“I’ve got more rhymes than I’ve got grey hairs / And that’s a lot because I’ve got my share”
With lyrics like these, it’s obvious that Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch was no ordinary rapper. Self-aware, self-deprecating and acutely witty to the last, he was the creative heart of the Beastie Boys and his death, at the age of 47, will be felt throughout the music scene, from hip hop to punk and beyond.
At the time of MCA’s death, the band were reportedly planning a return to their roots in the form of a full-band punk tour, making the news so much more of a shock when it emerged earlier this weekend. Not that it was completely out of the blue – Yauch’s health had been a matter for concern ever since he was diagnosed with cancer of the salivary gland back in 2009.
A true musical pioneer, Adam Nathaniel Yauch co-founded the Beastie Boys in New York in 1981 with Adam ‘Adrock’ Horovitz and Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond. Originally a hardcore punk act, the band spanned the genres as the years went on, famously supporting Madonna on tour in 1985 and being banned from the UK in 1986 for provoking the trend for stealing VW badges from cars and wearing them as oversized necklaces.
True pioneers of both white boy rap and rap rock, without Yauch and the Beasties we quite possibly wouldn’t have Rage Against the Machine, Eminem or Linkin Park. MCA’s deep gravelly voice was integral to the band’s sound, providing a perfect counterpoint to the nasally tones of Mike D and Adrock.
Beyond music, Yauch was a committed activist with many causes to shout about, from environmentalism (the band appeared at the 2008 Live Earth concert) to non-violence. He even went public with his views on peace in the Middle East during the band’s 1998 VMA awards acceptance speech and the Dalai Lama paid tribute to Yauch upon hearing the news of his death:
Adam had helped us raise awareness on the plight of the Tibetan people by organizing various freedom Tibet concerts and he will be remembered by his holiness and the Tibetan people.
For many, the Beasties were the first hip hop act to reflect this left-wing liberal sensibility. From the late 90s onwards, they railed against bigotry in all its forms, proving that rap music doesn’t have to be all about self-aggrandisement and blatant machismo.
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UPDATE 10/08/12: Beastie Boys star Adam Yauch’s will bans music in ads – what a legend!