R.I.P. Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys, 1964-2012

Beastie Boys fans the world over are reeling today following the tragic news that Adam Yauch aka MCA has passed away at the age of 47, following a long battle with cancer. Brooklyn-born Yauch was diagnosed with a cancerous parotid gland in 2009, but he had remained optimistic and proactive about his chances for recovery since, even as his illness kept the group from performing live over the last few years, delayed the release of their final album, Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2, and forced him to sit out the Beastie Boys’ recent induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Even with that knowledge, his untimely death still comes as a shock. Beastie Boys were not only one of the most important and influential pop culture forces of the past three decades, but they were also a defining, world-shaping voice of most of our youths. Yauch’s hoarse delivery on the mic, funky bass playing, and hilarious music videos (directed under the pseudonym “Nathaniel Hornblower”) were all key contributions to the Beasties appeal. He was also an activist, becoming an important voice in the Tibetan independence movement by creating the Milarepa Fund, as well as the founder of film studio Oscilloscope Laboratories, which distributed independent films such as Exit Through The Gift Shop, The Messenger and Bellflower, as well as his own basketball documentary Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot. With his shock of grey hair and zen-like demeanour, Yauch – even more than fellow Beasties Ad-Rock and Mike D – was our role model for ageing gracefully. He became a Buddhist and vegan later in his life, and seemed to serve as the group’s conscience without sacrificing any of their party-time appeal (the AV Club have posthumously labelled Yauch “the George Harrison of the Beastie Boys”). On a selfish note, I’m devastated by the realisation that I’ll never get to experience the Beastie Boys live, but even more than that I feel like I’ve lost a friend. Yauch always had a relatable everyman quality about him, and seemed to be a fundamentally decent guy who retained his humanity and humility after years in the spotlight. Farewell, MCA, and thank you for the wonderful music. A round-up of tributes and remembrances, as well as highlights from Yauch’s impressive career, follows below.

Beastie Boys have released an official statement on the passing of Adam “MCA” Yauch, which you can read in full below.

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.

Fellow artists have been posting tributes to and remembrances of Yauch on their respective sites throughout the day, and you can check out a few of these below.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs:

R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe:

?uestlove of The Roots:

Thom Yorke of Radiohead:

In typical fashion, The Onion posted a perhaps-too-soon yet still funny tribute to Yauch.

Tributes to Yauch have been flooding Twitter since the news broke earlier today. Below is a selection of Tweets from a range of artists and influential people who’s lives were touched by MCA and the Beastie Boys.

The Washington Post have posted an apt tribute to Yauch, creating a poem out of his own lyrics.

A Tribute to Adam Yauch, Composed Entirely of Beastie Boys Lyrics

Born and bred Brooklyn — U.S.A.
They call me Adam Yauch but I’m M.C.A.
Like a lemon to a lime, a lime to a lemon
I sip the def ale with all the fly women
I’m not James at 15 or Chachi in charge
I’m Adam and I’m adamant about living large
I’ve got more rhymes than I’ve got gray hairs
And that’s a lot because I’ve got my share
Now what do we have here, an outlaw and his beer
I run this land, you understand, I make myself clear.
M.C. for what I am and do
the A is for Adam and the lyrics; true
so as pray and hope and the message is sent
and I am living in the dreams that I have dreamt
I wish for peace between the races
Someday we shall all be one
That’s right y’all
Don’t get uptight y’all
I’m out and I’m gone
I tell you now I keep it on and on.

Stereogum have posted a terrific collection of 20 great MCA moments, which I highly recommend taking a look at. Here’s one of those moments below, from back in ’96 when the Beasties and Q-Tip performed ‘Get It Together’ (one of my all-time favourite jams) at the first Tibeton Freedom Concert in San Francisco.

Yauch was a monster of a bass player. Check him out below on the Beastie Boys’ rendition of ‘Sabotage’ – possibly their defining track – at the 1994 MTV Awards.

In June 2004, Yauch wrote a letter to The New York Times as his directorial character Nathaniel Hornblower, protesting Stephanie Zackarek’s negative review of his video for ‘Ch-Check It Out’. Yauch’s response is a prime example of his hilarious wit.

To the Editor:

I had the great pleasure of reading your unsolicited critique of the ”Ch-Check It Out” music video [”Licensed to Stand Still” by Stephanie Zacharek, May 16]. It took some time to get to me, as it had to be curried (sp?) on goatback through the fjords of my homeland, the Oppenzell. And in the process the goat died, and then I had to give the mailman one of my goats, so remember, you owe me a goat.

Anyway, that video is big time good. Pauline Kael is spinning over in her grave. My film technique is clearly too advanced for your small way of looking at it. Someday you will be yelling out to the streets below your windows: ”He is the chancellor of all the big ones! I love his genius! I am the most his close personal friend!”

You journalists are ever lying. I remember people like you laughing at me at the university, and now they are all eating off of my feet. You make this same unkind laughter at the Jerry Lewis for his Das Verruckte Professor and now look, he is respected as a French-clown. And you so-call New York Times smarties are giving love to the U2 because they are dressing as the Amish and singing songs about America? (Must I dress as the Leprechaun to sing songs about Ireland so that you will love me? You know the point I make here is true!)

In concluding, ”Ch-Check It Out” is the always best music film and you will be realizing this too far passing. As ever I now wrap my dead goat carcass in the soiled New York Times — and you are not forgetting to buy me a replacement! Please send that one more goat to me now!



The writer, whose real name is Adam Yauch, is a member of the Beastie Boys. He directs their music videos under the pseudonym Nathanial Hornblower.

While promoting To The Five Burroughs in 2004, the Beastie Boys performed ‘Ch-Check It Out’ on the Late Show with David Letterman. Starting in the NYC subway, moving up into the streets, and then ending up in the studio, this is without a doubt the coolest late-night TV performance I’ve seen, and a testament to how inventive, fun and just goddamn great these guys were live.

Under the pseudonym “Nathaniel Hornblower”, Yauch directed some of the Beastie Boys’ most iconic music videos. Check out a selection of his best below.

Yauch also directed the Beastie Boys’ live documentary Awesome, I Fuckin Shot That! and the basketball documentary called Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot, which was distributed by his own Oscilloscope Laboratories. Check out the trailers for both below.

Early last year, Yauch also directed the music video for ‘Make Some Noise’ under his own name. The video is a sequel to the group’s 1987 breakthrough hit ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)’, featuring Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, and Elijah Wood as the younger Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock respectively, and Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and Jack Black as the older versions. A cameo-intensive 30-minute short film, titled Fight for Your Right Revisited, was also released last year and sent Beastie Boys’ fans to heaven. Check out the hilarious short below.

The New York Times posted an obituary for Yauch today, which you can read an excerpt from below.

Adam Yauch, a rapper and founder of the pioneering and multimillion-selling hip-hop group the Beastie Boys, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 47.

His mother, Frances Yauch, confirmed his death. He had been treated for cancer of the salivary gland for the last three years.

With a scratchy voice that grew scratchier through the years, Mr. Yauch rapped as MCA in the Beastie Boys, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. They offered many listeners in the 1980s their first exposure to hip-hop. They were vanguard white rappers who helped extend the art of sampling and gained the respect of their African-American peers.

While many hip-hop careers are brief, the Beastie Boys appealed not only to the fans they reached in the 1980s but to successive generations, making million-selling albums into the 2000s. They grew up without losing their sense of humor or their ear for a party beat.

Mr. Yauch (pronounced yowk) was a major factor in the Beastie Boys’ evolution from their early incarnation, as testosterone-driven pranksters, to their later years as sonic experimenters, as socially conscious rappers — championing the cause of freedom in Tibet — and as keepers of old-school hip-hop memories. The Beastie Boys became an institution — one that could have arisen only amid the artistic, social and accidental connections of New York City.

1 comment

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  1. Ross

    Nice work Dom. This band played a big part in shaping who I am today.

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