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

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.

Eulogies:Lew Wasserman

Lew Wasserman, philanthropist, former chairman and chief executive of Music Corporation of America (MCA) and one of the last old-time movie moguls, died June 3 from complications of a stroke. He was 89.

Wasserman was born March 22, 1913, in Cleveland, Ohio, to Russian immigrant parents, Isaac and Minnie, proprietors of a struggling restaurant. In 1936, the same year that Carl Laemmle lost control of Universal Studios, a 22-year-old Wasserman, with only a high school education, began at the bottom at MCA’s Cleveland office, a talent agency with a celebrity roster that included Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra. Wasserman worked his way up the corporate ladder and, a decade later, on Dec. 16, 1946, became MCA’s president.

As Wasserman negotiated lucrative entertainment catalogue and unprecedented percentage deals for stars such as Jimmy Stewart, MCA grew in power. By 1958, MCA purchased Universal’s 367-acre studio backlot for $11.25 million, then began leasing back studio space to Universal at $1 million a year. In 1962, MCA purchased Decca Records, and with it Universal Pictures. Two years later, as a result of a consent decree with the Justice Department, MCA divested itself of its talent agency business. That same year, MCA-Universal began its Universal Studios Tour and acquired Alfred Hitchcock’s Shamley Productions.

When Sidney Scheinberg took over as Universal’s president in 1973, Wassermann moved up to chairman of the board. Universal won Academy Awards for movies such as "The Sting" (1974), and ushered in the modern blockbuster with Steven Spielberg’s "Jaws" (1975). Universal went on to produce more Oscar-winners and several record-breakers that, in their day, became the highest-grossing motion pictures of all time, including "E.T.," and "Jurassic Park," both directed by Spielberg.

When MCA was sold in 1990 to Japanese electronics giant Matsushita for $6.6 billion, Wasserman’s take was put at $350 million, and he was retained as a manager. When Seagram Co. took over the company five years later, Wasserman retired from management with the honorary title of chairman emeritus. He remained on the company’s board of directors until 1998.

His dedication to philanthropy rivaled his devotion to career. In 2000 alone, the Wasserman Foundation gave $10.7 million to Jewish causes such as the United Jewish Fund, World Jewish Congress, and American Jewish Committee. He was a major supporter of Jewish institutions, such as Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, and was one of the 12 original philanthropists who pledged $5 million toward Charles Bronfman’s Birthright Israel endeavor.

Wasserman also gave to Catholic causes, including $350,000 to the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles. As a strong believer in education, set up many scholarship endowments at various universities and educational institutions.

Before he died, Wasserman gave $1 million toward the still-under construction Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA, for which he attended the groundbreaking in November 1998. "He was a man who was not an intensely involved Jew," said UCLA Hillel Director Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, "However, he was dedicated to sustaining the Jewish future and the state of Israel. His Jewishness was manifest in his generosity. He really understood the meaning of tzedakah."

Seidler-Feller added that Wasserman’s contributions to Hillel and Birthright Israel represented a renewed commitment to his community toward the end of his life. Thanks to Wasserman, Seidler-Feller said, the new UCLA center will provide "a focus for identity, provide a setting a hangout where [students] can meet, study, socialize and enjoy life together while being actively involved in Jewish life."

"He was one of the great titans of our industry," Spielberg said of his former mentor. "A lot of what we do today is because of the foundations he set 50 years ago. He really set in stone so many of the principles that we work with today creatively — in terms of deal-making, business structure and merging companies. I mean, Lew did all this stuff first."

Wasserman is survived by his wife, Edie; daughter, Lynne; and grandchildren, Carol Leif and Casey. Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer