Adam Yauch, known as MCA as a co-founder of the groundbreaking rap group Beastie Boys, died earlier today after battling cancer. Born August 5, 1964 in Brooklyn, New York, he was 47. Yauch had been diagnosed in 2009 with a tumor in his salivary gland, and was notably absent last month when the group became the third rap group to be admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The group began as a hardcore punk band while Yauch, Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond were in high school in 1979. When they evolved the sound into rap, they were often hailed for playing live instruments in a genre dominated by samples and pre-recorded beats. That said, their second album, Paul’s Boutique, set the bar for the art of sampling and many music fans and critics still regard it as one of the form’s finest examples. You can hear the brief instrumental track “59 Christie Street” from that album here.
Yauch seemed to ‘grow up’ more noticeably than the other members of the Beastie Boys. A practicing Buddhist, he was instrumental in organizing concerts to raise awareness of the repression of the Tibetan people. The series of concerts spanned from 1996 to 2001, and featured all-star lineups of bands (including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, De La Soul, Beck, Foo Fighters, U2, Radiohead, Dave Matthews Band, R.E.M. and Pearl Jam), plus speakers and traditional Buddhist acts. Yauch also directed many of the group’s videos under the pseudonym Nathaniel Hornblower, and later founded his own film company called Oscilloscope Laboratories, which released a number of documentaries including “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”
When the band formed, the Beastie Boys were known just as much for their party attitudes as they were for their ability to elicit the respect of black rap fans and musicians. Above is the video for “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” — a hit from their first album Licensed to Ill (1984-1987) — complete with the boys poking fun at hair-band ridiculousness and scantily-clad women. Sweet dreams, Adam.