In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
One of Walt Whitman’s most famous lines is, “I am large, I contain multitudes” and nowhere is this more evident than in Adam Yauch.
He was MCA – one-third of legendary hip hop troika, Beastie Boys. He was Nathanial Hornblower, Sir Stewart Wallace and Nathan Wind as Cochese. He was an MC, a bassist, a director, a film distributor, a punk, a hip hop head, a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a practicing Buddhist and a staunch advocate of civil rights and the Free Tibet movement. He was a son, a husband, a father, and (despite being an only child) a brother. He was cooler than a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce.
Born in Brookyn, NY on August 5, 1964 (forty-nine years ago today), Yauch formed the Beastie Boys in his teens. A hardcore punk act, Beastie Boys 1.0 were a completely different outfit than the iconic trio we think of today. Eventually, the Beasties started experimenting more with hip hop, and in 1981 they recorded their first hip hop track, “Cooky Puss” – an disc-scratching ode to crank calls made to Carvel Ice Cream.
In 1986, the success of their first studio album Licensed To Ill catapulted the band to the top of the Billboard charts, fueled in part by producer Rick Rubin’s incorporation of bone-crushing hard rock samples from bands like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath as well as the album’s irrepressibly blunt and obnoxious jam, “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).”
With Mike D and Ad-Rock’s nasal delivery of lyrics about smoking angel dust, girls to do the dishes, classy hos, and cheap liquor, it would have been easy to dismiss the band as three decidedly white knuckleheads just goofing off on tape, but MCA’s gravelly inflections about his license to kill grounded the group and brought to seed the notion that they might actually be dropping some truth. As they rhymed in “The New Style,” “Some voices got treble / Some voices got bass / We got the kind of voices that are in your face.” This was proven evident when Licensed To Ill was awarded a five-mic review by The Source, a prestigious feat that no white hip hop act has been able to replicate since.
In his later years, Yauch recanted the misogynistic lyrics from the band’s early days and defined himself as much more of a feminist and advocate for LGBT rights. Nowhere is this more visible than the song “Sure Shot,” in which Yauch rhymes: “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 wanna offer my love and respect to the end.”
It was around this time that Yauch’s interest in Tibet amplified. He started the Milarepa Fund, a non-profit organization that promotes awareness and raises funds for the Tibetan Freedom Movement and in 1995, he met his wife, Tibetan freedom activist Dechen Wangdu, at a Harvard University speech given by the Dalai Lama.
Yauch’s social activism didn’t just stop with the Free Tibet movement. He used both his publicity and his music to denounce racial profiling and sexual assault. Along with Beastie Boys, he organized and headlined the New Yorkers Against Violence Concert following the September 11, 2001 attacks and in 2003, the band released In A World Gone Mad, a scathing indictment of the Iraq War featuring the lyrics, “But you build more bombs as you get more bold/As your mid-life crisis war unfolds/All you want to do is take control/Now put that axis of evil bullshit on hold.”
Music and social activism weren’t Yauch’s only passions. Fascinated by motion pictures, he founded independent film distributor Oscilloscope Laboratories and directed several Beastie Boys videos (“Sure Shot,” “Intergalactic,” “Body Movin’,” “Shake Your Rump,” and “So Whatcha Want?”) under the pseudonym Nathanial Hornblower, as well as two documentaries – Gunning For That #1 Spot, a documentary about high school basketball, and Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That, a live performance Beastie Boys documentary which featured the audience as cameramen.
In 2009, Yauch was diagnosed with cancer of the parotid gland, a salivary gland of the throat. The diagnosis delayed the release of the band’s eighth studio album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, and the subsequent tour. Despite initial optimism, Yauch’s condition deteriorated to the point where he couldn’t attend Beastie Boys’ induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Bandmates Adam Horovitz and Mike Diamond read a letter he had written for the occasion. It began, “I’d like to dedicate this award to my brothers, Adam and Mike, who’ve walked the globe with me. To anyone who’s been touched by our band, who our music has meant something to, this induction is as much ours as it is yours.”
Three weeks later, on May 4, 2012, Yauch lost his battle with cancer. He was 47 years old.
Too sweet to be sour, too nice to be mean, Adam Yauch’s contributions to the ever-evolving artform of hip hop can’t stop, won’t stop. MCA plotted and schemed to change the world and through the legacy of his music, his art and his social activism – he achieved this end. He may be out and gone, but thanks to the wealth he left, MCA keeps it on and on.
RIP MCA. 1964-2012.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe feat. Slighty Stoopid – Brass Monkey (Beastie Boys cover)
Slightly Stoopid and slightly off-key, this singalong cover does two things remarkably well. It gets everyone in the bar singing, and it manages to perfectly epitomize rapper Bun B’s tweet memorializing MCA – “Brass Monkey was the worst tasting liquor ever. And we drank it anyway. Cuz the song was so jamming. RIP MCA.” They got the mic, you got the cup, come on everybody, let’s get ffff….
The Roots – Paul Revere (Live) (Beastie Boys cover)
A live performance at 2012’s Mountain Jam, lead MC Black Thought and drummer ?uestlove trade lyrics back and forth with this brassy and incontrovertibly funky tribute to a fallen brother, proving once again that Jimmy Fallon has the coolest house band in the history of late show house bands. Sorry, Paul Shaffer.
Coldplay – (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) (Beastie Boys cover)
Coldplay’s signature ivory tickling makes Beastie Boys sound so damn dulcet that even your nana would approve of this cover… provided she missed the line about Moms throwing away your best porno mag.
The Record Company – So What’Cha Want (Beastie Boys cover)
When I think “So What’Cha Want,” I think Beasties, Zeppelin and Big Daddy Kane. I don’t think Chicago blues, but damned if this Los Angeles trio hasn’t revamped a Beastie Boys classic into a country-inflected bluesy jam, featuring squealing guitars and a funky bassline with some serious stank on it.
In 2006, VH1 Hip Hop Honors honored the Beastie Boys. This clip features Mixmaster Mike on the ones and twos and P.Diddy, Fabolous and Q-Trip trading lines from “Paul Revere” and “Hold It Now, Hit It,” but the real fun doesn’t start until about three minutes in, when Brooklyn’s finest show up and rock the mic right with a medley of “So What’Cha Want” and “The New Style.” Added bonus: watching Ice Cube and Wu Tang bob their heads to the music with glimmers of “Oh shit! This is my jam!” lighting up their faces.