Profile of Beastie Boys Member Adam “MCA” Yauch

Adam “MCA” Yauch, who is well-regarded by hip-hop fans, was many things. Yauch was an activist, a filmmaker and a founding member of the Beastie Boys. One characteristic distinguishing him from Beastie Boys bandmates Mike Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) was his extraordinary ability to apply knowledge to actual situations.

Yauch’s improvised reel-to-reel tape loop of the drum intro from “When The Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin served as the inspiration for “Rhymin And Stealin,” the opening track on the Beasties’ 1986 debut album, Licensed To Ill, which went on to sell over 10 million copies. This was back in the days before samplers could store more than a few seconds of music at a time.

Beastie Boys started reintroducing live instrumentation into their records after switching to Capitol Records and issuing the 1989 sample-based masterwork Paul’s Boutique, fusing their New York hardcore punk roots with the era’s hip-hop sounds. The key melodies for the fan favorites “Gratitude,” from their 1992 album Check Your Head, and “Sabotage,” from Ill Communication in 1994 were created by Yauch.

His stage moniker, MCA, is an abbreviation for “Master of Ceremonies Adam” while he frequently used the pseudonym Nathaniel Hörnblowér produced many of the Beastie boys’ music videos including “Intergalactic” and “So What’cha Want” and handled the majority of their commercial photography. 

Awesome, a documentary about a Beastie Boys performance, was Yauch’s directorial debut in 2006. In 2008, he also helmed Gunnin’ For That #1 Spott, a film about a bunch of Harlem high school basketball players. Additionally, Wendy and Lucy (2008) and The Messenger (2009) were distributed by his film company.

The artist

Born Adam Nathaniel Yauch in Brooklyn, New York City, Yauch was the only child of Noel, an architect, and Frances, a social worker. He was raised without a religious attachment despite his mother being Jewish and his father having been reared Catholic. The father and son’s lives were both touched by art as they also inspired one another. Noel has been an artist since his early years. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, when abstract expressionism was at its height in New York, he began his career in the arts by studying painting.

Adam was an artist too from a young age who built a darkroom in his family’s house. He was an ardent photographer in high school.  With the Beastie Boys, Yauch indulged in using the band—as well as himself—as his primary subject matter for photography over the years.  He frequently uses a wide-angle or fish-eye lens in his docu/street-style images to catch the Beastie Boys together, frequently at crucial times in their lives such as their first apartments, record covers, and many other moments.

Adam Yauch

His spirituality

In the 1990s, Yauch became a Buddhist after attending a speech by the Dalai Lama in Arizona. In a backpacking trip to Nepal, Yauch became involved in the Free Tibet Movement. His wife Tibetan American Dechen Wangdu whom he met at Harvard University and they wed in 1998. 

He established the Milarepa Fund, one of three organizations that helped establish Students for a Free Tibet, which is currently one of the movement’s leading organizations. The Milarepa Fund is named after Tibet’s most well-known and beloved saint, Milarepa. 

The Milarepa Fund also arranged further benefit concerts with the Beastie Boys and other artists. It also planned a 9/11 benefit concert for those who were thought to be least likely to get assistance from other sources. Yauch reached out to some of the finest artists of our day and arranged a series of massive concerts in North America, Europe, and Asia from 1996 to 2001 in accordance with his conviction, that, change in Tibet can only come via grassroots pressure and public awareness. 

By doing this, Yauch contributed to transforming the Tibetan cause from a marginal concern into a significant political force.

Getting sick

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Yauch admitted to having a malignant tumor in a salivary gland in 2009. The outcome was that the band postponed the release of an album and cancelled its upcoming shows. Yauch lost his fight with throat cancer on May 4, 2012, following a three-year struggle. His wife Dechen Wangdu and their daughter Tenzin Losel are still alive.

The hardcore/punk band Bad Brains’ dedicated their 2012 album Into the Future to Yauch, a longtime supporter and friend when he passed away. Yauch produced in 2007 Bad Brains’ comeback album Build a Nation.

The Beastie Boys was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in April 2012. Yauch, however, was unable to be there during the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Before he died, Yauch requested that his music not be used in advertisements, however the legality of this request has been contested. Then, a ceremony to rename the Palmetto Playground in Brooklyn Heights as Adam Yauch Park took place on May 3, 2013.

Passing away at the age of 47, Yauch have produced a significant collection of work in his short life, which stands as a powerful and enduring testament to his life as an artist.

Beastie Boys

Created as a hardcore punk band, the Beastie Boys evolved over the years to focus more on hip-hop and rap and became immensely successful. The Beastie Boys, who blended punk and rap, burst on the music scene in 1986 with the album “Licensed to Ill,” which included hits like “(You Gotta) Fight for the Right (to Party),” an anthem to teen angst; “Brass Monkey,” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” The group had four No. 1 singles by 2010 and had sold 40 million albums globally.

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The Beastie Boys’ breakthrough in hip-hop was significant at a period when African-American artists dominated the genre. The group’s music cut through boundaries of genre and race and promoted rap to a larger audience. Their rap with rock and punk influences has had a big influence on musicians inside and beyond the hip-hop industry.