Adam Yauch, better known as MCA and one of the founding Beastie Boys, died today after being diagnosed with cancer in 2009. He was 47.
Yauch started the Beastie Boys with Mike “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horowitz in 1979 in New York City. After beginning their career as a hardcore act, they shifted into hip-hop; their 1986 Def Jam release License to Ill launched them into the stratosphere. Known for loud and raucous behavior, the group released countless acclaimed records, all a wide range in style. Paul’s Boutique, their sophomore record, was initially looked at as a failure due to its experimental sampling and lyrics, but in hindsight, is recognized as a breakthrough record not only for the trio, but for hip-hop. Check Your Head brought them back to their chaotic, punky roots, but blending enough rap to be considered a genre on its own.
Even their most recent effort, 2011’s Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 was a favorite of many critics. The band, with Yauch at its center, continually explored new territory in what hip-hop could and should be.
In a group of loud personalities, Yauch stood out. His lyrics, easily quotable (“I’m MCA—I got nothin’ to prove/ Pay attention—my intention is to bust a move”) provided a soundtrack for a generation learning what hip-hop could be. As the director of many Beastie Boys music videos—like “Sabotage” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”—he shaped the group’s visual aesthetic. As he got older, Yauch used his public platform to speak out about political causes; he founded the Milarepa Fund to educate people about Tibet and later organized the Tibetan Freedom Concerts.
MCA bum-rushes the Video Music Awards in 1994
MCA speaks out about racism against Arabs and Muslims (start at the 6:50 mark)
When news broke of his cancer in 2009, it was met with an outpouring of support from the public; a year later reports that Yauch had beaten the disease surfaced. Unfortunately, these reports were exaggerated. On the band’s website, he wrote, “While I’m grateful for all the positive energy people are sending my way, reports of my being totally cancer free are exaggerated. I’m continuing treatment, staying optimistic and hoping to be cancer free in the near future.” Earlier this year, Yauch was unable to join the rest of the Beastie Boys for their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (The ceremony will air on HBO tomorrow night.)
Beastie Boys, “Fight For Your Right (Revisited) (directed by Adam Yauch)
Yauch is survived by his wife, Dechen Wangdu, and their daughter, Tenzin Losel Yauch.
Official statement from Nasty Little Man—the Beasties’ PR company and the namesake of “Hello Nasty”—on the next page.
Nasty Little Man Statement
ADAM YAUCH 1964-2012
It is with great sadness that we confirm that musician, rapper, activist and director Adam “MCA” Yauch, founding member of Beastie Boys and also of the Milarepa Foundation that produced the Tibetan Freedom Concert benefits, and film production and distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories, passed away in his native New York City this morning after a near-three-year battle with cancer. He was 47 years old.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Yauch taught himself to play bass in high school, forming a band for his 17th birthday party that would later become known the world over as Beastie Boys.
With fellow members Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Adrock” Horovitz, Beastie Boys would go on to sell over 40 million records, release four #1 albums–including the first hip hop album ever to top the Billboard 200, the band’s 1986 debut full length, Licensed To Ill–win three Grammys, and the MTV Video Vanguard Lifetime Achievement award. Last month Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with Diamond and Horovitz reading an acceptance speech on behalf of Yauch, who was unable to attend.
In addition to his hand in creating such historic Beastie Boys albums as Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head, Ill Communication, Hello Nasty and more, Yauch was a founder of the Milarepa Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting awareness and activism regarding the injustices perpetrated on native Tibetans by Chinese occupational government and military forces. In 1996, Milarepa produced the first Tibetan Freedom Concert in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, which was attended by 100,000 people, making it the biggest benefit concert on U.S. soil since 1985’s Live Aid. The Tibetan Freedom Concert series would continue to stage some of the most significant benefit shows in the world for nearly a decade following in New York City, Washington DC, Tokyo, Sydney, Amsterdam, Taipei and other cities.
In the wake of September 11, 2001, Milarepa organized New Yorkers Against Violence, a benefit headlined by Beastie Boys at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, with net proceeds disbursed to the New York Women’s Foundation Disaster Relief Fund and the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA) September 11th Fund for New Americans–each chosen for their efforts on behalf of 9/11 victims least likely to receive help from other sources.
Under the alias of Nathanial Hörnblowér, Yauch directed iconic Beastie Boys videos including “So Whatcha Want,” “Intergalactic,” “Body Movin” and “Ch-Check It Out.” Under his own name, Yauch directed last year’s Fight For Your Right Revisited, an extended video for “Make Some Noise” from Beastie Boys’ Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, starring Elijah Wood, Danny McBride and Seth Rogen as the 1986 Beastie Boys, making their way through a half hour of cameo-studded misadventures before squaring off against Jack Black, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as Beastie Boys of the future.
Yauch’s passion and talent for filmmaking led to his founding of Oscilloscope Laboratories, which in 2008 released his directorial film debut, the basketball documentary Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot and has since become a major force in independent video distribution, amassing a catalogue of such acclaimed titles as Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy, Oren Moverman’s The Messenger, Banksy’s Exit Through The Gift Shop, Lance Bangs and Spike Jonze’s Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait Of Maurice Sendak, and many more.
Yauch is survived by his wife Dechen and his daughter Tenzin Losel, as well as his parents Frances and Noel Yauch.