Eldest Beastie, Adam “MCA” Yauch took a teen punk adoration for Black Flag, dipped its toe into hip-hop and never looked back, leading the white-boy trio to the top of the Billboard charts before any other artist in their classified genre ever had a chance. Of course Yauch always hated the mention of race in the same sentence as art, and genres are as pointless as oxford commas these days, the Beastie Boys‘ explosion unto the world is still one of music’s great innovative tales. And it couldn’t have been possible without mad-genius Yauch, morphing from a stubble party-hero spitting beer in beatniks‘ faces, to a champion of anti-misogynistic rhymes, encouraging the embracement of peace and equality via Buddhism up until the day of his death at a sad 47-years-young. To that end we salute the man’s five finest messages behind the mic.
Parsing Yauch’s lower register cues were always easy on the ear, balancing out Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz’ spastic whines and Mike “Mike D” Diamond’s snarls with mostly kooky-ass witticisms, of which there are plenty all over the Beastie’s catalogue. This gem from 1994’s fourth effort Ill Communication notwithstanding – “Strictly hand held is the style I go/Never rock the mic with the pantyhose,” Yauch preaches in the third verse. But he’d always follow things up with some resounding intelligence, as with this revolutionary hip-hop misogyny mission statement in the ninth, shaking an industry period dominated by cheap, abusive lyrics, leading the trio into the now iconic refrain, “Because you can’t, you won’t and you don’t stop.”
I want to say a little something that’s long overdue
The disrespect to women has got to be through
To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends
I want to offer my love and respect to the end
On the full force kook end, Yauch seemed to refine his attack with age, always turning the cliche MC chest-thump into more of a dynamic comedic threat. He may have been “cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce” passing the mic around on Check Your Head‘s “So What’cha Want,” but this hand-thrusting assault from outer space on Hello Nasty‘s “Intergalactic” is all at once hilarious and timeless. And tactile. Forever fear the pinch of the Spock-ster.
If you try and knock me you’ll get mocked
I’ll stir fry you in my wok
Your knees’ll start shaking and your fingers pop
Like a pinch from the neck of Mr. Spock
Back to the ethos of the Beasties third effort Check Your Head in ’92, the then 28-years-young Yauch started fully wrapping his arms around spirituality, mainly Buddhism. A relationship that would directly influence the altruistic and culture-conscious trajectory of the band, culminating in a series of Live-Aid-sized concerts dedicated to Tibetan independence, and his attitude toward death and cancer in the end. Of the many references in MCA lyrics, this deep breath of an acid-jazz spoken-word album-closer is the pinnacle of the vibe he set out to seek.
A butterfly floats on the breeze of a sun lit day
As I feel this reality gently fade away
Riding on a thought to see where it’s from
Gliding through a memory of a time yet to come
For comparative sake, Yauch was, as aforementioned, a young punk first and foremost. As high brow as he became, you can’t not channel your inner-teenage gnar and throw your hands up in unison, here. After all, they were New Yorkers. And this is as New York as it gets, on an album – Paul’s Boutique – that only three angry white kids from New York could cut. Besides, makes you appreciate Yauch’s arch.
Yeah I smoke cheeba it helps me with my brain
I might be a little dusted, but I’m not insane
People come up to me and they try to talk shit, MAN
I was making records when you were sucking your mother’s dick
To hammer home the shape of the Beastie Boys post-Ill Communication catalogue, and their latter day instrumental leanings, and Yauch’s effect on the lot, here’s a cut that trails the end of an album with singles like “Sabotage” and “Tough Guy,” abrasive classic signatures of the group. Yauch started championing his respect for his fellow man immediately after his step into Buddhism and Check Your Head. Bodhisattva Vow the term is a reflection of this. Sampling a choir of tibetan monks, Yauch synergized his newfound beliefs with the weaponry of his musicianship in one swift blow, here. And eerily foreshadowed an acceptance of his way out. RIP MCA.
I give thanks for this world as a place to learn
And for this human body that I know I’ve earned
And my deepest thanks to all sentient beings
For without them there would be no place to learn what I’m seeing