Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch, better known to millions as MCA, died earlier today in New York City after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 47.
Yauch, who was born August 5, 1964, in Brooklyn, New York, was a founding member — along with Mike "Mike D" Diamond and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horowitz — of the Beastie Boys, a hardcore-turned-rap group that proved immensely influential in the hip-hop and rock communities.
Started in 1979, Beastie Boys began life as a hardcore band influenced by groups like Bad Brains, Black Flag and Minor Threat.
"When we were around 14 or 15 —Adroc was around 12 or 13 — we'd hang out at clubs and see punk bands like Stimulator and Bad Brains," MCA told Guitar World in a 1994 interview. "But the clubs didn't only play hardcore records — they also played James Brown and hip-hop. We were really into that stuff, so we started rhyming and messing around."
Adam "Ad-Rock" Horowitz added, "When we'd play a show, the first 15 minutes would be hardcore, and then Rick Rubin would come up and we'd start to rap. Eventually we switched over to doing only rap. But it was a mellow transition for us. Half our act was rap, anyway."
The band's debut album, 1986's Licensed to Ill, essentially created what we now know today as rap-rock or rap-metal, with Slayer guitarist Kerry King lending his talents to one of the album's biggest cuts, "No Sleep Till Brooklyn."
While not the commercial success that Licensed to Ill was, 1989's Paul's Boutique took the group's pioneering of sample-based music to new levels, making it a perennial fixture in countless "Best Hip-Hop Albums of All Time" lists. The album included several nods to rock and roll, with the Beastie Boys sampling Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Sweet and Eagles, among others.
Given his prowess as a lyricist and MC, it's easy to forget that Yauch also was a fairly accomplished bassist.
"I always wanted a bass when I was kid, though I didn't get one at first," Yauch told Guitar World. "My parents were too tired of buying me things that would just end up in the closet. I knew this girl who had a bass, and I'd go over to her house to play. My parents eventually rented one for me on the condition that if I played it, I could have it."
Beastie Boys would release an all-instrumental album titled The Mix-Up in 2007, with Mike D playing drums, Adroc on guitars and MCA handling bass and upright bass duties. Yauch was far from highly technical as a bassist, instead letting the DIY ethic of hardcore and punk shine through in his playing, often with a funk flare.
"Chops are cool as a tool to get out what's in your head," he said in the same Guitar World interview, "but if it goes beyond that, you're trapped. And you don't need a lot of fancy equipment. All you need are the basics."
Yauch was diagnosed with a cancerous parotid gland and a lymph node in 2009. After undergoing treatment it was rumored that MCA had beaten his cancer, but Yauch posted a cautionary message to fans in 2011, saying, "While I’m grateful for all the positive energy people are sending my way, reports of my being totally cancer free are exaggerated. I’m continuing treatment, staying optimistic and hoping to be cancer free in the near future."
The Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month, with Yauch being inducted in absentia. Their most recent album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, was released in April 2011.
On top of his work as a musician, Yauch was also an active proponent of the Free Tibet movement, organizing the Tibetan Freedom Concert series through his Milarepa Foundation.
Also an avid filmmaker, Yauch directed several Beastie Boys music videos — including "So Whatcha Want," "Intergalactic," "Body Movin" and "Ch-Check It Out" — under the guise of Nathanial Hörnblowér.
Yauch also directed last year's star-studded "Make Some Noise" music video and short film under his own name. The video featured celebrity cameos from Will Ferrell, Rashida Jones Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson, Amy Poehler, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny, Maya Rudolph, Kirsten Dunst, David Cross, Zach Galifianakis, Orlando Bloom, John C. Reilly and Jack Black.
Yauch is survived by his wife Dechen and his daughter Tenzin Losel, as well as his parents Frances and Noel Yauch.