MCA's Death and Legacy
I was really bummed out about the death of Adam Yauch (MCA of the Beastie Boys) when the news came on Friday afternoon. The Beastie Boys were never my favorite group and I never worshipped them the way others did, but I always enjoyed and appreciated their music and, furthermore, it was comforting that they were always there. Since 1986. While groups, posses, and record labels formed and disbanded, MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D never went anywhere. Like hip-hop’s version of U2, they emerged every few years with a new album and a new sound, which always sounded fresh and great. They were masters of rock, hip-hop, punk, and instrumentation.
MCA isn't the first musician I really like to die, but this one feels different from the others. 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. were two of my favorites, but they constantly foretold of their deaths and were the victims (at least partially) of a stupid bicoastal hip-hop civil war that was heightened greatly by a media that fanned the flames. I liked Big Punisher, but he was never one of my favorites and had released only one album before he died in his sleep, the result of weighing over 400 pounds. Not exactly a shock. My favorite hip-hop act of all time will always be Wu-Tang Clan but Ol’ Dirty Bastard was always an acillary figure in the group to me, and the last few years of his life were filled with drugs and arrests with very few musical contributions. To me, he hadn’t been part of the Clan since Wu-Tang Forever.
But MCA was different. His lyrics didn't revolve around violence. He wasn't morbidly obese or haunted by his demons. He was a 47 year-old man that died of cancer. It’s rare to grow old in hip-hop and it’s virtually unheard of to grow old in hip-hop without losing your relevance. MCA’s death reminds us that we’re no longer young. Licensed to Ill was released 26 years ago and, like MCA, we’ve all grown up and old, despite our best efforts to stop the process.
Since MCA’s passing, very prominent online writers have paid their tributes to the man. He was nearly 50, which meant that he was old enough to come into our lives when we were young and, unlike many others, he stayed there. We grew up together. I was 6 when Licensed to Ill came out and as I grew and matured, so did the Beasties’ music. They were the soundtrack to our lives and, like a true soundtrack, they weren’t a part of every single scene of our lives, but they were a constant throughout. They gained the respect of Run-DMC and Public Enemy at a time when white kids weren’t supposed to like hip-hop, let alone perform it. They made it okay for me to like (and attempt) the art of rap.
I wasn’t alone. Future generations of musicians in every genre would cite them as influences, none more so than one Jay-Z: “Back in summer 2009, the Beastie Boys were forced to pull out of their scheduled headlining performance at the All Points West music festival in Jersey City, N.J. Yauch had just announced that he'd been diagnosed with cancer, and the group was forced to cancel a lot of shows as he sought treatment. Jay-Z gamely stepped in for the gig. He dedicated his entire performance to Yauch and opened the show with a cover of ‘No Sleep till Brooklyn.’”
No matter how many times I watch it, that performance still gives me chills. For all the criticism lobbed at him, no one questions Jay-Z’s status as a student of hip-hop and he knew what the Beasties did for the genre. Sadly, I never saw the Beastie Boys live and it will be one of the great regrets of my music-loving life.
The Beastie Boys released six platinum albums, but none were as important, or as great, as Paul’s Boutique. Since it dropped when I was nine years old, I was too young to appreciate it at the time (though my older brother kept lauding its virtues to me). However, I will always maintain that it is one of the ten greatest hip-hop albums ever made, right up there with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and Ready to Die. Originally a Dust Brothers instrumental album, the Boys decided to rhyme over the complex, multilayered, and stacked samples that will never be replicated due to copyright laws. It’s a timeless album, one that will sound fresh and innovative no matter when it is played. Maybe that’s the best tribute of all.
Rest in Peace, MCA. I’ll always be grateful for your genius.