Adam Yauch, a.k.a. MCA, a.k.a. Nathanial Hornblower, died May 4th. One third of the Beastie Boys, Yauch had been diagnosed with cancer in 2009.
To me, he always seemed like the elder statesman of the group. I mean, still kind of an ass in that Beastie sort of way, but also a little older, and more in that old soul type of way than anything. It goes beyond his salt and pepper colored hair that had already came in by his 30s and that rasp in his voice. There was always that weariness you could sometimes see in his eyes.
You can say, and without a whiff of hyperbole, that the Beastie Boys changed music forever. They, along with Run DMC, opened up hip hop to white, suburban kids. They were witty, irreverent, and often crass–what’s there for a teenager not to like?
They also showed just how sonically varied hip hop could actually be. They traded the loud, hard rock guitars and drums of Licensed to Ill for the jazz and funk samples of Paul’s Boutique and then for the fuzzy punk rock of Ill Communication. Somehow, despite how different two consecutive records sounded back to back, they always sounded like the Beastie Boys. They always sounded right.
Yauch is often credited for ushering in the more grown up Beastie Boys era from the late 1980s/early 1990s and on. They remained the Beasties at their core, there was just a little more social consciousness and a lot less lyrics akin to a frat boy’s take on women.
By the mid-1990s, Yauch had become a Buddhist. He organized the Tibetan Freedom Concerts of the late 1990s. Yauch also directed many of the band’s iconic music videos under the Nathanial Hornblower pseudonym. To a certain degree, the Beastie Boys are known as much for their music videos as they are their music.
Adam Yauch was a lot of things, including an MC, a musician, an activist, a director, a producer–we could do this for days. He was 47.