Requiem for a Beastie: Remembering Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch


So, how was your Cinco de Mayo? Mine was awful.

Blame the morning of May 4. That’s when I found out Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys had died at 47.

Despite Yauch’s much-publicized cancer fight, I was stunned. With the May 3, 2011, release of “Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two,” which had been delayed for two years because of his illness, it seemed then that Yauch had won the battle.

In 1986, I was a Fairfax High student missing my native Canarsie, Brooklyn, when the Beastie Boys, the first all-white (and Jewish!) rap group, released their major-label debut, “Licensed to Ill.”

These wild teens — Yauch, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond — wore their snotty NYC attitude on their sleeves. Brash, irreverent, obnoxious yet clever, the Beasties were liberating. Like the best rock, they represented sex, drugs, alcohol, mayhem and every other thing I couldn’t indulge in myself. “Licensed” was a sonic “Inglourious Basterds”; a visceral, vicarious Jew-boy fantasy.

In today’s postmodern, ADD culture, where their infamous breakthrough single “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” can become elevator music worthy of your local Ralphs (look up Chris Martin’s acoustic cover of the song for proof…), many forget how truly ground-breaking the Beasties were.

Formed at Yauch’s 17th birthday party, the Beastie Boys caught the ear of NYU student Rick Rubin, who founded Def Jam Records with Russell Simmons. Rubin produced the abrasive “Licensed,” which became the first rap album to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts. (In the wake of Yauch’s death, “Licensed” hit No. 18 [chai] on the Billboard 200, with six other Beasties albums re-entering the chart.)

During those uptight Reagan/PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) years, the Beasties were the American Sex Pistols; anarchists in the USA, sliding on spilled beer across stages that included an underwear-clad caged dancer and props like giant Budweiser cans and a 12-foot-tall hydraulic phallus.

“Licensed to Ill” came bulk-loaded with so many politically incorrect rhymes that, after the band evolved into socially conscious hipster icons, they spent much of their career apologizing for it (as if its cartoony, over-the-top humor was lost on even them).

A falling-out with Def Jam sent them West to Capitol Records, where they recorded 1989’s “Paul’s Boutique,” a transmuting aural odyssey so sampledelic (created before artists paid royalties for samples) it would be cost-prohibitive to create that record today. Ahead of its time, “Paul’s” was not “Licensed, Part II.” Darker and grittier than its happy-go-lucky predecessor, “Paul’s” bombed. Yet this gigantic sonic leap forward became a hip-hop classic.

As they grew from Boys to men, the trio became restless and confident enough musicians to drop their comfort-food, tag-team raps and acknowledge their punk-rock roots or loungy tendencies on top-selling albums like “Ill Communication,” with its hit single “Sabotage,” and “Hello Nasty,” which earned the group two of its three Grammy wins. 

Personality wise, they became reformed Beasties — even borderline preachy. An enlightened Yauch led the charge, trading his Judaism for Buddhism, marrying Tibetan-liberation activist Dechen Wangdu and championing Tibetan independence. In 2008, Yauch launched indie film distributor Oscilloscope Laboratories (“Wendy & Lucy,” Oscar nominees “The Messenger” and “Exit Through the Gift Shop”) with former THINKFilm executive David Fenkel.

In the wake of Yauch’s passing, an outpouring of celebrity grief hit the Twittersphere: Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Ben Stiller … even Simmons, who was dissed on “Paul’s,” praised him. Thankfully, Yauch lived long enough to see his group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April; only the third rap group to earn such honors, after Run-D.M.C. and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

By far, the best MCA tribute came last year from Yauch himself. Yauch directed the band’s videos as “Nathanial Hörnblowér,” and for the “Hot Sauce Committee” single “Make Some Noise,” he shot the long-form “Fight for Your Right (to Party) Revisited,” doubling as cheap sequel and spoof of their teen hit. It’s a testament to the Beasties’ enduring popularity that a who’s who of celebrities make appearances, including Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Susan Sarandon, Steve Buscemi and Maya Rudolph.

Beastie Boys, as a group, is done. (You can’t just hire another MCA like Weezer can a new bassist.) So what’s the silver lining? Perhaps Yauch’s legacy is that others will be inspired by his social activism and support of independent filmmakers in an age when studios would rather make blockbusters like “The Avengers.” And while the last two albums were arguably “meh,” Yauch proved one could mature gracefully, humor intact, and still stay relevant. In rap years, Beastie Boys were AC/DC. What other ’80s hip-hop act has topped the charts for 26 years?

What’s eerie, I realized, was how MCA performed a rare solo jam, “A Year and a Day,” on “Paul’s.” I guess back in ’89 he called it. On May 4, Yauch died “a year and a day” after their final album’s release.

Michael Aushenker lives in Pacific Palisades, where he writes for the Malibu Times and contributes as a cartoonist to Heavy Metal magazine and Gumby comics. His latest comic book, “Bart Simpson” No. 70, is now on sale at newsstands and bookshops everywhere. Visit CartoonFlophouse.com.

No, Adam Yauch wasn’t a yeshiva boy, but we can still claim him


As a student at an all-girls day school in Brooklyn, the first thing I learned about the Beastie Boys turned out to be untrue.
According to a yeshiva urban legend, two of the founding members of the Beastie Boys had attended The Marsha Stern Talmudic Academy in upper Manhattan. Some MTA students even claimed to know where the hip-hop pioneers had tagged the school with their handles.

This was before every claim could be verified or disproved with a Google search.

After seeing a photograph of the trio in a music magazine in the mid-1990s, I decided I could believe that the three nerdy-looking, funny white Jewish guys in fact had been nerdy, rebellious yeshiva students.

Of course they never attended an Orthodox educational institution. Still, despite denials from the Beastie Boys, the rumor persisted. Yeshiva students continued to project themselves onto this seminal hip-hop act for years, even after Drake came along and started talking about his bar mitzvah.

When Adam “MCA” Yauch, one of those alleged yeshiva students, died last Friday at 47 following a three-year battle with cancer, there was an outpouring of grief and condolences from fans and some of the biggest names in hip hop.

He and the Beastie Boys helped put hip hop on the map in 1986 with their debut, “Licensed to Ill,” the first rap album to hit the top of Billboard’s album charts.

The album yielded several classic singles such as “Fight for Your Right to Party” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” It also landed the Boys on the cover of Rolling Stone—the magazine had been notoriously unwilling to cover rap, a nascent and increasingly significant art form—with the headline “Three Idiots Make a Masterpiece.”

“The Beasties opened hip-hop music up to the suburbs,” Rick Rubin, who produced “Licensed to Ill,” said in an interview with The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. “As crazy as they were, they seemed safe to Middle America, in a way black artists hadn’t been up to that time.”

Of course, this sort of attention turned the Jewish bohemians into targets for those who viewed their success through the prism of white privilege and racism. Yet, and this is much to the group’s credit, the criticisms eventually dissipated.

“We don’t hear the word ‘Elvis’ uttered in the same breath as ‘Beastie Boys,’ ” Dan Charnas, author of “The Big Payback,” wrote in a tribute to Yauch published in Spin. “The integrity of Yauch and his peers had a lot to do with it.”

Yauch and the Beasties came of age, creatively speaking, in the downtown bohemia of Manhattan in the early ’80s where punk rockers (as the Beasties had formerly been) mixed freely with uptown emcees and DJs. The racial lines in this scene and early hip hop were crossed in surprising ways.

The Beastie Boys’ own career reflects that. They were introduced to black audiences by the biggest rap act of the day, Run DMC.

In turn the Beasties, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month, helped launch the career of Public Enemy, which opened for the mega-successful Boys on tour.

The Beastie Boys paid homage to their myriad influences in the pages of the now-defunct Grand Royal magazine, which started in the early ’90s and reflected their tastes, from movies to artists such as Lee “Scratch” Perry, a name familiar to those inside the hip-hop scene as his work is often sampled in tracks.

By exposing a wider audience to these important figures in the culture’s history, the Beasties Boys helped give credit where it was due and properly situated themselves within the hip-hop tradition.

“The Beastie Boys took responsibility for being grown-up white people without boring everyone with long rationalizations about how down they were,” Joseph Schloss, author of “Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip Hop,” wrote nearly a decade ago in “The Hip-Hop Album Guide.”

Except when they actually did apologize for some of their earlier homophobic and misogynist lyrics. This wasn’t a Rush Limbaugh-style mea culpa. They didn’t apologize that women and gays took offense at what they said—the “I’m sorry you took umbrage at that really awful thing I said”—thereby putting the onus on the targets of the hateful comments for even reacting to them.

Rather Yauch and the Beasties expressed true, sincere regret. Yauch famously rapped, “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue/The disrespect to women has got to be through.” This from a group that had once performed onstage alongside caged female dancers and a hydraulic-powered penis.

And the Boys did more than give lip service to these feminist impulses; they acted on them. The group famously asked Prodigy not to perform the song “Smack My Bitch Up” at the Reading Festival.

When the Beasties were criticized for this seemingly hypocritical stance, Yauch defended the move, saying they had begun changing the words when they performed old songs that had contained misogynistic lyrics. This was just one example of how deeply intertwined the Beastie Boys’ artistic and social progression was.

Yauch created a successful template of how to evolve, not only as an artist but also as a human being.

In addition to directing some of the most visually arresting and retro-inflected Beastie Boys music videos under the alias Nathaniel Hornblower, he also created Oscilloscope Laboratories, an independent film production and distribution company that cultivated and released several critical hits, including the Oscar-nominated “The Message” and “Exist Through the Gift Shop.” 

A practicing Buddhist, Yauch also founded the Milarepa Foundation, which raised money and awareness through the Tibetan Freedom Concerts.

While this doesn’t exactly sound like the work of your average yeshiva student, I have no problem with future generations of Orthodox boys pretending that the Beastie Boys had been their own.

Yeshiva boys couldn’t do much better than Adam Yauch as a role model.

Dvora Meyers is the author of the ebook “Heresy on the High Beam: Confessions of an Unbalanced Jewess,” a memoir essay collection about Orthodox Judaism and gymnastics.

Beastie Boy Adam Yauch dies at 47


Adam Yauch of the seminal hip-hop group the Beastie Boys has died at the age of 47 after battling cancer.

Yauch, one of three members of the seminal hip-hop group, had been diagnosed in 2009 with cancer in his parotid gland and a lymph node. The news of Yauch’s death was first reported Friday by the website GlobalGrind.com.

Yauch performed in the Beastie Boys under the stage name MCA, along with Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) and Michael Diamond (Mike D). Ever since their raucous 1986 debut album “Licensed to Ill,” which fused rap and rock, the Beastie Boys have been enduringly popular.

Yauch was too sick to attend the Beastie Boys’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month.

Yauch practiced Buddhism and was a leader in efforts to promote the Tibetan cause. In 1994, he co-founded the Milarepa Fund, which organized the popular Tibetan Freedom Concert series.

He is survived by his wife and daughter.

Beastie Boys to join Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame


The Beastie Boys are to be inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

The pioneering hip-hop group made up of Mike D (Michael Diamond), MCA (Adam Yauch) and Ad-Rock (Adam Horowitz) will join a Hall of Fame class of 2012 that includes the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Guns N Roses, according to the New York Daily News.

The Beastie Boys, creators of hits such as “Fight for Your Right (To Party),” “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” and “Sabotoage,” have released 12 albums that have sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.

The ceremony will be held in April at the Hall of Fame in Cleveland.