Beastie Boys’ MCA Put a Hi-Fi DAT Sound System in His Cadillac Just to Listen to Studio Mixes

The Beastie Boys had impeccable musical taste, but Adam Yauch also had taste for high-tech audio in his cars.
Beastie Boys via Facebook

Throughout the Beastie Boys’ oeuvre, the Ford LTD Crown Victoria from the “Sabotage” and “Futterman’s Rule” videos is probably the most famous car associated with the beloved MCs. But I want to bring your attention to a lesser-known vehicle that once shuttled the Beastie Boys after the trio had moved from New York City to Los Angeles, a city steeped in car culture unlike any on the East Coast. While the Beasties were recording Paul’s Boutique in LA, Adam Yauch bought an early-’70s Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham and proceeded to install a sound system built around a Digital Audio Tape (DAT) head unit, which is as rad as I’d expect from the late MCA.

Michael Diamond, a.k.a. Mike D, shared a tidbit about Yauch’s luxe sedan along with a photograph of MCA sitting in the driver’s seat of the big Caddy in 2020, ahead of the release of the Beastie Boys Story documentary. In the Facebook post, Mike D recalled how he, Yauch, and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) would cruise around LA bumping the stereo and loudly listening to mixes they had recorded in the studio. Per Mike D:

They were able to listen to the master tracks from the studio thanks to a head unit in Yauch’s Caddy that played DATs. Here I thought MiniDiscs were the most esoteric form of physical media to ever be played through a car’s stereo system. Coincidentally, Sony was also responsible for the cassette format, having developed DAT in 1987 just a few years prior to MiniDiscs.

DAT might seem like an impossibly nerdy medium, but it was favored by professional music studios in the early 1990s because it was a fully digital format. DAT could record at up to 16-bit and 48-kHz sample rates—better than standard “Red Book” CDs (16/44) which seems unusual, given the visual similarity of DATs to regular cassettes. Despite the antiquated appearance, the tech was more sophisticated than that of analog cassettes and slightly different than Digital Compact Cassette, a rival format.

Simply put, DAT was ahead of its time and capable of creating a perfect clone of a digital source, which you might correctly assume scared the music industry given the potential for piracy. Head units capable of playing DATs would’ve been pretty rare even in their heyday, but Kenwood, Blaupunkt, and of course, Sony all marketed them.

Hand holding compact disc and newest item in consumer sound recording technology, a digital audio tape (DAT). (THIS DAT MADE BY SONY) (Photo by James Keyser/Getty Images)
James Keyser via Getty Images

I can only imagine what it would’ve been like to hang out with the Beastie Boys at the peak of their musical career, as the MCs laid down tracks in the studio and then went for a drive in LA, listening to the mixes on blast in Yauch’s Cadillac. There’s even a reference to the car in Paul’s Boutique, as one forum user noted. On track 13, “Shadrach,” Yauch raps “Amps and crossovers under my rear hood/Because the bass is bumping from the back of my Fleetwood.” The Cadillac was also later mentioned in a MotorTrend interview, where Mike D recounted the trio’s adventures in the behemoth, which was so large it had footrests for backseat passengers.

Unfortunately, photos of the actual Fleetwood Brougham d’Elegance that Yauch owned have seemingly been lost to time. Story goes that the Cadillac was auctioned off in 1999 for the charity that Adam Yauch and activist Erin Potts started, called the Milarepa Fund. The proceeds of that auction went towards providing financial support to the Tibetan independence movement, which Yauch was a vocal proponent of. The auction for the 1973 Fleetwood reportedly started at $12,000—just over $22,600 adjusted for inflation. That’s not a lot of money for a luxury car with a killer sound system and one hell of an origin story.