For a generation of rap fans who grew up in the 1980s, the Beastie Boys served as their entry to rap music.
For the generation of music fans who came of age in the 1990s, the Beastie Boys were sonic trailblazers who credibly merged rap with rock – and even played the instruments – making the skateboard scene fully comfortable with its affinity for rap.
During the last decade-plus, the Beastie Boys – Adam Yauch, Adam Horovitz and Mike Diamond – also served as humanitarians who pushed for human rights in Tibet and elsewhere.
Although Yauch, who went by the name MCA, was integral in each phase of the Beastie Boys’ evolution, he was the most vocal human rights advocate of the trio. He died Friday, May 4, due to complications from cancer. He was 47.
The Beastie Boys emerged in the 1980s out of New York City. They were a raucous group, whose wild, rock-fueled songs, such as “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and “Fight For Your Right” made white fans comfortable listening to rap, which was for the first time being presented by white artists. As evidenced by their videos and performances, the group were having fun living the lifestyle of rap stars -- but the Beastie Boys were no novelty act.
Produced by Rick Rubin, the group’s debut album, 1986’s “Licensed To Ill,” contained a nonstop onslaught of block-rocking beats, scratching and imaginative stories (some of which were co-written by Run-DMC’s DMC).
With its distinctive, unorthodox beat, “Paul Revere” became one of the most sampled and referenced song in rap history, while “Hold It Now, Hit It,” “Slow And Low” and “Time To Get Ill” are also songs that have been sampled and reused by dozens of artists.
The Beastie Boys were also signed to Def Jam Recordings and toured extensively with Run-DMC, two more testaments to their credibility.
After the groundbreaking success of “Licensed To Ill,” the Boys moved to California, split with Rubin and Def Jam, reshaped their sound and became more involved with the music-making process as each of them started defining their roles in the group.
Whereas Horovitz (Ad-Rock) dropped silly punchlines and Diamond (Mike D) had a penchant for making obscure references in his rhymes, MCA often took a more sage approach.
MCA’s lyrical angle made his evolution into directing (he used the pseudonym Nathanial Hornblower), Buddhism and the Tibetan independent movement seem natural.
The Beastie Boys started off as a punk band, became superstars as rowdy, hard-partying rappers and evolved into artists who revered the bare-bones sound of old-school rap as they infused their work with live instruments.
Due to the complications caused by his cancer, MCA was not able to join the Beastie Boys when the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame earlier this year, an unfortunate reality for a man whose musical legacy was rich and whose human rights activism should be applauded.