Adam Yauch dies: remembering MCA of the Beastie Boys

Has any group in the history of pop ever projected a sense of camaraderie as strong as the Beastie Boys?

Yes, the trio’s 1986 album “Licensed to Ill” helped hip-hop colonize suburbia. Yes, their sample-happy 1989 disc “Paul’s Boutique” was dizzyingly innovative. Yes, 1992’s “Check Your Head” and 1994’s “Ill Communication” brought some levity to the grouchy alterna-years.

But through all of those musical twists and turns, the Beastie Boys’ defining trait was the giddy, goofy sense of friendship between Yauch, Michael “Mike D” Diamond, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz. And they invited us all to be a part of it. They turned inside jokes into out-sized rhymes — and it resulted in era-defining music.

Over the years,
Adam Yauch
— the B-Boy known as MCA who died of cancer Friday at age 47 — quietly began introducing Tibetan Buddhist ideas to the trio’s lyrical volleyball matches. That fact that he pulled it off without sounding ponderous or self-important was testament to his affable charm and his skill as an MC. It also dissolved the beer-swilling image the Beasties earned with “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” and helped made them one of most widely-respected groups of their day.

A dig into the Washington Post archives illustrates that transition. Below, read three feature stories from the Beastie Boys’ breakout years, as well as a profile from 1992 where the group reflects on its changing ways.

Beauty & the Beasties

By Richard Harrington

Sunday, May 26, 1985

Definition of a good break for an unknown band: becoming the opening act in 35 cities on Madonna’s “Virgin Tour.”

Which is the case with New York’s Beastie Boys, the first successful white rap group and purveyors of such underground hits as “Beastie Revolution.” They’ll do the honors at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday.

The four Beasties have been enjoying their 20 minutes in the spotlight and, according to Adam Yauch, some of Madonna’s fans have, too. “The reaction has been mostly good,” Yauch says. “Usually they love it or they hate it. There’s always been a reaction, I’ll say that.”

“It’s not like bland Muzak,” adds Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, son of playwright Israel Horovitz. “It’s real obnoxious, and it rubs you, either the right way or the wrong way.”

The same could be said of a 1981 hard-core punk incarnation of the Beastie Boys. Inspired by a Black Flag performance and convinced they could be just as bad, they pursued a brief career on the CBGB circuit. Two years later, they ended a recording session with a rap parody titled “Cookie Puss,” and within another year they had abandoned their instruments for the standard rap lineup of turntable-deejay-triple rappers. The other rapper is Michael Diamond (Mike D), while Rick Rubin (Double R) handles the deejaying.

There’s still a strong element of parody at work in the Beastie Boys, though Yauch insists that “we’ve been playing so long that it’s hard to just keep making jokes. Some of our songs are serious, but I don’t think we could ever be too serious about it.”

Next, they may incorporate Madonna’s boyfriend into a band. There’s been some backstage talk that actor Sean Penn may front a group in New York in the fall with several Beastie Boys picking up their instruments again.

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