MCA had nothing to prove
Adam Yauch always seemed like the coolest guy in the room. He did not resemble a hip hop icon. He was the punk rocker in the Beastie Boys’ early days, a billy goat bearded snowboarder in the late eighties/early nineties, a Buddhist and social activist for the remainder of his career, and then a middle-aged hip hop godfather who left before the curtain dropped.
Yauch and his mates, Mike Diamond and Adam Horowitz, could have packed it up a long time ago and lived on as some nostalgic act of the 1980s. A whole pack of frat boys and party goers would have kept that fire strong. Thankfully, they grew up.
Like many, my first exposure to the Beasties was their debut LP, License to Ill. I was in the army, and my friend Buzz from Detroit had a copy of it.
“You gotta hear these three crazy white boys from New York, Watts.”
He popped in a cassette tape, and BOOM! I didn’t know what to think.
I was an 18 year old kid who grew up listening to hip hop from the likes of Run-DMC, Grand Master Flash & the Furious Five, Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force, and other more obscure acts that friends shared with me through mix tapes or as heard through boomboxes blaring on team bus trips. The Beastie Boys were nothing like the hip hop artists of my adolescence.
They didn’t sound like anything I had ever heard before, yet they were surprisingly good. However, their lyrics about swilling beer and adolescent defiance pretty much guaranteed that the Beasties would never amount to anything more than a novelty party act, or so I thought. Paul’s Boutique killed that notion.
A year after the release of their debut album, The Beasties left Def Jam and moved to Capitol Records, forming the Grand Royal label. This was highly controversial, and some thought it was a death sentence. Rick Rubin, the producer credited as the “brains” behind the success of the Beasties’ first LP, did not make the move. Critics believed that Messrs. Diamond, Horowitz, and Yauch would have trouble catching the magic that seemed to ooze from Rubin’s production.
To some extent, those critics were right. The frat boy anthems disappeared and were traded for wonky stories emanating from their old neighborhood in Brooklyn, their interests in music and books, and their sudden absorption into Los Angeles culture. The creative use of sampling and indie feel made Paul’s Boutique a fresh, welcome change. It earned the Beasties critical acclaim and respect from the hip hop world. They were legit.
Through their history, the Beasties continued to push the artistic envelope: playing instruments on Check Your Head and then Ill Communication; sampling up a storm on Hello Nasty; and promoting social activism while giving a nod to their early days on To the Five Boroughs. Their last album, Hot Sauce Committee Part II, was a true “B-boy” bouillabaisse, dropping samples from obscure artists, featuring guest emcees, punking it up as a three piece, making inside references, and having fun. In some ways, it is the ultimate last album. Though assuredly, it will not be the last album.
For the past two years, the Beasties have alluded to the existence and imminent release of Hot Sauce Committee Part I. Beyond that, Diamond and Horowitz can probably assemble another album from studio reels. So expect more, but don’t expect Mike D and Ad-Rock to go out on tour and perform without their center, MCA.
I have to admit having a hard time writing something coherent about the passing of Adam Yauch. In my memory, The Beastie Boys were the first group of guys my age (or close enough to it) to “make it” in the music biz. They were also one of the few acts from my generation that could still get me giddy and excited with the announcement of a new release. Learning of Yauch’s passing on Friday had the expected, opposite effect. It was truly heartbreaking.
If you haven’t heard their last album, it’s worth checking it out now:
The Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part II
Here is an early version of Too Many Rappers featuring Nas. The Beasties let leak back in 2009 when Yauch announced that he was diagnosed with cancer.
Videos, videos, videos…
The Beastie Boys were known for their outrageous, in-your-face approach and this translated well in video form. Many of these were directed by Yauch under the persona, Nathaniel Hornblower. We feature a trio of Hornblower videos: “Shadrach”, “So Whatcha Want” and “Intergalactic.” Spike Jonze seemed to be doing a Hornblower tribute in directing the hilarious video for “Sabotage” on which Yauch delivered a killer bass riff. We open with fan footage of the Beastie Boys tribute at their Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame Induction. Kid Rock, Travie McCoy, and the Roots did a great job of honoring the new RR Hall of Famers.
Watch: Beastie Boys Tribute at the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame
Watch: “Shake Your Rump”
Watch: “So Whatcha Want”
We extend our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Adam Yauch.