A Tribute To Adam Yauch

Some point in early 1987, I was thirteen, hormones on the rampage and fighting the pains of a new school in a new country. It was Top of the Pops, one thursday evening when I first saw the video for Fight For Your Right (To Party!). If you were like me, all that teen angst and stress had been thrown into one song and spat out for the world to realise that it was all a bit shitty being a teen. Heck, I wanted to stay out past 10 O’clock and the Beastie Boys got it!

I didn’t buy the 7 inch, I went straight for the gatefold album, Licensed to Ill. That cover! what other word can you use other than ‘Iconic’. A helpless, solitary image of a crashed Boeing 727 by artist David Gambale.

But it wasn’t just us hormone spiking kids that got it. The album was well-received by all, and sales went through the roof after a favorably review in Rolling Stone magazine with the now-famous headline, "Three Idiots Create a Masterpiece". Controversy was part of the bands agenda and it was painfully clear from the original title Don't Be a Faggot, but Columbia Records flatly refused to release the album with this title, thus the name was changed and the album released.

Looking through the list of samples, it’s a wonder the band earned a penny from the album, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and The Clash all over the opener Rhymin & Stealin’. Other artists who graced the sample list included; AC/DC, Kool and the Gang, Creedence Clearwater, Stevie Wonder and Aerosmith, show just how complex their influences were. To be fair, they were well ahead of their time for complex sampling and arrangements. But ultimately it was the songs that were great, Fight For Your Right, Paul Revere, Slow and Low, Brass Monkey and my personal hallowed tune No Sleep Till Brooklyn must have shaken the house and my Sony Walkman’s terrible overly padded earphones for days on end. Nobody got having mid 80’s angst like the Beastie Boys. Without doubt it’s one of the best albums of the 80’s and arguably one of the best albums of all time having sold circa 10 million copies. It’s still the only album by a white hip-hop act to receive the coveted 5 mics from The Source.

Adam, one of the founders of the band in 1979, under the guise of MCA, never stopped innovating, becoming as part of The Beastie Boys 30 year career, from starting as a rapper, musician and songwriter he soon moved into other creative roles (under the pseudonym Nathaniel Hornblower) such as Video and Film Director.

It’s easy to focus on Licensed to Ill as the classic, but many of the band’s albums are stand alone creative masterpieces. Paul's Boutique, Check Your Head, Ill Communication and Hello Nasty all show the band never stood still. Over 25 years after they released their debut album they still were innovators and leaders in their field. White guys doing hip hop? Fuck yeah! With sales of over 40 million records, an illustrious career which fought convention and challenged people all the way, the band never rested on their laurels. Testament to true artists, they built a career focussed on the art of making music, not celebrity.

In 2009, Adam was diagnosed with cancer, the band chose youtube to make the announcement to their fans. I remember hearing the news and rushing to the site to see it for myself. Adam’s strength in the video was apparent and he was obviously tired from the treatment he was undergoing. But we all lived in hope. That hope arrived last year with the bands eight album Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. As aggressive as ever, the band were back and we hoped in good health. I’m listening to Hot Sauce as I write, in listening, it’s became apparent that either consciously or subconsciously his illness crept into the lyrics. The song Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win gives a small insight into this.

You're caught now by the skin you're in,
In a bind now your thoughts go to all your sins.
Hits much harder back better count on that,
I tell you what we know always holds us back.

Last month, the band proudly celebrated their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Sadly, it was apparent that Adam was again ill as he was unable to attend the celebration. But none of us knew how ill. Today’s news came as a shock. But the legacy that Adam has left behind is nothing short of miraculous.

RIP Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch (August 5, 1964 - May 4, 2012)