The old saying goes “time flies when you’re having fun” but in truth it moves just as fast for bad times and sad times too. It hardly seems like it has been seven years since Adam Yauch better known as MCA of the Beastie Boys passed away on May 4, 2012 but here we all are watching time fly by.
I honestly didn’t know what to say or how to say it at the time that it happened, so 24 seconds was the best I could manage. Let me try to do the subject a little better justice in hindsight. When you grow up in a part of the country where the most popular musical genre IS country, getting to hear rap music on commercial FM radio is rare, and in the 1980’s even more so. Nevertheless the success of their “Licensed to Ill” debut for Def Jam in 1986 was so massive that even podunk Iowa couldn’t ignore it, and local radio stations boomed out “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” on a continuous loop. Even at pool parties the Beastie Boys reigned supreme.
In this era Def Jam seemed to do no wrong in my book. Even though the Beastie Boys would move on to Capitol Records, my exposure to Def Jam wasn’t limited to Adam Yauch (MCA), Michael Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock). Public Enemy, LL Cool J, EPMD, Nice & Smooth, et cetera etc. For a young rap fan me it was the equivalent of “the brand you can trust” and even though socially conscious rappers like Chuck D, Ice Cube and KRS-One were educating me about racial inequality, the Beastie Boys seemed to escape the political trap of being white in a black man’s world. Maybe it was because they were New Yorkers. Maybe it was because they were Jewish (although Yauch was raised non-religious by a Catholic father and Jewish mother, and later became a Buddhist). Either way aside from a few potshots from 3rd Bass (“the +Beast+ now lives in the +Capitol”), ironically the only other white rap group I knew of at the time to get respect, the Beastie Boys were down.
As the years went by I graduated high school, went to college, then started websites like OHHLA and RapReviews to further my passion for hip-hop and try to give something back in my own way. I took for granted that in some way shape or form that the Beastie Boys would always be around. They were there before I was even a teenager. They were there all throughout my adult life. Until MCA passed away seven years ago it never occurred to me that there wouldn’t be a new Beastie Boys album every few years. In 2011 I reviewed “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” and looked forward to whatever would come next… but that was it. There were only seven studio albums after “Licensed to Ill” and now it’s been seven years since MCA’s passing made it impossible for there to ever be another.
In the end the eight rap albums they recorded together, and numerous compilations and collections during and since their time together, serve the purpose more than well enough of covering their career. If you care to dig deeper you can find PRE-rap Beastie Boys albums when they had aspirations of being punk rockers, and even after their hip-hop careers took off they continued to jam instrumentally on subsequent albums. That’s right – you may think of him as a rapper first and foremost, but MCA could get funky on a bass guitar. One other thing I always admired about Adam Yauch was that he used his fame and his platform to stand up for what he believed in. While his group was never thought of as overtly political like Public Enemy or X-Clan, MCA wasn’t one to be quiet about his beliefs.
“That’s another thing that America really needs to think about is our racism — racism that comes from the United States toward Muslim people and towards Arabic people — and that’s something that has to stop. The United States has to start respecting people from the Middle East in order to find a solution to the problem that has been building up over many years.”
Imagine a popular artist making that statement in Donald Trump’s America in 2019 and the immediately vitriolic respond that would spew out of that President’s mouth on social media. No such thing happened before or after this awards ceremony. People respected MCA enough to let him speak his mind and I never saw any blowback from it — and frankly I’m glad of it. It made me respect him even more as an artist but more importantly as a human being. His loss was a devastating blow not just for a legendary rap group but for a world in general who should listen to what he had to say. Adam Yauch, you may be gone, but you will not soon be forgotten.