into a comfy sweatshirt and jeans, and uncorks a 2008 Barbaresco. The Beastie Boy better known as Mike D is at his house in Malibu, an acre-plus compound he bought 11 years ago and has spent almost as much time gut-renovating. It’s a pleasure palace: There’s a trampoline out back with a basketball hoop hanging above it, a pool house that doubles as a movie theatre, an avocado orchard at the northern end of the property and five palm trees swaying in formation to the south. Nailed beside the enormous front door is a tiny wooden sculpture of a hand, by the artist Sage Vaughn, that offers a clue to how Diamond has been spending most of his time of late: The pinkie and thumb are extended in the Hawaiian “hang loose” sign, and crashing waves are painted along the bottom of the palm. “That’s a surf mezuza,” Diamond says with a chuckle. “A surfzuza?”

Mike D was born Jewish, but if he has a religion these days, it’s surfing. A native New Yorker, Diamond has lived in Malibu full-time for the past year, minutes from a secluded beach whose waves he’s come to know well. He was just down there an hour ago, bobbing in the water astride his six-foot-four Fowler board. He caught a couple of so-so waves, rode them until they sputtered out and then disappointedly called it a day. “I got impatient,” he said, joining me on the shore. Big mistake: At that moment, a cluster of head-high beauties rolled in. “Ah, man, look at that set!” Diamond cried out, pained. But no biggie. “I got some good waves when I went in this morning,” he said.

Up at his house, Barbaresco in hand, Diamond shows me around. There’s a chill-out room for his two sons, Davis, 14, and Skyler, 12. There’s a recording studio and a vast kitchen with cement floors, an exposed-beam ceiling and a wall made of glass that slides open to the backyard. We step through it and mosey over to the pool house, where Diamond records most episodes of his excellent Beats 1 radio show for Apple Music, The Echo Chamber, which is introducing him to a brand-new audience exactly 30 years after the Beastie Boys released their debut album, Licensed to Ill. “I’ll sit here and talk with whatever guest I have on,” Diamond says, pointing to a low-slung couch with three sections forming an enormous U. “Sometimes we go play ping-pong outside.” 

Over nine episodes and counting, Diamond has made the show a free-flowing mixture of new and old: D.R.A.M. might segue into cult post-punk heroes ESG; Rihanna might segue into Sister Nancy. D’s buddies – musician Dev Hynes, comedian Jerrod Carmichael, pro surfer Stephanie Gilmore – pop in, shoot the breeze and recommend music that means something to them. The show is a way for Diamond to showcase his record collection and to feed the endless appetite for fresh sounds that’s been with him his whole life. “It reminds me of when I was 13, saving up money to go buy records,” he says. “Even in the age of social media, a lot of what I do is still the same as then.” He’s no crotchety old-timer, convinced music was better back in the day. “Ezra Koenig was here, doing the first episode with me, and we were playing ping-pong, talking about current songs we were listening to. He mentioned Lil Yachty, ‘Minnesota.'” Diamond had never heard it, but he loved it, and the track went right into the show. 

Mike D 3
Adam Yauch, Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz in 1987.

The story of the Beastie Boys is largely a story of genre-jumbling too – they began as a hardcore punk outfit before reinventing themselves as rap smart-asses and then going out on their first world tour with, of all people, Madonna. In this way, they were a representative product of Eighties New York. “There’s plenty of other incredibly inspiring multicultural cities in the world,” Diamond says, “but New York was the only place at that time where you had this collision of really strong-willed, different kinds of music: hip-hop, punk rock, hardcore, jazz, you name it.”

Diamond has that era on the brain these days because he and fellow Beastie Adam Horovitz have been working on a forthcoming band memoir. He keeps quiet on details except to say that it will be unconventional, concerned as much with trying to capture the flavour of New York in their early days as anything else. “I don’t think you could explain us without explaining some of that New York history,” he says.

Here in Malibu, D’s vibe is blissed-out, but there have been moments of sadness in recent years. One, of course, is the death of Adam Yauch, who founded the Beasties with Diamond and Horovitz when they were teenagers, and who succumbed to cancer in 2012. “I don’t think about Yauch in the form of his death. I think about him in the form of his life,” Diamond says. “He was like my closest older brother. There’s just so much that we lived through together.” Yauch sometimes pops into Diamond’s mind, giving him guidance and encouragement: “Even with the radio show, if I’m pushing a little outside of where I’m comfortable, I get this voice of approval in my head from Yauch, saying, ‘Yeah, you gotta do it.'”

There’s also the end of Diamond’s longtime marriage to filmmaker Tamra Davis, whose directing credits include Half Baked and Billy Madison. “We’re legally separated – or ‘consciously uncoupled,'” Diamond says, smiling. “I think that would be the Malibu term.” He pauses. “Tamra’s awesome. But you get to a point where you realise, just because someone’s great, that’s not the end-all reason to stay with them. It can be, but it doesn’t always work out like that.” He declines to elaborate further except to note that Davis lives close by and they co-parent “50-50.”

Diamond reacts to life’s ups and downs, he says, by getting out in the water on his board. “It’s about subjecting yourself totally to nature’s control,” he explains, trying to describe surfing’s near-spiritual appeal to him. “Someone like Kelly Slater” – a pro, and another buddy – “can read more astutely what nature is giving him, but even he can’t control it.” And so Diamond has shaped much of his life around surfing, not just getting down to the Malibu beach as often as he can manage but traveling the globe and chasing waves while dipping into other projects that tickle his fancy. It’s an enviable existence: In a few days, he tells me, he’ll fly to the U.K. to put the finishing touches on the new album by scabrous punk duo Slaves, which he’s producing. Then he’ll fly to Germany as part of the “cultural ambassador” role he’s brokered with Mercedes Benz. “There’s supposed to be an amazing river wave in Munich I wanna check out,” he notes. He’ll also stop in Paris, basically just to have dinner with some friends, then zip to the South of France, where he’ll take in a surfing contest, and where his pal Pedro Winter – who runs the Ed Banger label, which brought the world acts like Justice, Sebastian and Cassius – will be DJ’ing.

“I’ve gotta text him,” Diamond reminds himself. Then he goes to pour another glass of wine. 

From issue #782 (January 2017), available now.