The bizarre crime wave Beastie Boys influenced
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The bizarre crime wave Beastie Boys influenced

Between 1981 and 2012, Beastie Boys made an indelible mark on popular culture. Credited with bringing rap-rock into being, as well as popularising sampling thanks to the postmodern masterpiece that is Paul’s Boutique, without them, modern music would be in a completely different environment. 

Given the band’s prominence, many highlights feature in their story. One of the most intriguing is when Mike D inspired a crime wave. In the spring and summer of 1987, car owners across America and the UK experienced a strange marvel; many Volkswagen owners reported in the thousands that their cars were missing their badges. When returning to their vehicles in the morning or after work, motorists found a space in the front grille where the VW symbol should have been. 

After a short period of searching, people found their answers. It was young people who were stealing the VW badges. Why? Around this time, Mike D was sporting a soon-to-be-iconic look. It was made famous by the video for the global hit, ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)’, where he wears a blue jacket, Fila t-shirt and, more importantly, thick gold chains around his neck connected to a VW badge. Ironically, this aesthetic was intended to parody other rappers, but the look blew up anyway. 

People who cottoned on to the trend first could buy the VW badge from most local dealers for roughly £4. But as the demand increased exponentially, the supply could not keep up, resulting in the crime wave. 

In the UK, things reached boiling point when Beastie Boys and Run-DMC toured together in May, with Mike D still sporting the look. Across that month and June, the thefts became an “epidemic”. In June 1987, the BBC reported that at one point in the previous month, sales of the VW emblem skyrocketed by 130%, with 6,500 mainly sold to young people who wanted them as fashion accessories like Mike D. 

After the tour, Volkswagen declared that roughly 250 customers were requesting replacement badges daily. It didn’t end there, either. As the VW landscape was scarce, fans turned their attention to the badges of slightly more upmarket manufacturers, BMW and Mercedes, to get in on the action. Usually, the emblems of the former’s vehicles were snapped off for ease.

Famously, VW pounced on the Beastie Boys-inspired crime wave. They launched an ad campaign with the headline, “Designer labels always get ripped off”. They announced their replacement badges would be free. “Never let it be said that we are averse to youth cults,” the ad concluded. “After all, who brought you the Beetles?”