On Friday, the world lost one of the most important pioneers in the world of music. Adam “MCA” Yauch passed away after a three year battle with cancer, first diagnosed in 2009, and leaving behind a diverse and meaningful career in his wake. He was 47, and he is survived by his wife, Denchen; his daughter, Tenzin Losel; and his parents, Frances and Noel Yauch.
Now, this blog is predominantly dedicated to works of garage, psych, and classic rock. But the reality is this: The Beastie Boys were the first band to mean anything to me, and its through their unfathomable references and obscure-sample heavy style that provided a gateway to my love of psychedelic and classic rock, among all the other forms of music that happened to inform the Beastie Boys’ style. And, hell, even their cult-favoritism applied to even geekier venues than previously thought, and made me appreciate the sort of wild B-culture that brought me to the record stores, that brought me to found footage festivals, drive-ins, and underground shows in the first place. Listening to the Beastie Boys is a declaration that you wish to seek something, to understand something deeper, and go beyond music’s function to make you dance and have a good time. With Beastie Boys, and whatever genre they happen to be playing at a given time, it is about reaching into the essence of music itself, and finding that no matter what is being said, the creators are approaching this moment, live or recorded, is doing so with full heart and soul.
And this is particularly true of Adam Yauch, the soul of the group. At his suggestion, the band grew beyond the immature pranksters who downed beer after beer on stage and danced around hydraulic phalli on stage. His voice, which stood out from his brothers-in-arms Mike D. and Ad-Rock, not just for it’s apparent raspy qualities, but because he used it to to impart nuggets of political wisdom and spiritual clarity. He often married his personal interests to the group, which included independent film and Buddhism, resulting in his directing of some of the group’s finest videos, and the foundation of the Milarepa Fund and the Free Tibet concerts back in the 1990’s. Though not the focus for the entire band, the sounds (and visuals) that came through these individual explorations pushed the band, and their identity, into places unfathomable perhaps even to them when they first started out as some snotty hardcore band in the early 80’s, and certainly unpredictably from their License to Ill days.
The world has lost a great rapper, musician, director, humanitarian, and all-around great person. And though I did not know him personally, I believe that his contributions to his own projects helped foster a love for the unexpected and outsider aspects of music, as well as introduced me to the fringe elements of culture in general. I will miss him, and his music, just as much as any person who has ever put on a Beastie Boys album, and felt that there was something extraordinary and different happening in that moment.
After the jump, a personal tour through the best of Adam Yauch and Beastie Boys.
Egg Raid on Mojo
One of the tracks that made them famous, this is from the earliest days of the band and they first released an EP called Pollywog Stew. On this cut, there’s Adam on bass, Mike D. on vocal duty, then-guitarist John Berry, and drummer Kate Schellenbach, who would later drum for 90’s alternative darlings, Luscious Jackson.
No Sleep Til Brooklyn
A song so bad-ass, that even New York Senator Chuck Schumer quoted it in tribute to MCA. Generally, the song is an even performance out of every Beastie Boy, but MCA’s raspy growl leads the charge in the chant-along chorus.
Mike on the Mic (from “B-Boy Bouillabaisse”)
Trading verses with Ad-Rock, MCA they both pay tribute to Mike D., who’s probably standing off to the corner for some reason or another. But what’s significant about this track is how they traded verses, switching the percussion supporting Ad-Rock and MCA each — Ad-Rock with a full turntable set-up, and MCA with a beat-boxer imitating the same rhythm. Here, it’s more like a perfect reflection of the man himself: natural and human.
Jimmy James [O.G. Version]
Every sample here, more or less, was hand-picked by MCA himself, and the majority of what you hear in this song is a collection of Jimi Hendrix samples. The main beat comes from a Hendrix rarity called “Happy Birthday,” but throughout you can hear snippets from “Foxey Lady,” “Third Stone from the Sun,” “EXP,” “Are You Experienced?,” “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” and “Still Raining, Still Dreaming.” But even from there, his introduction to the track, “People how you doing there’s a new day dawning,” marked a departure not only for the band’s approach and sound, but inches them closer to the more conscious Beastie Boys of the 90’s. Additionally, the video (which does not feature the ‘O.G. version,’ but one that had to find other samples to substitute for the Hendrix samples that the Hendrix Estate would not clear) was credited to his directorial alter-ego, Horatio Hornblower.
Listen. To. That. Bass. The whole track is the basis for what summer afternoons would sound like for years to come, especially to the extreme sports crowd. BUT: THAT. BASS! Fat, and in your face, yet simple and soulful.
So What’cha Want (Video)
Another entry in the Nathanial Hornblower Hall of Fame. In addition to the photo-negative effect, you have to admire how they are able to rap in slow motion for the sake of the video. A real mind-fuck in the perception of time.
Again, he is not afraid to make the bass the forefront of a bad-ass soul-jazz track, and give it the punk edge that makes it distinctly Beastie.
A personal interpretation of the Bodhisattva vow taken by newly-confirmed Buddhists as a promise to teach others about the path to Nirvana, and not to keep enlightenment as a personal goal as a sole focus in life. Here’s a live version.
So much has been written about this song. I’m just going to leave it, once again, as LISTEN. TO. THAT. BASS.
I Don’t Know
Not the best example of Adam Yauch’s singing voice, as limited as it was (though soulful and human, and appealing in that way), Adam recorded two songs influenced by the Brazillian bossa nova genre meant for Hello Nasty. Unfortunately, only one would make it on to the album, but the other would soon follow up on their premature anthology collection (that’s still worth checking out, if only for the impressive scope of their range and talents).
The alternative track that was recorded for Hello Nasty, and is in very much the same vein as the track posted above. I would debate one song is, perhaps, more significant lyrically than the other, especially in regards to Yauch’s personal believes, but one certainly fits the aesthetic of Hello Nasty better. It was later added to The Sounds of Science anthology.
The Rat Cage
Perhaps a tribute to the Beastie Boys’ first distributor way back when? Regardless, a bad-ass potential spy-movie soundtrack, all thanks to a smooth, mysterious bassline laid down by MCA.
Lee Majors Come Again
After years of off-and-on touring and the unfortunate diagnosis of MCA’s health, Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2, the follow-up to The Mix-Up, was released last year. The album was a return to form, the glory of the early 90’s albums: a perfect statement of their ability to handle any and all genres, and marrying the two when they can. And most of their hardcore efforts, it’s MCA’s thick, fuzzed-out bass that guides the way through this reckless, joyful trip back to the A-7 Club.