I get texts, lots of them. Texts to remind me to pick my 8 year old, texts to alert me of projects, texts to take out the trash. Thank you Google calender for simplifying my life. My text alert went off Friday from my old buddy Jake. It read: “RIP MCA. Sad fucking day.” Right then and there my heart dropped. It’s not like I forgot about Adam Yauch, one third of the Beastie Boys (and my favorite member), or the fact that he had cancer. When talking about the Beasties’ induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recently with my wife and Yauch being absent, a red flag kind of went up. I still kept the faith, the Beasties will be back. I sat at my desk for a minute, and I was very sad. The Beastie Boys were a group I grew up with, and just like your grandparents, you always thought they would be around. This news triggered a bunch of memories from my life that I wanted to share.
My first run in with the Beastie Boys was the Cooky Puss EP. I made my parents drive me to mall deep in South Jersey to go get the thing. To a teen with a Sony record/ cassette player, this would be a welcome edition to the Rolling Stones and various Classic Rock records that had been passed down to me by different family members. I was intrigued by the phony phone call put to a back beat. The next run in I had with the Beastie Boys was License To Ill. As a 17 year old with new found freedom and a driver’s license, my 1973 Plymouth Duster with a V8 and an auto-reverse cassette player would wear out multiple copies of the tape. These rappers, who were close to my age, were all over the place, and the sampled Led Zeppelin drum breaks and Rock guitars kept my attention until Paul’s Boutique. At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It wasn’t the same as License to Ill, but after thinking twice about trading it in, I kept it. In fact, it went from my number one stoned headphone record to my absolute number one record of all time. Yes, I too was once dumb and reckless like the Beasties, and as they have matured from the beer swilling, giant penis inflating ruffians from “the City”, so have I. I grew to appreciate the relationship with the Dust Brothers, the amount of sampling that was actually done on the record, and the sheer brilliance of their second album. There will never be another record like that made ever.
When college rolled around, Check Your Head not only brought the hardcore aspect back into their music and had them pick up their instruments again (by then I was listening to Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and Black Flag among others so I could relate), but it also broadened my horizons even further with more of the Jazz, Funk, Soul, and Reggae that Paul’s Boutique started to touch upon. I searched for those original records. I looked for Eugene McDaniels records, I went deeper into Sly Stone and I read up on the obscure references. I also was influenced by their fashion as well. While traveling I managed to grab all the Ben Davis I could (my East Coast friends were still wearing Carhartt). These white dudes were embracing Hip Hop culture, they weren’t herbs, they were actually cool. They were introducing and preserving a whole new part of music to me that I never knew existed. While most of the world dismissed them for their License to Ill shenanigans, I found these dudes to be visionaries. They were the keepers of cool. By the time Ill Communication came out, I got an advance copy from Captiol through my music internship and I thought I’d won the lottery. I was a DJ on college radio and was able to play not only the Beasties, but records they were influenced by. So now I could share my learning experience. They even had their own record label and magazine, and I went to great lengths to get the publication. When I had my business, their clothing label Xtra Large was one of my accounts, and when I went to the showroom below the office of Dr. Allesandro Allegre (see Sabotage video), I felt like I was in some secret club.
“ I’m glad to know that all the love that Yauch has put out into the world is coming right back at him. ” -Ad Rock, May 2012
When Hello Nasty eventually came out, I had seen the Beasties a few times. I saw them in Philly when they performed in the round with ATCQ (and I almost got into a [hello] nasty head on collision while en route to the show, and would have been a goner if it wasn’t for the great driving skills of DJ Prime Mundo) and a few times in NYC. I felt honored to see these guys who I looked up to. A two day stint for the Tibetan Freedom Concert again in NYC where there was a stampede and I ended sitting next to Ben Harper on the concrete bleachers of Randall’s Island (and got a wave from Yauch as he walked through the crowd to the stage) and a sold out show at Madison Square Garden (where Bad Brains cancelled last minute to open) made me realize what innovators they really were. The last time I saw them was at their all instrumental tour in Atlantic City. This was from the front row. During their encore they put the instruments down and grabbed the mics and got busy.
As I grew older, I felt like the Beastie Boys were some older step brothers that were showing me (and consequently millions of others) the ropes. On a side note, my other six degrees of separation with the boys came as I was in my 30’s. I worked for a company that ran the Wu Tang clan Wu Wear site. The Wu had made a killing years earlier selling their Wullabee shoes, their take on Clarks. As the production stopped, and the supply dwindled, I got an order in from a familiar name one day: Adam Horowitz. Not only did Ad Rock get the shoes we sent, but entertained the whole office by signing the required signature for the package as the great Yankee catcher Rick Cerrone. Classic Beastie and NYC humor, it was that kind of stuff that made the Beastie Boys special. On their later records, To the 5 Boroughs and Hot Sauce Committee Part 1 as well as The Mix Up, their beats matured, they visited post punk Gang of Four rhythms, but they just got better. They were more politically aware, and had influence on many of their fans. These NYC natives now had a global influence. I recently attended a photography exhibition in honor of the Beastie Boys two days before induction to the RRHOF. Sunny Bak, the photographer who had taken many early photos of the band was signing copies of the new Def Jam book with the great Bill Adler. Along the walls were many images I remember distinctly from my childhood. The actual photos from the posters I had (and wish I kept) from the early days, a nod to the start of one of the most influential bands of all time. Still, in the back of my mind I still had hope that I’d get to see them one more time.
When it was announced that MCA had cancer, the thought that he would die never crossed my mind. After all, he was 4 years my senior, and he initial reports stated that he could make a recovery. As time passed, tours were cancelled, record releases were delayed, and when just two Beasties showed up at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, it was startling to say the least. Again I thought possibly he was getting treatment, couldn’t travel, and that the Beasties would perform again. Unfortunately, my eternal optimism would not prevail. Adam Yauch died and a little bit of the Beastie Boys died in all of us. I would like to thank MCA, Mike D, and Ad Rock for changing my life. Their entire career they continued to innovate and influence not just me, but generations of musicians to come. Who knows what the world would have been like if these grandfathers of Hip Hop didn’t spread the message of their music from NYC to every corner of the earth. Maximum respect to the founder of the Beasties Adam Yauch, and may he rest in peace knowing that he touched so many people with the music they all made. There was only one MCA, and one Beastie Boys. There will never be another of each that single-handedly changed the face of the music game.