I was deeply saddened to hear about the death of Adam Yauch aka MCA from the Beastie Boys today. It honestly feels more like an old friend passing away than some distant celebrity. As an always-into-something kid growing up in Florida the Beastie Boys were the soundtrack to a big part of my childhood. License to Ill was the first rap album I ever bought (on cassette no less). I definitely remember my middle school era best friend and I rapping along to “Paul Revere” trying to get girls at parties. All the early Beasties stuff was classic to me and my friends. We knew every word to every song – goofy skits and samples included (“Yo shut the fuck up Chico man”). Sometimes, like with “The Egg Man” we took our hero worship literally and used that song to soundtrack our favorite semi-harmless mode of attack. Their iconic videos not only gave us new tricks to imitate in TV Production but set the fashion agenda for years. Pre-YouTube we must have contributed at least 10,000 views to a passed around VHS copy of Skills To Pay The Bills that got worn down to shreds with repeat screenings. A subscription to Grand Royal magazine was like getting a periodic Blueprint to Cool that put us onto all kinds of things we had no idea about previously – Moog, Lee Perry, New York Sports legends.
I remember the Boys were making a comeback of sorts with Check Your Head and played a concert at this tiny venue (The Edge) in Orlando before the record was released to try out some of the new material. It was announced last minute but a crew of 20 or more of my friends worked quickly to make t-shirts silkscreened from their logo. We got there when the doors opened and packed the front row. We got a reaction from the guys right away and to this day that was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. They had so much energy and the best on-stage chemistry of any rap crew in history. Every time they were in town we would all crew up and go see them and many times we ran into them either before or after the show and they were always the super cool, down to earth guys you wanted them to be. One time they even walked a pair of my friends who didn’t have tickets into the venue through backstage. Another time they invited a friend of ours’ little brother on stage with them just to dance and bug out. I’ll never forget the heartbreak we all felt waking up to find out that the 1994 Lollapalooza Tour that featured Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys and A Tribe Called Quest (not to mention The Breeders and the at the time a still cool Green Day) had been cancelled in Florida because the stage had sunk due to heavy rain. But when it came to live shows and the Beastie Boys the positive memories far outweigh the negatives. Their shows were a start to finish party and, bear with me if this sounds like I’m going overboard, a reaffirmation of life. They celebrated all the things we cared about and thought were cool plus represented the essence of us in a way that was simply unmatched at that time. For as big of jokers as these guys were they were also some of the most technically skilled live performers I’ve ever seen and took their music very seriously. The fact that they never tried to be anything other than what they were is exactly what made them so cool and accepted by just about everyone black and white, hip-hop and rock alike.
Ad-Rock was my favorite MC but MCA was always my favorite Beastie. He had the ill raspy voice and always came with the more thoughtful rhymes, especially as he got older. Of course anyone who grew up on Mtv will remember his classic bum rush as Nathaniel Hornblower at the Mtv Video Awards (which at the time everyone watched). He personally raised people’s awareness about the struggle in Tibet through his rhymes and actions. He also created Oscilloscope Laboratories that gave a home and distribution lane to quality indie films that were otherwise overlooked. I have never heard anyone say a negative word about him and judging from the massive outpouring of love coming over Twitter from every possible direction (chefs, actors, politicians, rockers, rappers, athletes and fellow legends) you can tell he touched alot of people in a very unique way. Even though he was taken far too soon it’s immediately clear that he had a lasting positive influence. Thinking of the Beastie Boys without one of the trio seems so tragic and my heart goes out to Ad-Rock and Mike D. Like a true crew they’ve already indicated that this will be the end of anything new under that name. It’s a very sad day but below is a video that perfectly illustrates how I’ll always remember the legendary Adam Yauch aka MCA.