Adam Yauch, a member of the seminal hip-hop trio the Beastie Boys, has died. He was 47 years old.
The Brooklyn-born musician known to fans as MCA was first treated for cancerous growths in his parotid gland and a lymph node in 2009 and subsequently underwent surgery and radiation therapy, which forced the delay of the Beastie Boys’ most recent album Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. His illness has also kept the group off the road, and Yauch missed the group’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two weeks ago.
Yauch first met his musical comrade-in-arms Michael Diamond (a.k.a. Mike D) when he was still in high school; inspired by the manic punk energy of bands like Black Flag, the pair conceived the Beastie Boys as a noisy hardcore band. The group originally featured friends John Berry and Kate Schellenbach (the latter of whom later formed Luscious Jackson). The Polly Wog Stew EP gained them some attention, as did gigs opening for the likes of Bad Brains and the Misfits.
Berry departed the band and was replaced by Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock). Around the same time, the crew put together a song called “Cookie Puss,” which was based around a recorded prank phone call to Carvel. The song became an accidental sensation in New York’s underground dance scene, and the Beastie Boys began to build a reputation for blending humor and hip-hop in their sound.
The Boys signed to a nascent Def Jam Records after meeting co-founder Rick Rubin, and when Schellenbach departed due to creative differences, the Beastie Boys the world came to know were born. In 1986, they released the crossover smash Licensed to Ill, which became the first hip-hop album to top the Billboard album chart, and featured the breakthrough MTV hit “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party).”
The Beastie Boys soon developed a reputation for being not unlike their personae in the “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)” video, but they gradually shed their bad-boy image and became sonic students of the game. From 1989’s Paul’s Boutique on, the Beastie Boys stood as one of the most innovative crews in all of popular music. Thanks to producers the Dust Brothers, Boutiquetook sampling to a whole new level, while 1992’s Check Your Head found them searching for the perfect balance between their hardcore roots and their next-level vision. That ideal was found on 1994’s Ill Communication, featuring the band’s breakthrough “Sabotage.”
The three Beastie Boys had divergent interests as the group evolved, and Yauch’s passion turned to film early in his career (later, he also became involved in Buddhism and Tibetan causes). Working under the pseudonym Nathanial Hornblower, Yauch directed many of the band’s music videos, including “So What’cha Want,” “Intergalactic,” and the more recent “Make Some Noise.” He also founded Oscilloscope Laboratories, a studio and distribution arm that was first developed to put out his high school basketball documentary Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot and also has put out films like Kelly Reichardt’s acclaimed drama Wendy and Lucy and the beloved Banksy stunt flick Exit Through the Gift Shop.
When Ad-Rock and Mike D accepted the Beastie Boys’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two weeks ago, they read a letter from Yauch thanking both his bandmates and the group’s fans: “I’d like to dedicate this to my brothers Adam and Mike,” he wrote. “They walked the globe with me. It’s also for anyone who has ever been touched by our band. This induction is as much ours as it is yours.”
Yauch is survived by his wife, Dechen Wengdu, and their daughter, Losel.