Reflections: Adam Yauch of Beastie Boys

A remembrance of MCA's impact and lasting impression, from an original fan.  

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

“You wanna battle but what you makin’ ain’t hip hop B”

That line from Adam Yauch aka MCA sums up the Beastie Boys perfectly. They were, are and will always be true hip-hop. I haven’t felt as though I had to write something for a very long time, but the passing of MCA is something I had to address. For those of us who grew up with the Beastie Boys, who knew them as a hardcore band and watched their evolution, this death has hit like we lost a friend. So many point to the death of Kurt Cobain as the first true loss of an icon for my generation but it wasn’t, this is. Losing MCA is the first time an artistic hero of mine passed on and it hurt like hell.

I grew up in New York City. I grew up uptown and went to school with kids of all races and ethnicities. I was introduced to rap music at an early age and became utterly fascinated. I dressed like a hip-hop kid, I (tried) to break dance, I obsessively went to a small record store on 47th or 48th in Manhattan to buy rap records. It was the only store that sold them in my borough so a weekend trip was always made to spend my allowance on whatever singles were out from 4th And Broadway, Prism, etc. The first record I ever bought with my own earned money was Run DMC’s first album.

My initial exposure to the rap era of the Beastie Boys was seeing them open for Madonna on the Like A Virgin tour. I knew they were a hardcore band and even though I’d enjoyed the Cookie Puss single, that’s what I was expecting. Instead they came out rapping and, being one of the few white kids into hip-hop in the mid eighties, I was hooked. They had a new single out, She’s On It, and I listened to it constantly.  I was still being ridiculed at school for liking rap, but the release of Run DMC’s Raising Hell had helped to stem that tide of disgust.

When Licensed To Ill came out the world changed for me. Suddenly being a white hip-hop kid was cool. I was asked to perform at talent shows and when I moved through the halls of my school with my very own homemade VW chain, less and less people wanted to beat me up. I learned the words to every single song on Licensed To Ill. I couldn’t master my math homework but I could tell you who sang what line on “The New Style” or rap the entirety of “Slow And Low”. The Beastie Boys ushered hip-hop into the main stream and they did it their way. It was one of my first introductions to saying fuck the world and doing what I felt was right.

The show at the old (old) Ritz was a huge one for me. Not only did I see Public Enemy for the first time, I also saw Murphy’s Law, a band that became the portal to hardcore music and becoming part of a scene that would define me. Already in their debt, I was not ready for how the Beastie Boys’ second album, Paul’s Boutique would change my life. Everybody was ready for Licensed To Ill part two. When Paul’s Boutique dropped, it was so revolutionary and so different that many dismissed it as bad.

For my friends and I, it was genius on a level we couldn’t even comprehend. Suddenly the Beastie Boys weren’t just funny rappers who liked metal, they were artists. I won’t say it was the total reason, but Paul’s Boutique definitely pushed me into becoming the music critic and snob I am today. I still have a thorn in my side over the reaction to Paul’s Boutique. So many people I know hated on that album and have now joined the bandwagon of people who claim they always loved it and it’s the Beastie Boys best record.

As time went on and the Beastie Boys became mature artists of high caliber, none impressed me more than MCA. His dedication to Buddhism, his strive to be a better person and to do real good in this world was inspirational. He also had a flow and a way with words that few could touch. I won’t front, during the early days my love was for Mike D but when Check You Head arrived, the love split evenly between him and MCA. Check Your Head was so different then Paul’s Boutique but it was still the Beastie Boys.

When Ill Communication came out it was similar to Check Your Head but more confident. The Beasties were getting better at playing their instruments and expanding their work into lengthy instrumentals and even some new hardcore jams. I had a personal connection with Hello, Nasty having worked at Nasty Little Man press. For those who don’t know, whenever you answered the phone there you said “Hello, Nasty”. Having represented the Beastie Boys for a long time, it was a fitting tribute to the company. I’ll admit I didn’t love Hello Nasty as much as other albums, but it was still a solid record. To The Five Boroughs was a game changer, it was the Beastie Boys coming full circle and releasing an old school hip-hop album.

During all of this I became increasingly fascinated with MCA’s rhymes. My best friend Brian Smith and I would text his lyrics back and forth randomly, trying to out do the other one. I mean Christ, MCA dropped the names Ernest Shackleton and Orde-Lees in the same line as the word pemmican. When I’d go out and somebody would ask if I was taking the train or driving I’d always respond, “I’ve been driving around its due time that I walk about”. Don’t get me wrong, I still had the love for Mike D, but MCA was the man.

I met the Beastie Boys a couple of times and they were always kind and gracious to this obvious dork kid who worshipped them. They couldn’t have known it, but to me I’d grown up with them. There was not one era of my existence that the Beastie Boys were not a part of. By the time I saw them live for To The Five Boroughs, it was my 10th or 11th time seeing them. The last show was a blessing as I got to see them with Brian Smith, my fellow follower of all things Beastie Boys who had never been able to catch them live.  

So here it is, the first full day of my life knowing that one of my heroes is gone and band that had been the soundtrack to my life is no longer in existence. I know it’s selfish but part of why I hurt, is the knowledge that there will be no more Beastie Boys records. Adam Yauch was the heart of that band and the respect of his two partners is such that they won’t press on without him. Life got a little less bright with the passing of MCA. Mortality hit a little closer to home. Music lost something that it can never get back. However heavy my heart is I still have the memories of all the life events MCA was there narrate. So Yauch, MCA, Nathanial Hornblower or Cochise…..

Thanks for everything man.