Adam Yauch – 1964-2012 / The In Sound From Way Out

Late to the party as always.

Found out after reading Cadence Weapon’s tweet – a simple ‘oh no’. It definitely sucks, I am a huge Beastie Boys fan, but I never had a chance to see them perform live.

The Beastie Boys were obviously influential and ground-breaking in numerous ways, not least of which was that they were an early hip-hop group that was born, more or less, out of the early-1980s NYC hardcore & post-punk scene. The Beastie Boys played one of their first shows on the last night Max’s Kansas City was open.

My introduction to them was the double-CD compilation issued in 1998, The Sounds of Science. I bought it mostly because I wanted to get a better idea of what they were all about, and wanted to see how the band had evolved over time. The personalities of the three members came to light, and MCA stood out as the slightly quieter one, the background man with the raspy voice.

I’d discover later on that he had directed numerous Beastie Boys videos under the pseudonym Nathanial Hornblower, a character who would come to some national prominence at the 1994 MTV VMAs, when the band lost multiple times (including twice to Aerosmith) in various categories – in my honest opinion, Sabotage, nominated in four or five categories, should have won easily. Not only is it one of the finest general rock songs of all time, but the video is a classic. The song demonstrated a number of things, chiefly that they were at home in multiple genres, that they were sonic experimenters de rigeur, that they legitimized sonic sub-cultures etc. It also features MCA rocking a solid bass line, notable in the break before Ad-Rock screams Why? halfway through the track.

Yauch was also one of the first musicians I associated with public political consciousness in my own youth. It wasn’t so much that I perceived the Beastie Boys as somewhat enlightened post-punk pugilists and perennial smart-asses, but that at their core there was artistry, business and causes. I was mad disappointed when the Rhyme and Reason Tour was cancelled in 2000, but impressed with Yauch’s work with regards to the Tibetan Freedom Copncert. If you remember the mid-1990s, trying to get people to pay attention to all the shitty things going on in the world wasn’t nearly as easy as it is today, and some even questioned whether or not rock and rap groups should be so political in the first place. These same individuals kinda missed the point to begin with – perhaps this explains the rise of ICP and Limp Bizkit in that era, following in the wake of what the Beastie Boys had crafted so many years before. But those latter groups were created by some record label to fill a void; the Beasties were the real deal, which is why I’m certain their music will entertain many more generations of fans.

Above, a favourite video. It’s rather long at ten minutes, but features MCA as Nathanial Hornblower interrupting Michael Stipe’s acceptance speech for the ‘Everybody Hurts’ video. Towards the end, the Beastie Boy’s revenge – one of the tightest live performances of Sabotage I’ve ever seen. Worth waiting and feeling the build up as they lose in every category. At the end, they demonstrated clearly what made them just so ground-breaking. It wasn’t so simply that they were suburban white boys in a black man’s world, it’s that they were damn good musicians and lyricists, with a clear understanding of their style, image, and perhaps thanks in large part to MCA, a defined aesthetic and message too.

He’ll surely be missed.