Check the Rhyme: Reflecting on MCA and the legacy of the Beastie Boys
On May 4th the Beastie Boy’s Adam Yauch, aka MCA, died from cancer. Here are some reflections from the Richmond hip hop community on the impact of the Beastie Boys and MCA.
To be honest, my love affair with the Beastie Boys started by accident. I was 13 years old when a good friend of mine borrowed his older brother’s copied N.W.A cassette tape and brought it over for us to listen to while we were playing video games. Of course, my parents would have never allowed me listen to N.W.A., so our plan was to switch the tape to the other side every time she came in to check on us. The other side of the tape happened to be Check Your Head by the Beastie Boys. It wasn’t long before we stopped listening to Straight Outta Compton and were listening to the Beastie Boys exclusively.
I had heard of the Beastie Boys before my freshman year of high school, and they were a bit of a novelty to me. Three white rappers from NYC partying like rock stars wasn’t really my thing. On top of that, “Fight for your Right” wasn’t exactly a hip hop song. In my opinion, they were cool because they were friends with Run-D.M.C and signed to Def Jam, but that’s really all I knew about them. It wasn’t until Check Your Head and then their next album, Ill Communication, that I really started to notice their genius. The Beastie Boys took me to places in hip hop music that I’d never been before. They blended NYC’s native-tongue style hip hop with live instrumental grooves, played with instruments not turntables, and they mixed in punk rock songs. By doing so, they made albums that were unique.
The Beastie Boys grew from punk kids, to serious musicians, to serious musicians with a purpose, in front of everyone. And if there was one member of the group that led their evolution into adulthood, it was Adam Yauch aka MCA. MCA was the first member of the group that really started to look at the world differently. He was the first to realize that there was more to life than just being a musician and mega-star. He began to use his stardom to advocate for things he truly believed in, particularly the Tibetan independence movement. Growing up in the west end of Henrico, it was the Beastie Boys, not CNN or MSNBC, that taught me about the oppression of the Tibetan people. MCA pushed the Beastie Boys to play benefit concerts for that cause.
After becoming a husband and father of a daughter, he openly and publicly apologized for past lyrics that he deemed offensive to women and to the gay and lesbian community. Looking back it’s fitting that it was MCA that once that spit the lines, “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue / The disrespect to women has got to be through / To all the mothers and sisters and wives and friends / I want to offer my love and respect to the end.”
MCA will be missed for so many reasons. I will remember him as a social leader and for being the conscience of one of the greatest hip hop groups of all time.
— ∮∮∮ —
Reflections from RVA’s hip hop community
“Yo, who you know that can put rap songs next to punk and jazz songs AND still have it sound like they belong on the same album together? The Beastie Boys were like a sweet & sour pizza taco…except delicious. That level of versatility may never be replicated. I won’t say rest in peace since I think dude was Buddhist (so we’ll probably be hearing from him again soon).”
Photosynthesizers and Audio Mass Transit
“MCA was definitely the most identifiable member of the Beastie Boys. His signature, gruff voice had a bit of toughness to it that balanced out the high-pitched, sometimes whiny voices of Adrock and Mike D. I’ve been a fan of the Beasties since the early Def Jam, pre-Licensed To Ill days, and they have always garnered a high level of respect from everyone in the hip hop community–much in the same way that their mentor Rick Rubin has. As a bass player, I followed MCA’s work the closest, especially on the live compositions, because he always did some interesting things on the bass, and I love multi-talented artists that find multiple mediums through which to express themselves.
Most of the time “white rappers” are passed over as fads or condemned for trying to emulate cultures they know little to nothing about. The Beastie Boys wrapped hip hop around themselves and redefined it in their own way, in a way that the gangsters, skaters, suburbanites, and inner city kids could all relate to because each of them had their own struggles. The Beasties personified what it was all about to be young and rebellious.”
“My first Beastie Boys memory is 1998’s Hello Nasty. I was 11. Total Request Live was at its peak and MTV played “Intergalactic” into another galaxy. Some you just read that and said, “THAT’S THE FIRST MEMORY?” Well you have to remember that I was 11 and missed the hysteria of their earlier hits. As I got older, I began to search their catalog only to have my ears shocked by the impact that these Caucasians had on Hip-Hop. Licensed to Ill is one of the greatest albums ever, and not just hip hop albums, but of any genre. If “Paul Revere” or “The New Style” came out today you would spaz out! MMMMMMMM DROP!
Besides MCA’s contributions to the Beasties, I always admired his Nathanial Hörnblowér video-directing alias. I recently saw Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot, a documentary that focused on NBA players’ journeys to the top, which he directed.
For me, MCA was more than just a musician. He was a renaissance man. He made an impact and lived his life. He will be missed, but I, as many of you, will cherish his art forever.”
New Juice Crew
“You had to respect them even if you didn’t rock with them. I can still remember getting Licensed to Ill for my birthday. MCA was a dope MC with a crazy voice. He was a pioneer and someone from the earlier days of hip hop who stayed relevant. It’s an easy search to find an MCA/Beastie Boy reference in hip hop today. In my opinion without him there would be no Beastie Boys, no Def Jam, and hip hop would not be where it is today. Any producer who samples rock music better bow that head!! BEASTIE–PERIOD.”
The Honorable Sleaze
Just Plain Sounds
“MCA & the Beastie Boys are legends, innovators, and one of the most creative music groups ever. Licensed to Ill and Paul’s Boutique are two of hip hop’s stellar old school albums. I can honestly say that I’ve never met a true fan of hip hop that didn’t respect and appreciate their contribution to the genre. RIP to hip hop royalty, MCA.”
“Yeah man, it hit me hard when I heard about MCA. The Beastie Boys were very influential to me. I mean, without them a lot of Caucasian rappers would have an even harder time trying to break through. Paul’s Boutique is my favorite Beasties record and one of my favorite albums period. They were the kings of the irreverent, random rap style that I love so much, they were always thinking ahead of the game with their style. MCA will definitely be missed.”
photo by michael morel
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