Remembering Beastie Boys founding member, Adam Yauch (MCA) on the 10th anniversary of his death
Earlier this week, May 4th to be exact, marked 10 years that one of the most influential people in music and culture over the last 35-plus years had left us.
Adam Yauch, better known as MCA, was one of the founding members of the Beastie Boys. It goes without saying that his band was one of the most important bands in the history of rap music. One could argue that Beastie Boys were one of the most important bands, period.
Born in Brooklyn, NY on August 5th, 1964, Yauch became a creative force in punk rock, rap, film, and humanitarian issues. His story is quite amazing considering the Beastie Boys were initially looked at as a frat-boy, joke band during their initial ascent into the mainstream.
This scathing review of the band from 1987 was common amongst music writers and media types back in the day. It's hard to blame them in some respects. No one had seen anything like the Beastie Boys before. They were also admittedly juvenile at best, and offensive at worst. If you wrote them off though, history would certainly prove you wrong.
Rap was relatively still brand new in 1986 when MCA, King Ad-Rock, and Mike D, released their debut album, Licensed To Ill. Three white kids from New York City playing what was mainly music being made by black artists wasn't exactly commonplace back then. As a matter of fact, it's still not all that common.
Beastie Boys were a hybrid before there were hybrids. They came from a punk rock background but fell in love with the burgeoning rap scene in the underground of New York City clubs, basements, and street corners. When they started working with Rick Rubin, who already had experience in the world of heavy metal, things just clicked.
The band's rise to stardom and ultimately superstardom was meteoric. Soon after the License To Ill tour, even during it, in fact, the band had become a household name. It may not have been for all the right reasons at the time, but they were on their way to becoming one of the biggest bands on the planet.
With subsequent releases such as the sample-heavy and critically acclaimed Paul's Boutique, and massive hit records, Check Your Head and Ill Communication, Beastie Boys were bonified all-time greats.
The band released a total of eight studio albums and according to Official Charts dot com, has sold in excess of 50 million records worldwide. Not bad for three kids from New York who were laughed at and shunned during their first tour.
If you're a fan of the Beastie Boys' music and career, you're well aware of the contributions of Adam Yauch. If you're less familiar, pick up the band's biography, Beastie Boys Book and you'll know just how meaningful Yauch was. Simply put, without MCA, there would be no Beastie Boys.
With both Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) and Mike D (Michael Diamond) narrating the book, here's a quote about Yauch:
". . . there’s an even rarer friend: the one that gets you motivated. The one that not only gets themselves going and doing great things but says: we should all get together and do this. And then does it. Adam Yauch was that type of friend. A once-in-a-lifetime type of friend. The friend that makes it happen. The friend that inspires you to go big."
The book has story after story about MCA's creative genius, eclectic bass playing, and humanity. It's all there to absorb and if you haven't done so yet, I strongly recommend that you do. I was lucky enough to follow theirs (and Yauch's) career from the very beginning as I was 13 when License To Ill was released. Already a fan of punk and hard rock music, the early NY rap from bands like Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, KRS-One, and Public Enemy had me mesmerized. I was hooked.
Needles to say, the music of the Beastie Boys and the inspiration of Adam Yauch has been a part of my life for the past 36 years. That's not something that's easily dismissed or to be taken lightly. For someone like me, who views almost everything in life through some sort of musical or creative lens, I hold dear the music that has moved and guided me. Adam Yauch and Beastie Boys are near the very top of this list.
When I realized that this week was the 10th anniversary of Adam Yauch's death from parotid gland and lymph node cancer, I had so many feelings about it. For someone who seemed ever-present in my life because of his music, it's hard to fathom he's been off this earth for a decade. It was more than his musical contributions to my life though that make me feel sad regarding his loss.
Adam was a father. At the time of his death, his daughter was just 14-years-old. Adam was only 47. A little more than a year later, I became a father for the first time. I, too, had a daughter. She was born on August 5th, the same day that Adam Yauch was born, 49 years earlier.
I know it's completely random, but I found meaning and comfort in that. I don't know why and honestly, I don't care why. It just makes me feel good that my first child and one of my all-time favorite musicians share the same birthday.
Once you become a parent you see the world in a new and different way. Knowing his daughter has to grow up without him, and that he'll never get to see her make her mark on the world is heartbreaking. This goes beyond music. This is life at its most difficult and it sucks to think about.
Having an impact on a fan like me, who was incredibly impressionable back in 1986 when I first heard of MCA is one thing, but Adam Yauch's legacy goes way beyond teenage kids first discovering rap music.
Upon the announcement of his death, musicians and other entertainers came out in droves to pay their respects.
Russell Simmons of Def Jam Records said that Yauch "was incredibly sweet and the most sensitive artist, whom I loved dearly".
Ben Stiller tweeted that Yauch "stood for integrity as an artist"
Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam said that Yauch was "a crazy talent whose contributions with his band were inspirational and consistently groundbreaking".
Radiohead singer Thom Yorke wrote: "We looked up to the Beastie Boys a lot when we were starting out and how they maintained artistic control making wicked records but still were on a major label and the Tibetan Freedom Concerts they organized had a very big influence on me personally and the way Adam conducted himself and dealt with it all impressed me a lot. He was a mellow and [very] smart guy. May he rest in peace."
Eminem said in an interview, "Adam Yauch brought a lot of positivity into the world and I think it's obvious to anyone how big of an influence the Beastie Boys were on me and so many others."
There were dozens more like this, but you get the point.
I decided to write and publish this on Mother's Day because of one of my favorite Beastie Boys lines that Yauch wrote and rapped.
It comes from the song "Sure Shot" off of their fourth studio album, Ill Communication. I mentioned earlier how the band had some not-so-positive beginnings. They were at times, childish, rude, and chauvinistic. Their attitude towards women, be it an act or not, wasn't great early on. The band has mentioned they were mainly playing a role but were also immature and not the best role models for how men should behave. Simply put, they disrespected women.
Too often, what people say in their youth has a tendency to follow them for the rest of their lives. We live in a "gotcha" society and aren't fond of letting folks up from previous transgressions. What's that phrase about people who live in glass houses again?
Anyway, Adam Yauch, and the Beastie Boys saw the error of their ways and reinvented themselves. Not just in words or song, but in how they went about their career after realizing they needed to change. Were they always perfect? Of course not. Who reading this can say they're perfect? I'm the first to admit I'm far from that standard. I do however appreciate people who own up to their mistakes.
Adam Yauch, you may be gone, but you and your work are certainly not forgotten!
I'll leave you with the line I so admire from Yauch and wish all the moms reading this a very Happy Mother's Day!
"I want to say a little something that's long overdue
The disrespect to women has got to be through
To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends
I want to offer my love and respect to the end"