Remembering Adam Yauch

Friday, May 4: 1 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Adam Yauch aka MCA (8.5.1964 – 5.4.2012)

Adam Yauch, better known to fans of the Beastie Boys as MCA, passed away on Friday, May 4, 2012, after a battle with cancer that began in 2009. He was 47.

Born on August 5, 1964, the vocalist and bassist was raised in New York City, a fertile backdrop that informed the street-smart attitude and urban swagger of the Beastie Boys. Formed as a hardcore quartet in 1981 with Yauch and Michael Diamond aka Mike D, drummer Kate Schellenbach and guitarist John Berry, this earliest incarnation of the Beastie Boys played its first gig at Yauch's 17th birthday party. This was the same lineup that recorded the group's debut eight-song EP, Polly Wog Stew, which included the hardcore manifesto "Beastie Boys." When Berry left the group, Adam Horowitz aka ADROCK was recruited and the newly formed band cut a 12-inch single for "Cooky Puss"/"Beastie Revolution." When Schellenbach left the group (later joining Luscious Jackson), the three-man posse of MCs took shape.

The Beastie Boys brashly announced themselves to the world with the full-length Licensed to Ill (1986), produced by Rick Rubin. A milestone rap-rock release, it contained a feisty statement of purpose (“The New Style”) and the boisterous Gen X anthem “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!),” a Top 10 hit. Later described by MCA as “a joke that went too far,” it turned into the party-rock anthem of the Eighties. The raucous video they made for the song – intended as nothing more than “a goof,” in MCA’s words – became a staple of MTV, establishing the Beastie Boys as poster boys for rude, obnoxious fun. Other songs on the album – including ”She’s Crafty,” “Paul Revere,” “Girls,” “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and “Brass Monkey” – reinforced the notion of the Beastie Boys as a threesome obsessed with girls, rhymes and good times. Rubin’s hook-minded production, and galvanizing bursts of guitars and drums gave the album a forceful sound. It was a rap album that rock fans could get into. 

The group exploded any notions of one-dimensionality with its ambitious followup, Paul’s Boutique (1989). After Licensed to Ill’s stratospheric success, the Beastie Boys now found themselves working with a different set of producer/collaborators (the Dust Brothers). Although it didn’t sell as well as its predecessor, Paul’s Boutique was a dizzyingly brilliant, sample-heavy collage that has been called “the Pet Sounds and Dark Side of the Moon of hip-hop." It was a critically revered masterpiece. 

The Beastie Boys released three albums in the Nineties – Check Your Head (1992), Ill Communication (1994) and Hello Nasty (1998) – along with a smattering of EPs. With these releases, the Beastie Boys – who are competent instrumentalists - developed a self-contained style of writing and recording that involved collective jamming, individual composing, sampling, revising and assembling.

Although they came intermittently, the Beastie Boys’ albums were packed with music. Check Your Head, Ill Communication and Hello Nasty each contain 20 or more tracks. Beginning with Check Your Head, the Beastie Boys – having relocated to Los Angeles – worked at their own G-Son studio, which gave them the latitude to jam and experiment at their leisure. They also launched their own imprint, the Capitol-distributed Grand Royal label.

For To the 5 Boroughs (2004), they returned to their New York City roots, recording at their own studio in downtown Manhattan. Working under the pseudonym Nathanial Hornblower, Yauch directed many of the Beastie Boys most memorable music videos, such as the one for "Intergalactic" (from 1998's Hello Nasty), an uproarious homage to classic Japanese monster movies. Yauch also directed the Beastie Boys' 2006 concert film, Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That!

In 2011, 25 years after the release of Licensed to Ill, the trio released Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, their eighth full-length album. The group that virtually invented rap-rock had maintained its relevance with cool grooves and razor-sharp rhymes with each release.

They Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the 2012 Induction Ceremony in Cleveland on April 14, 2012. Chuck D. and LL Cool J inducted the seminal group, and though Yauch was unable to attend the ceremony owing to his health, Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz accepted for the group and read a speech written by Yauch. Kid Rock, Black Thought and Travie McCoy of Gym Class Heroes were joined by the Roots to perform a medley of Beastie Boys classics, including "Sabotage," "So What'Cha Want," "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn" and "The New Style."

Upon news of Yauch's death, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave/The Nightwatchman wrote on Twitter: "RIP dear Adam Yauch. Words can't express the sadness and loss. Ur humor, talent & gentle soul are just irreplacable. Be at peace brother." Sean Ono Lennon wrote: "Adam Yauch Rest In Peace. I'll miss you very, very much;" while Justin Timberlake commented: "Crushed to hear the news of Adam Yauch's passing. A true pioneer of art."

Please share your memories of Adam Yauch and the Beastie Boys in the comments section below.


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