Adam Yauch—better known to the world as MCA, one-third of the hugely influential hip-hop group the Beastie Boys—died early Friday morning in his native New York City. He’d been battling cancer in his salivary gland since being diagnosed in 2009.
Words cannot begin to describe the impact on the group Yauch co-founded with Ad-Rock (Adam Horovits) and Mike D (Michael Diamond) had on America, the world, and hip-hop culture in general.
First formed in 1979 as a punk-rock act, the B-Boys quickly segued into what can only be called a light-hearted, sarcastically comedic style of rap that, along with their obvious racial background, helped skyrocket them to fame in a predominantly African-American genre.
Being one of the original acts on Def-Jam Records, which was formed by friends Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, the Beastie Boys leaped out of the gate with their 1986 debut License to Ill, which blasted out instant classics like “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)”, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” and “Brass Monkey”, winning them three Grammys. Using hip-hop beats and great guitar riffs, they, along with fellow Def-Jam act Run DMC, exposed mainstream America to what had been, up to that point, a virtually underground style of music.
The band’s follow-up, Paul’s Boutique, revolutionized the hip-hop world, showing the possibilities of heavy sampling and mixing (there’s an urban legend that the album still holds the record for the most samples used to date). The B-Boys did not stop there, releasing classic after classic, giving the world Check Your Head, Ill Communication and Hello Nasty, on which the boys played their own instruments, and utilized other genres such as jazz, trip-hop, grunge, and psychedelic.
Outside of the group, Yauch (who was a practicing Buddhist) helped organize the Tibetan Freedom Concerts, and went to direct several of the band’s music videos, and the 2008 basketball documentary Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot.
Mr. Yauch and his band became one of the longest-running acts within the hip-hop world. Their influence is astounding, for they paved the way for modern greats from the Roots to Eminem.
Being a guy who grew up in suburbia in the Tri-State Area, MCA and the Beastie Boys were a staple of my childhood. To say this is a loss to the world is a huge understatement. They became the voice for over two generations of teenagers and young adults, and probably will be for generations to come.