R.I.P. Adam Yauch, the Beastie Boys' Visual and Humanitarian Genius

Categories: R.I.P.
Adam Yauch

Adam Yauch, the musician and filmmaker best known as Beastie Boys member MCA, died today of the cancer he was diagnosed with in 2009. Yauch was 47.

It's so easy to underrate the Beastie Boys, in part because nobody did what they did, and for so long. From fighting for their right to party to fighting for human rights, the evolution of MCA, Mike D, and Ad-rock was shocking and heartwarming. Prank-calling hardcore Brooklyn kids who almost named the world's first chart-topping rap album Don't Be a Fag, the three musicians grew into major advocates against bigotry and violence who spent two un-booed, uninterrupted minutes explaining their disapproval of our country's Middle East invasion at the 1998 VMAs (Courtesy of Yauch, by the way).

"(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)"

"So Whatcha Want" (directed by Yauch as Nathanial Hörnblowér)

One of the most commercially successful and critically respected bands of all time, the Beasties grew up in public and represented pre-gangsta bad-boy-ism in hip-hop as well as pioneering the idea of playing instruments and rapping at the same time. They stripped hair-metal of its indulgences to deliver nothing but the most effectively simple riffing on what thankfully came to be known as Licensed to Ill. They beat Beck and DJ Shadow to funky sample collages with Paul's Boutique by about seven years, and worked with contemporaries from Q-Tip to Nas. You'd be hard-pressed to think of a rapper who disliked them, despite rap's intolerance for irreverence and the pre-Eminem inability of most white rappers to get respect. This may be in part to the Beastie's ultra-barking New York voices never having attempted to sound like anything but the mischievous Jewish boys they were.


Most overlooked might be how, of all their '80s rock peers other than U2 and R.E.M.,  the Beasties continued to have video hits into the '90s. (Although latter-day Beasties faves like "Sabotage" and "Intergalactic" were a lot more popular and integral to their legacy than say, "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?") Few bands reach the 30-year mark in the limelight, and much fewer rappers. No other artist did it in costumes and fake mustaches with silly rhymes like, "I'll stir-fry you in my wok.

"Intergalactic" (directed by Yauch as Nathanial Hörnblowér)

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 There is in us a lyric germ or nucleus which deserves respect; it bids a man to ponder or create; and in this dim corner of himself he can take refuge and find consolations which the society of his fellow creatures does not provide.

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