RIP Adam Yauch: Beastie Boys' MCA Dead at 47
Adam Yauch, the gravel-voiced third of Noo Yawk '80s and '90s rap-rock superstars the Beastie Boys, has died at age 47, Rolling Stone reports. The exact circumstances of his death were unknown at press time, but Yauch had been battling cancer since being diagnosed with a tumor in his salivary glands in 2009.
As the first group to bring rap and hip-hop to a largely white, suburban audience, the Beasties' influence on the past 30 years of popular music cannot be overstated. Their breakthrough 1986 album, Licensed to Ill, combined heavy sampling of classic-rock groups like Led Zeppelin (which later got them into hot water) with sophomoric humor and the Boys' irresistible, sometimes inscrutable Brooklyn slang.
With estimated sales around the nine or ten million mark, it is the most successful debut album of all time and the most successful album in the history of its label, Def Jam.
As they matured, the Beasties tried to distance themselves from Ill's frat-boy image and somehow became even more influential. Produced by the Dust Brothers, Ill's 1989 follow-up Paul's Boutique was a madcap collage of samples and references from old-school rap, '70s cinema (Car Wash, High Plains Drifter, The Harder They Come), and obscure soul and funk; anything from bong hits to Deliverance's Eric Weissberg playing the banjo.
Although it undersold at the time, Boutique was directly responsible for the stardom of roots-savvy hip-hop troubadors such as Beck and G. Love and made the Dust Brothers one of the most in-demand producers of the '90s.
Thanks in part to the stricter sampling and fair-use laws Paul's Boutique helped bring about, the Beasties eased up on the sampling and largely played their own instruments on their next two records, Check Your Head (1992) and Ill Communication (1994). By then the Beastie Boys had completely overhauled their image into the wisecracking, lovable hipsters next door, and those albums spawned such hit singles as "So Whatcha Want," "Sabotage" and "Sure Shot."
Although they never lost the old Brooklyn pass-the-mike vibe, later albums such as like 1998's Hello Nasty and last year's Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 were heavily influenced by electronic groups like Daft Punk. Early on, some rappers were skeptical about the group's skills (and jealous of their success), but the Beastie Boys became among Generation X's most revered artists. Everybody under 45 better be blasting "Fight for Your Right to Party," "Shadrach" or "Intergalactic" right now.