In Memoriam – Adam Yauch
A few words on the painful loss of Adam Yauch and what he and the Beastie Boys meant to us here.
by: Tom Rau
You can’t measure the impact the Beastie Boys have had on both music itself and also the kids of my generation. It is just too large and unquantifiable. It’s like trying to measure the impact Babe Ruth had on baseball. The Beastie Boys were, quite simply, the Led Zeppelin of my youth. I’m a white dude who loves to rap and play bass, do I even need to go on as to the influence M.C.A. had on me personally? I’ll just say this, the attitude that they showed us all as kids has been one of the largest and most defining blueprints of my life. I can think of only two other times when celebrity news has affected me on a deep personal level; when Magic Johnson came out with HIV and when Kurt Cobain killed himself. This one trumps the others though because I think kids of my generation, we feel in a way like we are Beastie Boys. Somehow they made that possible. Their “fuck you” to the man seemed all inclusive. Like we could all join in for the chorus. And they never beat a message down on our throat, even though the message was always clear, do what you have to do and do it loudly, and if people think you are crazy they can go fuck a sandwich. People thought they were a novelty act. So with typical Beastie Boy aplomb and indignation they turned around and made one of the best records, Paul’s Boutique, of all time. And when they were done helping hip hop become America’s next great art form they did something truly great and taught generations of young people about the plight of Tibetian freedom.
The passing of Adam Yauch is sad on so many levels. Not only because his death represents the passing of one of the most influential and unique musical outfits in history, but also because he touched so many musical giants on such deep personal levels. From Chuck D and ?uestlove to Madonna and Coldplay; if you haven’t go read what these people had to say. It will make you cry. I can’t think of many times in my life where I have seen such outpourings of unconditional love from so many people. Maybe not since the death of Princess Diana. It was extremely sad and extremely beautiful just to get to read how much love people had for Adam Yauch. And It’s not that they are just sad about the passing of a friend, it’s that he changed their lives, gave them an opportunity, taught them about life, or business, or music. And because somehow in the middle of helping change the landscape of music forever, he also found a way to hold onto the reckless feelings of youth, teach us all something about helping other people, and remain eternally cool. If one great thing is to come from his death it’s that right now there are a ton of little kids learning the ultimate Beastie Boy lesson, “you can’t, you won’t and you don’t stop”, even when you finally do.
by: Douglas Grant
Where to start? I don’t even know where to begin. I guess I’ll start with Check your Head, which I would consider a pivotal moment in the deepening of my respect for the Beastie Boys. Not only is this the album where the three of them broke out their instruments to lay down some serious punk, funk, and jazz, but one where the beats were so nefarious, and charged with electricity. I knew then that they’d honed their craft to a game changing new level. And what MCA was bringing to the table at the time was genuinely transcendental.
The MC: The method they used to distort their voices was put into effect on this album, and it made MCA’s gravelly voice contrast even more starkly with Adrock and Mike D.’s high pitched and sometimes whiny monotone. His flow was better than ever, and it matured throughout the production of all subsequent albums. His lyrics were no joke either, and you could see in them his maturation since Paul’s Boutique as well.
The Musician: What an eclectic collection of songs these guys produced. They crossed over into so many different genres. Even country was tapped into (See 5-piece Chicken Dinner). Watching him play standup bass during some of the jazzier stuff you could see a perfect coupling of raw talent and diligent lifelong practice, and you could hear a gift that was reserved, a gift that was different from his hip-hop and that was maybe only busted out once in a long while. His mean bass on the harder songs reminded us that his true beginnings are rooted in punk, not hip-hop.
The Comedian: His comedic timing was perfect on the skits and videos, especially as Nathaniel Hornblower. Since there was often no dialogue, he had to rely heavily on physical comedy, another thing he had an innate talent for. His portrayal of both Cochese and Sir Stewart Wallace in Sabotage surely helped to lock their win of MTV’s video of the year.
Nathan Wind: “I love guns. And I love arresting people and telling people what to do because I like being in charge.”
The Filmmaker: He was a talented director of music videos, and he had the clout to do it because the Beastie Boys pretty much helped define the culture of the music video, a dying breed. His novel approach to filming Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!, where he gave out a bunch of cameras out to fans to shoot a live show of theirs, was something I’d never seen before.
The Philanthropist: His activism for Tibetan human rights will never be forgotten. I observed a spiritual change in him over the years, a change that many people hope for but so few ever attain. What an accomplished life he had.
Few artists have had such an integral and long lasting impact on my life as Adam Yauch. I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember and it’s still hard to believe this is the end of an era. However, his passing has called to memory many good times and many good friends. I’m lucky to have had a trio of such gifted musicians put down the music that accompanies so many great recollections.
by: Michael Shields
I, like many, can’t help thinking of the Beastie Boy’s earlier work as the soundtrack to my youth. In 1987 I was 9, and I vividly remember jacking the “cassette with the plane on on it” from my older brother’s1 room and rocking in mine to the animated anthems and sounds which were so novel, so damn captivating. I will never forget this album as it was my introduction into so many things (i.e. hip-hop) but there was another, one that awoke a dormant part of my soul. In 19932, I was a freshman in high school, and there is only one album I associate directly with this period. An album that changed me. That opened my mind and literally sent me forth in a direction of musical taste and openness that I will forever be thankful for.
I have heard it aptly described as the Sgt Peppers of rap. I also once heard that Miles Davis said he could never imagine tiring of listening to it, a notion I couldn’t be more on board with as although my tastes have changed with time – my love for Paul’s Boutique has never faltered.
Paul’s Boutique is an album that couldn’t happen today. Literally. The first and most obvious reason for this is that no one out there is that ill, not even close. The second reason is that the laws of the land won’t allow it. We are now living in the era which follows the landmark Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros Records Inc case where Biz Markie was pitted against Gilbert O’Sullivan in an unwinnable battle. The result forever changed the future of hip-hop sampling, making it nearly impossible to use popular works – or very expensive at least. In total 1053 songs were sampled on Paul’s Boutique. This interwoven sampling technique, made possible by the Dust Brothers, created a thick myriad of recognizable music fused seamlessly with the Beastie Boys in your face flow that blew the roof off the industry, the genre, and an entire generation.
It was full of anthems (I still find myself chanting “Looking down the barrel of a gun, son of a gun, son of a bitch, getting paid, getting rich”), amazing lyricism4 containing fully constructed narratives (personally I believe they were at the height of their lyrical genius), and although each song is it’s own distinct entity the flow of the overall album is a complete package, a full conceptualized work of art. The album was so far ahead of it’s time5 that any criticism of the album upon release, of which there was plenty, makes perfect sense – they just didn’t understand it.
Paul’s Boutique was a risk in that it was such a departure from their previous album, the one with the plane on it that was the first hip-hop album to top the billboard charts. The crafty use of sampling created such a dense sound landscape that the record could almost be described as psychedelic. This risk is one that paid off. In spades. One that built a loyal fan base that will forever remain so, and one that changed the way I listen to music in perpetuum. It is not to much to say that I owe my diverse, eclectic, and often just flat out strange taste in music to this pivotal piece of work.
by: Giancarlo Ciammaichella
Never would I think that the day would come that I would write a post like this. I’ve never been the type to get emotionally attached to anything but today, after hearing the news of Mr. Yauch’s passing, sadness took over.
I can honestly say that the Beastie Boys are the first group I remember listening to and being a fan of. Growing up in the suburbs and living a pretty privileged life (admit it, you did too) I thought these guys were the greatest thing ever. I always enjoyed hip-hop but I didn’t feel a connection to it until the Beasties. They were living the life that every white male wanted to live (at least during their Licensed to Ill days). Drinking, partying, fucking….what was there not to like? But that was just their first album and they showed and proved that they were more than that. Coming from a punk background and embracing the urban lifestyle of New York City, they embodied the true essence of the city that they loved so much. Never did they stray from their roots. As the years went by, their music changed and guess what, their audience was OK with that. Rarely do you see that in today’s music. It was a different time, an obvious statement, but an important one I think. They grew up and so did their audience. But their audience stayed true to them as they did to the music. I can’t say I was a huge fan of their last couple of albums but I did respect what they did and that’s huge. I never felt that they were doing something just to stay relevant or cash a check. You could see that they loved what they did and more importantly respected the art-form. They tried to give back as much as they had prospered from it. An example of this can be found in Questlove’s remembrance of The Root’s first tour with the Beasties.
I feel like this is a seminal moment in “Generation X’s” lifetime, or at least it is for me. Yes I listened to Nirvana and Kurt Cobain’s death (just one example) was a tragedy but his music didn’t reach me like the Beastie’s. We’re getting older. As much as we don’t want to think about it, it’s true, and guess what…it sucks. But if the young punk kids from NYC drinking Budweisers can grow up to be humanitarians, activists and all around good dudes….there’s still hope for me.
Perhaps it’s time for all of you to Check Your Head and give a little Gratitude to one of the true pioneers of music. Little do you know but there’s a little Beastie in all of us.
R.I.P Adam Yauch
- License to Ill came out in 1986 but something my brother was never accused of being was ahead of the times. [↩]
- Paul’s Boutique came out in 1989, I have much in common with my brother. [↩]
- 24 on the last track alone. [↩]
- A quick note on MCA’s flow. Mike D and Ad Rock are the truth, no doubt about that….but I always considered MCA the anchor of the crew. His voice was the deepest and somehow kept the others grounded, tethered to the dock. [↩]
- This oft use cliche has never been more appropriate or true. Never. [↩]