Adam Yauch passed away today. You might know him better as MCA, member of Brooklyn-based hip-hop trio the Beastie Boys. It’s tough to put my feelings about his passing into words. It’s pretty rare that any celebrity passing has much of an effect on me. This one is different. While fellow Beasties Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond’s nasal, playful delivery helped earn the group its initial reputation as goofy slackers, it was Yauch’s gritty baritone that kept the group’s sound grounded. When you heard Yauch’s voice in a Beastie Boys song, you heard someone powerful, a voice with soul.
What you might not know about Yauch is that he founded the Milarepa Fund in 1994 to help support efforts toward Tibetan freedom, or that he was a vegan Buddhist who championed women’s rights. While the Beastie Boys became notorious for their excesses in the face of sudden fame, they also used their position in the public eye to help provide voices to those who weren’t being heard. None were more vocal in this regard than Yauch. To quote his verse in 1994’s “Sure Shot”: “I wanna say a little something that’s long overdue/the disrespect to women has got to be through/to all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends/I want to offer my love and respect to the end.” He was a man who practiced what he preached, and he should be remembered not just as a great musician, but as a great human being. A very bright light just went out in the world. It feels like an old friend is gone. However, it’s important not just to mourn the loss of a wonderful individual, but to celebrate the art he left us. Below is a video of the Beastie Boys on Soul Train, performing Paul’s Boutique highlight “Shadrach.” Watch it and smile. That’s how MCA would’ve wanted it.
Your friendly Classroom Assistant,