Thursday, May 24, 2012

Spotlight: Adam "MCA" Yauch

Pioneering rapper Adam "MCA" Yauch of the Beastie Boys died at age 47 on May 4, 2012, after a three-year battle with throat cancer.

Yauch was born an only child in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Frances, a social worker, and Noel Yauch, a painter and architect. His father had been raised a Catholic and his mother was Jewish; Yauch himself received a non-religious upbringing, although his and his bandmates' Jewish heritage was often referenced in media.

Yauch attended Edward R. Murrow High School in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn. In high school, he taught himself to play the bass guitar. Yauch formed the Beastie Boys with John Berry, Kate Schellenbach, and Michael Diamond. They played their first show — while still a hardcore punk band in the vein of Reagan Youth — on his 17th birthday. He attended Bard College for two years before dropping out.

When Yauch was 22, the Beastie Boys, now performing as a hip hop trio (via Rick Rubin), released their first album Licensed to Ill on Def Jam Records. Under the pseudonym "Nathanial Hörnblowér", Yauch directed many of the Beastie Boys' music videos.

In 2002, Yauch built a recording studio in New York City called Oscilloscope Laboratories. He began an independent film distributing company called Oscilloscope Pictures. Yauch directed the 2006 Beastie Boys concert film, Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That!, although in the DVD extras for the film, the title character in "A Day in the Life of Nathanial Hörnblowér" is played by David Cross. Oscilloscope Laboratories also distributed Adam Yauch's directorial film debut, basketball documentary Gunnin' For That #1 Spot (2008) as well as Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy (2008) and Oren Moverman’s The Messenger (2009).

Yauch was a practicing Buddhist. He became an important voice in the Tibetan independence movement. He created the Milarepa Fund, a non-profit organization devoted to Tibetan independence, and organized several benefit concerts to support the cause, including the Tibetan Freedom Concert.

Alongside Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys were responsible for rap's first big move from the New York streets to the manicured lawns of American suburbs, due in no small part to Yauch's swarthy, punk-centric raps. Shouting Schoolly-schooled swagger over rock riffs through a mouth of Olde English brew, Yauch's iconic rasp helped launch their 1986 debut Licensed to Ill to sell more than 9 million copies — the first rap group to top the Billboard charts and, in 1987, the first rap group to appear on the cover of SPIN.

As the Beasties grew creatively and expanded musically, Yauch became the band's conscious and spiritual center, becoming alternative nation's most vocal practitioner of Buddhism and, alongside the Beasties, leading the charge for the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. Most recently, he founded Oscilloscope Laboratories, a studio and film production house, currently seeing critical success with the Golden-Globe nominated We Need to Talk About Kevin. The Beasties were recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and attended sans the ailing Yauch; a letter from Yauch was read to the crowd.

More information:
SPIN: MCA, RIP: His Beastie Boys Legacy in 15 Tracks
SPIN: An Oral History of the Beastie Boys

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