May 04, 2012

Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys Dies at 47

Adam Yauch

Adam "MCA" Yauch, a founding member of the legendary hip-hop trio The Beastie Boys, has passed away. He was 47.

Yauch was born in Brooklyn, New York, where he co-founded The Beastie Boys as a high school punk band in the late 70's. The Beastie Boys transitioned into hip-hop in the early-80's, and found a huge audience quickly: their debut album Licensed to Ill, released in 1986 on Def Jam/Columbia, became the first hip-hop album to top the Billboard charts, and would go on to sell more than 9 million copies. Subsequent albums like Paul's Boutique, Ill Communication, the Grammy-winning Hello Nasty and To the 5 Boroughs were also critical and commercial successes. The 2008 instrumental album, The Mix-Up, won the Beasties their third Grammy; earlier this year, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

From the beginning, the Beastie Boys offered a unique spin on the genre, their playfulness and penchant for experimental sounds and live instrumentation carrying throughout their career. Yauch summed up the Beastie Boys' approach in a 2011 interview with Playback: "I just feel what works in the studio is stuff that seems interesting or funny to us."

Yauch's creativity extended far beyond his musical exploits. He was also an accomplished filmmaker, directing many of the Beastie Boys' most beloved videos under the pseudonym "Nathanial Hörnblowér." Yauch told Playback that "Right around when we formed the band I borrowed a Super 8 camera from a friend and started making some Super 8 films. And once we started making videos I just got really interested and wanted to be involved in that part of it." Yauch would go on to win two MTV Video Music Awards for the "Intergalactic" and "Make Some Noise" clips, in addition to a prestigious Video Vanguard Award for the Beasties' music video legacy.

Yauch also directed Awesome; I F**kin' Shot That!, an innovative Beastie Boys concert film that used crowdsourced footage from 50 audience members. He also directed and produced the basketball documentary Gunnin' for That No. 1 Spot, and distributed the work of other filmmakers via his production company Oscilloscope Laboratories. Yauch's star-studded short film Fight for Your Right Revisited screened at Sundance in 2011.

A practicing Buddhist, Yauch was also a committed advocate of Tibetan human rights issues. He co-founded the non-profit Milarepa Fund in 1994, and spearheaded the Tibetan Freedom Concerts in support of Tibetan independence, held across three continents between 1996 and 2003. Yauch is survived by his wife Dechen Wangdu, an activist who he met while attending a speech by the Dalai Lama, and his daughter Tenzin Losel Yauch.

As we mourn the loss of Adam "MCA" Yauch, we're also grateful for the countless memorable songs and films that he brought us. ASCAP was lucky enough to speak with him and the other Beasties for a Playback cover feature last year. To read Yauch's own thoughts about his creative process and musical legacy, read the feature here.