By Austin Kaus
Images by Katey Selix
When Maggie Jenkins first heard the Beastie Boys in an Omaha driveway, a lifelong connection was formed. One University of South Dakota degree and a few career moves later, Jenkins is Mag Rock and 1/3 of an all-female Beastie Boys tribute band called “She’s Crafty.” From her home in Chicago, Jenkins talks with Austin Kaus about her band’s upcoming tour, her long love of the Beastie Boys and why Malort really does taste terrible.
How does one go from being a bright-eyed USD journalism student to being in a BB cover band?
MJ: It was a long journey in between those two things happening, although if you met anybody that knew me when I was in USD and knew my affection for the Beastie Boys, you probably would not be surprised to know that I was doing this. (laughs)
So, Beastie Boys have been part of your life for a while?
MJ: Oh yeah. They’ve been my favorite band since I was eight or nine years old, thanks to some really cool older siblings introducing me to them. I’ve always enjoyed how they are always genre-defying. They’re hip hop, but they also have punk roots and have done a lot of electronic (stuff). So I never felt like they fit into just one box. It was, “What kind of music do you like?” And I would say, “I like the Beastie Boys.” That should tell you the things that I’m into.
The band itself is more of a genre for you.
MJ: Yeah. I would say so. I remember when Beck came out. It was like, “He’s kind of like the Beastie Boys.” And I was like, “Yeah, but there’s nothing really like the Beastie Boys.” That’s one thing that I’ve always loved and admired about their music and what’s really cool about doing what I’m doing now, because there are a lot of people that only know their hits. Maybe they stopped listening after Licensed to Ill, because they thought they were just obnoxious frat boys. Point taken. But doing what I do now with an all-female tribute band is reintroduce people to the Beastie Boys. We play the hits … but also introduce people to other songs that they’ve done, cool things that they’ve experimented with, and things they stood for philosophically. At the end of every show, the biggest compliment is if people come up and say, “Man, I can’t wait to go home and listen to my old Beastie Boys albums.” That’s such a huge thing.
What is the philosophy for She’s Crafty?
MJ: Number one, you’re going to have a good time at our shows. It’s the most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life. I cannot think of anything more fun to do than hang out with my best friends and dance on stage and sing along to the Beastie Boys. It’s the most fun thing in the world. So, obviously, we want people to have fun. There’s a lot of power in nostalgia, we’ve discovered, especially now that MCA is no longer with us and there’s not really going to be any new Beastie Boys music which is heartbreaking to think of. It’s important for us to be able to celebrate their musical legacy.
Being all female, we’ve changed some lyrics. There are certain songs that we don’t do and won’t do until we can kind of rewrite things that kind of take them back. Everybody asks us why we don’t do the song “Girls,” which I think is one of the Beastie Boys worst songs, personally. Obviously, they were playing characters and, with Licensed to Ill, they were making fun of that frat boy-drunk-stupid vibe, but people didn’t really understand the irony behind it, unfortunately. (laughs) It just feels really disingenuous to us to sing a song like “Girls” when that’s a song the Beastie Boys themselves didn’t play later in their careers. Until we can kind of rewrite that as a feminist anthem, we won’t be performing it. “Hey Ladies” is another too that we are thinking about and really wanted to revamp to be a little less misogynistic.
But “Hey Ladies” wasn’t on Licensed to Ill.
MJ: No. That was on Paul’s Boutique. There are still some very misogynistic things on Paul’s Boutique, even though it is my favorite album because, musically, the things they did on there had never been done before or since. Basically, because of that album, sampling became a thing. You could literally never make that album again today because it would be millions and millions of dollars to sample the Beatles and Johnny Cash. It wasn’t really until Ill Communication when they were like, “Hey, sorry we were assholes. We know better now.” They kind of changed their tune literally and figuratively. (laughs)
I know there were definitely lyrics they changed live later in their career.
MJ: There are a lot of songs like that. They definitely did that. There were several songs that when they did them later, they changed some lyrics, just wouldn’t do them, or just do them as part of a medley so they wouldn’t do the whole part.
Do you make changes that they actually made live, do you make your own changes or both?
MJ: Both. Like, instead of Ad-Rock, it’s “Mag Rock.” That’s my stage name. All the pronouns (get changed) from “he” to “she.” I don’t say, “I’m from Manhattan.” I say, “I’m from Nebraska.” We rap about our dogs. We change the name of the DJ. We throw in a lot of Chicago references. We don’t make references to the Knicks. We change them to the Bulls. Some things are misogynistic. There’s a lyric in one of the songs when Mike D says “I’m all about screwin’/ Lead my team to 60 wins like my man Pat Ewing.” We changed it to “I’m all about the boa/ Lead my team to 60 wins like my man Joe Noah,” as in Joakim Noah.
He could’ve been talking about carpentry.
MJ: He really could’ve, except that the line before that is “I got sex rhymes like Victoria’s got secrets,” so I’m pretty sure that’s what he’s talking about. (laughs) It’s stuff like that where we change it to be specifically about us. When we do “Get It Together” with our DJ and she’ll do the Q-Tip part, instead of saying, “Shooting all my jism like John Holmes,” she’ll say, “Shooting all my wisdom.” It’s been really fun to figure out how we’re going to change the things so that we feel comfortable saying it on stage.
In “Paul Revere,” he basically shoots someone. We take that out. “Even the two kids who are wasted on Malort”…we throw in Malort which is a disgusting Chicago liquor. If you’ve never had it, I don’t recommend it.
I’ve heard of Malort and I promise myself that every time I go to Chicago I’ll try it. I haven’t done it. No one ever says, “Man, I really enjoyed that Malort.”
MJ: The whole idea of Malort is you do a shot of it and it’s the worst shot you’ve ever done. Then, you get a chance to impose it on someone else to see their reaction when they do it. (laughs) It’s like, “I lived through this and my reward for doing this shot of Malort is, in the future, I will give the shot to someone that’s never had it before and I get to watch them suffer.”
I’ll keep that in mind if I should ever run into you in Chicago.
MJ: Okay. (laughs)
Because I grew up a punk kid, I have to ask if you touch on the Beastie’s punk stuff. “Egg Raid on Mojo?”
MJ: No, we haven’t…yet. We don’t play live instruments, so those songs don’t really lend themselves. We have played with a live band before. We did “Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun” on MCA Day, which was a blast. The crowning achievement of my life was getting to sing “Sabotage” with a live band behind me. That was such a great moment of my life. We really haven’t done a lot of their punk music because of that, but the band we’re playing with at the Hard Rock show is called GIRLBAND. They play all covers by female-fronted bands. They play Heart, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Pat Benatar. We’re going to do some songs with them. That will be fun.
Let’s do the timeline of She’s Crafty. Your older siblings play you Beastie Boys. Do you remember the moment when you heard it? Do you remember what song it was? Do you remember what resonated?
MJ: The first time I really remember hearing it was my brother was playing it on a ghetto blaster outside while we were playing basketball in the neighbor’s driveway. I remember hearing “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and thinking it was super cool. The song that really blew my mind the first time I heard it was “Shake Your Rump,” which is on Paul’s Boutique. My older sister had the six-disc changer with the three-foot speakers and I remember her playing that song and there’s this crazy bass to it. My parents weren’t home and it was shaking the house. I must’ve been 10 or 11 years old. “What is this? This is the coolest thing I ever heard.” Of course, having my older sister – who I idolized – enjoy it made me want to like it, but then I really did like it. I also felt super cool because people didn’t really know about that album. People were really into Check Your Head. I was like, “No. Paul’s Boutique, guys. It’s the real deal.” There’s so many different samples in it and they each will say a few word and kind of rap over each other. It’s so impressive, especially since now I do that with two other people. It can be really hard finishing each other’s sentences and talking over one another. The complexity of that…it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. That kind of really launched my obsession and love of the Beastie Boys for the next 25 years. I always loved the Beastie Boys.
When Hello Nasty came out, that was the summer before my freshman year at the University of South Dakota. The week before I left for college, I went to go see them live for the first time at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. It was so awesome. A Tribe Called Quest opened for them. I’m still upset that Q-Tip didn’t come out and do “Get It Together,” but that’s neither here nor there. Our seats were terrible because we were 18 years old and didn’t have any money for good seats. They had a stage that revolved. It was their first tour with Mix Master Mike. It was so awesome. I left for college a week later and that album helped me get through the first few weeks of college, which were really hard. I have very strong memories tied to that album to my earliest days in Vermillion.
How did you go from that to forming She’s Crafty?
MJ: I moved to Chicago late 2009. In early 2010, I started taking a stand-up comedy class run by Cameron Esposito, who was not famous at the time. It was an all-female comedy class called The Feminine Comique. I had always been interested in stand-up comedy and I was living in Chicago, so I thought I should try to do something like this. While in that, I met Amy Sumpter. We became friends and by the end of our six-week class, we discovered that we both had this love for the Beastie Boys. She told me that she had this other friend Kendra Stevens. Maybe a year or two before that, they’d kind of started joking that they should start an all-female Beastie Boys tribute.
Fast forward to 2011. We get together at my place, drink beer on my deck and watch Beastie Boys videos. We started brainstorming. We had no idea what we were doing. We didn’t really do anything after that.
MCA died May 4, 2012, and we were all devastated. That’s still probably the first and only celebrity death that really affected me. So, we decided we had to do it. The week after he died, we went to our favorite karaoke bar in Chicago called Alice’s. We didn’t do songs together, but we each did Beastie Boys songs. Everybody loved it.
That entire summer of 2012, we would get together and learn songs in my basement. It was very low-rent. We had very small aspirations for what we were going to do with it. We learned “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” “Sure Shot” and “So What’cha Want.” We all knew them but, again, it’s hard going from you singing every single word to knowing what your parts are.
We got this friend of ours who runs a cabaret/showcase to let us perform. Our first show was in a coffee shop. We ran the sound off of my laptop. It’s so embarrassing to look back on it, but that was our first show. A bunch of our friends came and packed this little coffee shop in the Ukranian village in Chicago. It was really fun. After that, we did a couple smaller shows and decided we needed to get a DJ. We started performing with her and then we started getting booked in real rock clubs. It just started building from there.
For those first six or nine months, we would play anywhere anyone asked us to. Anyone who would give us stage time, we would play there. All of a sudden, we started getting real shows in bars that had music. People started to pay us. It just kept building and building from there. When we first started, we had such low aspirations. We did not imagine that this would be where we are. It’s been the most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life. Kendra Stevens aka Ken D, Maggie Jenkins aka MagRock, and Amy Sumpter aka MCAmy
Do you have to do legal stuff to do this?
MJ: We can’t make an album but, much like other cover bands, as long as you aren’t putting the music out there that as if it’s your own, and you make it very clear that you are a cover band, it’s cool. We had as small label approach us about doing a record. We can’t. On top of the fact that it’s illegal, it’s also the Beastie Boys who are the most against using their music for product placement. We just can’t do that.
There has to be a difference between a band playing tribute to the Beastie Boys and someone using a song in a car commercial.
MJ: Definitely, but it’s kind of the same kind of philosophy where we don’t want to get near anything that could be considered like that. We have videos of us on the internet and we use their backing tracks and samples. We’ve created a few of our own originals based off of [Beastie Boys songs.] Our version of “Three MC’s and One DJ,” our DJ put together his own mash-up for us to rap over because, essentially, “Three MC’s and One DJ” is just Mix Master Mike scratching. We also are very proud of our MCA Day show that we’ve done over the past few years where we raise money for cancer charities.
Did you start that up yourself?
MJ: MCA Day started in New York. The first one started in August 2012. They had it in May the following two years. We also found this local charity called the Gromada Head and Neck Cancer Foundation. MCA died from neck cancer and this kid Brandon Gromada [did as well]. His motto was, “We can’t, we won’t, and we don’t stop.” He was like my age…and was a huge Beastie Boys fan. His brother lives in Chicago. We met him and created this partnership with them. For MCA Day, we raise money for their charity and we also give to the Adam Yauch Foundation. We got together a whole bunch of bands, put it in a rock club, and all the bands do it for free. Everybody’s playing Beastie Boys songs. We’ve given almost $2,000 to cancer charities and the Adam Yauch Foundation.
Have you received any backlash from angry Beastie Boys fans or anybody in general?
MJ: No. Often what happens is people say, “This is going to be terrible.” And then they come to our shows and say, “This is pretty great.” People think it’s going to suck. They are worried about it. It’s understandable. I have a band that I love and when you hear someone play a cover, you’re like, “You’re ruining their legacy!” Even when I hear people do karaoke, it’s like, “You think you can do ‘Better Man?’ You can’t do Eddie Vedder. Get out of here.”
We have a lot of people who come to our shows – or who have been dragged to our shows – who want us to suck or expect us to suck and then are pleasantly surprised when we don’t. We’ve seen it happen so many times now that it’s pretty funny. You can totally see the crowd turn to be on your side after two or three songs. The first couple of songs, they’re just standing there with their arms folded and staring at you. By the third songs, they’re like “YEAH! Play, ‘Sure Shot!’” That is such a huge compliment.
What do you have coming up for shows?
…where you first heard the Beastie Boys.
MJ: Yeah. My sister and my family are super excited. People that I grew up with are like, “Of course you’re doing this.”
We have March 27th at the Hard Rock Café in Chicago again and we have a bunch of smaller shows where we’re going to be the house band during a residency for an all-female stand-up comedy troupe called The Kates at the Laugh Factory in Chicago. It’s going to be a different crowd, but our job is to get people fired up and ready to have a good time.
You know what state I’m noticing is not on your touring schedule?
MJ: South Dakota.
Yeah. What’s up with that?
MJ: We’re not ruling out. The big thing with Des Moines and Omaha is we already have built-in audiences and it’s totally drive-able from Chicago. I totally wouldn’t rule out doing a Midwest tour or heading to the east coast.
I could see She’s Crafty going over pretty well at [University of South Dakota’s homecoming celebration] D-Days.
MJ: You’d think. Our crowd that comes to see us skews a little older. The 30-45 year old crowd…we have that on lock because those are the people that grew up with the Beastie Boys. We’ve played a few shows where the crowd is a little bit younger and it’s the same thing. These kids learn about the Beastie Boys when they’re in high school and they got into them. It’s such good music. How could you not love it?
To learn more about She’s Crafty, check out Shescraftychi.com.