A little less than a decade ago, cultural advocate LeRoy McCarthy first presented his proposal to Manhattan's Community Board 3 to rename the corner of Ludlow Street and Rivington Street on the Lower East Side as "Beastie Boys Square."
As part of his ongoing mission to commemorate the city's hip-hop roots with street namings, McCarthy had gathered thousands of signatures to back a tribute to the trailblazing New York City trio (Mike D and Ad-Rock grew up in Manhattan, while MCA came from Brooklyn). Despite some preliminary hiccups, he felt confident he would convince the board of the historic importance of the spot, commemorated on the front cover of the group's seminal album Paul's Boutique.
Instead, he faced sabotage when CB3 voted on the matter without him being present.
"Yeah, they rejected it," McCarthy told Gothamist. "They pretty much thought that it was not necessary… They placed undemocratic obstacles although the application met the rules requirements. I do not know what their reasons were."
On top of that, the community board rules stated that he couldn't apply again for another five years.
Now, nine years later, the fight for the right to rename the intersection is almost at an end. This week, the City Council advanced the Beastie Boys' street naming, along with 78 others. Local politicians said they were confident it will be passed soon.
"We expect it to be called up for a vote in the next few weeks and for it to be passed shortly thereafter," said Caitlin Kelmar, chief of staff for Councilmember Christopher Marte, who supported the name change at a meeting on Tuesday. "Street re-namings, as far as I'm aware, are never a contentious issue at the Council level and are voted on as a package."
Marte told Gothamist that when he first announced he was running for City Council back in 2017, the first constituent email he received was someone asking him to support "Beastie Boys Square."
"The Beastie Boys lived and breathed the Lower East Side as the Lower East Side lived and breathed the Beastie Boys," Marte said. "MCA, Ad-Rock and Mike D put this neighborhood on the hip-hop map not just by calling it their home, but putting it front and center on one of their top albums. There's no denying these guys were punks, maybe not their neighbors' favorite neighbors, but that's what the Lower East Side was and always will be: a home to people who do things a little differently.
"Their unique sound and place in hip-hop history deserve to be recognized by the neighborhood that was so instrumental in their development," he added. "The community can't wait to welcome this street re-naming and it's my honor to just be a small part of their storied legacy."
For McCarthy, who works in the film and television industry as a location manager, it's a satisfying moment that speaks to a shift in the city's leadership.
"Well, it's about time," he said. "The government officials who are now in office are more knowledgeable of hip-hop and the contribution that it has had over the years. They see that the positives outweigh the drawbacks. Because if hip-hop was a startup company from New York City, they would be praising hip-hop, right? There's many millionaires from hip-hop, which started in New York City without any support from government officials."
McCarthy has a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop history, which pours out of him in conversation. He pointed out that the area of the Lower East Side where "Beastie Boys Square" will go has even more significance beyond its association with the group.
"Before there were malls, there was Delancey Street, and everybody from the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens used to go there to go shopping," he said. "In 1973, Kool Herc's sister Cindy Campbell wanted to raise some money, so she went shopping on Delancey Street for back-to-school clothes, and then they had a back-to-school jam. And that party on August 11th, 1973 at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue was when Kool Herc started his DJing technique [breaking/scratching] that became what we now know as hip-hop."
McCarthy has turned his love for the genre into this passion project. He's been behind almost all of the prominent hip-hop street namings in the city over the last decade. He grew up in Brooklyn, and in the late 1990s lived in Bed Stuy near where Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G., had lived.
"I found out that he lived a block away," McCarthy said. "Over the years I kept saying there should be something there to show that he's from Brooklyn, because at the time, there was nothing there and nothing was done."
McCarthy’s initial attempt to get a street sign for Biggie was rejected in 2013 but received a lot of press coverage, which culminated in Christopher Wallace Way being approved in 2018, on St. James Place between Fulton Street and Gates Avenue.
In addition, McCarthy also got a street in Queens co-named for Malik "Phife Dawg" Taylor Way and one in Englewood, NJ, co-named for singer, producer and label executive Sylvia Robinson. He was able to get a Wu-Tang Clan District sign put up at the southeast of Vanderbilt Avenue and Targee Street in Staten Island, and convinced the MTA to put up permanent "Respect" memorials at the Franklin Avenue subway station in honor of Aretha Franklin.
McCarthy has still more projects in the works, including A Tribe Called Quest Boulevard in Queens and Boulevard De La Soul, which has been approved for placement in Amityville, Long Island. He's trying to get the city to agree to make August 11th "Hip Hop Celebration Day" and the entire month of August "Hip Hop Recognition Month."
Outside of NYC, he's also trying to get a star on the Walk of Fame for Stan Lathan, the prolific director of dozens of TV series (including “Martin,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Miami Vice,” “Moesha” and “The Steve Harvey Show”) and several Dave Chappelle specials, and co-creator of “Def Jam Poetry.” Of particular note, Lathan directed the 1984 film “Beat Street,” which is considered one of the first seminal films about hip-hop culture in the South Bronx.
Although this acknowledgement and celebration of the city's hip-hop roots took a long time to come to fruition, McCarthy feels like it was inevitable that the city would catch up and embrace it.
"It's come to the point where you cannot deny the impact that hip-hop has had," McCarthy said. "I'm glad that what I'm doing is something that's being appreciated now. It wasn't always the case, but I'm glad it's happening."