RIP MCA – Why Adam Yauch’s death will be a great loss to music

Adam 'MCA' Yauch of the Beastie Boys (1964-2012)
Photo: Flickr User: Michael Morel

“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 MachineEminem 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.

To read the rest of this article on Virgin Red Room, click here.

UPDATE 10/08/12: Beastie Boys star Adam Yauch’s will bans music in ads – what a legend!

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Rival Schools’ new album – was it worth the wait?

I think it’s fair to say that Rival Schools took their time over their sophomore album. The best part of ten years to be precise. Which is somewhat understandable, after their 2001 debut United By Fate was lauded by many as an alt-rock triumph and a sign of big things to come.

Walter Schreifels, Rival Schools
Walter S - one of the nicest men in rock and part-time exorcist

Not that they arrived out of the blue – front man Walter Schreifels had been the brains behind 90s hardcore groups Guerilla Biscuits and Quicksand. So it was a disappointment to many when Rival Schools broke up in 2003, but jump five years later and they returned with the original line-up.

I’m happy to report that their new album Pedals, which was released last week, retains a lot of the New York band’s original appeal, whilst giving several nods to how the scene has evolved in their absence.

Opening track, Wring It Out is as anthemic as anything they’ve ever written, while Eyes Wide Open boasts a beefy riff to keep hardcore fans happy. Meanwhile, Choose Your Adventure shows how the band’s sound has evolved, with a swaggering bassline driving a much funkier tune, although lead guitarist Ian Love’s trademark solos remain as exciting and esoteric as ever.

In much the same way as on United By Fate, the album starts with five tracks that all boast immediate appeal, while the latter half of the album has more of slow-burning effect.

Rival SchoolsWhere Pedals deviates from the first album’s template, however, is at the very end. One of the most impressive feats of the debut album was how it finished on two finely-crafted instrumental tracks, with Hooligans For Life in particular remaining a stunning musical achievement and the band’s most compelling live track to this day.

Instead of trying to repeat this trick, Pedals ends on a more modest and abrupt note, as The Ghost Is Out There sounds more like latter-day Weezer than anything else, suggesting unfinished business and certainly leaving us clamouring for more.

It’s good to have Rival Schools back, but even if they don’t stick around for long, it’s enough to just sit back and enjoy a record that was more than worth the ten-year wait.