I’d be remiss and would forever regret not having paid tribute to Adam Yauch (MCA) of the Beastie Boys, who passed one week ago today after a three year battle with cancer. Anyone that has had a conversation with me longer than 30 minutes knows how much of a Beastie Boy fanatic I am. That being said, this is probably my seventh attempt at writing something down, and my 6,578th attempt of writing it in my head.
I can’t begin to explain how much his death (but how much more his life – but I’ll get to this later) has impacted me. I’ve never felt such a loss from someone I had never met. But I guess it makes sense because the Beastie Boys have been such a huge part of my life for well… the majority of it.
All my previous attempts to write something down ended up ridiculously lengthy and relevant only to me. Then I did another one where I listed all the albums and wrote a little bit about how each album impacted me and at what point I was in my life when it was released. But (fortunately) they have so many albums (and I have nearly all of them, including imports), I was basically describing every other year of my life lol.
But there were two things from all those drafts that were consistent. First, I’ve never seen a band that puts on a better show than the Beastie Boys. Granted, I’m borderline obsessed with them, but with a music library that spans over 25 years of hip hop, no two Beastie Boys concerts were the same. And the thing I loved the most about going to their shows (and I’ve seen them live over a dozen times) is that they constantly remixed their songs so you’d hear different versions of the same tune. They’d throw in a little reggaeton to Brass Monkey, some Jackson Five sampling into Shake Your Rump or add a little Wu-Tang into Intergalactic. You had no idea what you were going to hear and how you were going to experience it fresh all over again, which made going to their shows all the more worthwhile. I travelled all the way to San Francisco one time to see them live. Totally worth it. My brother, a buddy and I were SOAKED with sweat afterwards and I lost my voice for a couple days… which was always the case.
The second thing, and I think this is more important, was that they made me into a socially conscious human being. I was a casual Beastie Boy fan until high school, when they released “Ill Communication” and my fandom went to a whole other level. A whole new solar system, at that. Ill Communication was the album that would help mold me into a socially conscious person. They always did shit on their terms. From getting rid of Russell Simmons and Rick Reuben and forming their own record label Grand Royal Records to bucking the trend of rappers not playing their own instruments. Now, they were beginning to raise awareness.
I remember sitting in my bedroom listening to the entire album over and over again, reading and memorizing every lyric printed in the CD jacket. Here was a group that was changing their style, their image, their message. MCA growls in Sure Shot:
I wanna say a little something that’s long overdue
The disrespect to women has got to be through
To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends
I wanna offer my love and respect to the end.
While every other rap group at that time was going on about guns, forties, drugs and ho’s this and ho’s that, these guys were trying to change that tune. They were trying to change their own tune (just read the lyrics to “Girls” from Licensed to Ill).
They (especially MCA) were also beginning to raise awareness of the Chinese government’s oppression of the Tibetan people. MCA had gone through his own spiritual awakening, converting to Buddhism from Judaism around this time. They started putting on annual festivals where proceeds went directly to the Free Tibet movement. From that point on, they no longer were the brash obnoxious teenagers wanting to fight for their right to party or rapping about egging people on the trains (Eggman – to this day, one of my favorite songs). They were a group fighting for the rights of others to live peacefully and normally. And they were doing this through their music, their fund raising, raising awareness, and through politics. I was compelled as a teenager to research this Free Tibet movement and educated myself on the entire situation, awakening a passion for social justice that I had never felt before. This cause of theirs truly inspired and moved me. They were the ones that made me aware of a greater cause than what was right in front of me. Through their music, I learned about humanity, charity and service. And that awareness has stuck with me today.
So yeah. When I heard Adam Yauch had passed this time last week… a part of my childhood and a part of my present died with him. But I am so grateful to have experienced the electricity of the shows and am so thankful that my favorite band of all time was around for as long as they were. They were to me, pretty much what the Rolling Stones were for many… a group that just kept on rockin’ no matter how many gray hairs and wrinkles.
I’ve mentioned this before that I think one of the most important things about life is to leave this world a better place than how you found it. To say Adam Yauch accomplished that is a tremendous understatement.
And now, unfortunately, it’s time to pass the mic.
“Be true to yourself and you will never fall.” ~ Beastie Boys