R.I.P. MCA

in category of Opinions, Audra Rundle

My husband came home the other evening visibly upset. “One of my favorite musicians died today,” he answered, still in shock. “I just heard it on the radio.” I quickly enclosed him in my arms, giving him the hug he so clearly needed.

This is likely the same reaction of millions of fans around the world to the passing of Adam Yauch, better known as MCA, of the popular hip-hop group the Beastie Boys. Yauch was only 47 years old when he passed away on Friday, May 3, in New York after a three-year battle with cancer.

The Beastie Boys, consisting of Yauch, Mike Diamond, and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) began has a hardcore punk band in the 1970s, but didn’t bust into the mainstream until their sound turned more hip-hop in 1983 with their debut album Licensed to Ill. The album includes some of their most well known hits, including “No Sleep Til Brooklyn,” “Brass Monkey,” and “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).”

The group broke through stereotypes, showing that Caucasian rappers could be well-received. The producer of Licensed to Ill, Rick Rubin, told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, "The Beasties opened hip-hop music up to the suburbs. As crazy as they were, they seemed safe to Middle America, in a way black artists hadn't been up to that point in time."

Twenty-five years after Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys are still very well received. They were only the third hip-hop group to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April of 2011 and have sold more than 10 million copies of their nine albums.

The group responded to the honor with a statement saying, "We're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? That's f----n' crazy and awesome! While we are very proud of the music we make, we have to acknowledge the inspiration from our families, friends and musicians like the slits, bad brains, x-ray spex, the treacherous three and too many others to possibly name. And most of all, we give thanks to New York City and the world of musical influence it provided for us."

"Adam was incredibly sweet and the most sensitive artist who I loved dearly. I was always inspired by his work. He will be missed by all of us," said Russell Simmons of Def Jam Recordings, which released Licensed to Ill in 1986.

In 2009, after Yaught had undergone surgery to remove the cancer from his salivary gland as well as radiation therapy, Yauch emailed his fans that he felt, “healthy, strong, and hopeful” about beating cancer.

That same year, The Beastie Boys released their eighth album, Hot Sauce Committee Part 1 late due to Yauch’s health. They also cancelled their headlining shows at the Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits festivals. A revised version of the album was eventually released in 2011, but Yauch was still battling cancer, so the group did not tour as they otherwise would have.

When Beastie Boy member Mike Diamond (aka Mike D) commented in 2011 that the group was “really happy” about Yaught’s health improving, optimistic fans misinterpreted that to mean he was cancer-free.

Yaught had to clarify in a written statement: "While I'm grateful for all the positive energy people are sending my way, reports of my being totally cancer free are exaggerated," said Yauch. "I'm continuing treatment, staying optimistic and hoping to be cancer free in the near future."

Yauch enjoyed working behind the camera under the alias of Nathaniel Hörnblowér and has directed some of the Beastie Boy music videos, including “Whatcha Want,” “Intergalactic,” and “Make Some Noise.” He also saw some success as a documentary filmmaker with three full-length films: Awesome; I F***in' Shot That, Gunnin' for That #1 Shot, and Free Tibet.

Yaught was the co-founder the distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories, an avid supporter of the free Tibet movement, and a devout Buddhist. In 1994, he founded the Milarepa Fund, which organized a series of Tibetan Freedom Concerts between 1996 and 2001.

Yaught told The Huffington Post in 2008 how he was first exposed to the Free Tibet movement: "I was in Nepal, and I met a group of Tibetans that had just come over the Himalayas that were heading to Dharamsala to hopefully meet the Dalai Lama and fleeing from the oppression they were facing and from that firsthand exposure, I started getting interested in it.”

This interest also ultimately led to Yaught meeting his wife, Dechen Wangdu, in 1995 at a Harvard event for the Dalai Lama. Wangdu has been an active member of Students for a Free Tibet, the U.S. Tibet Committee, and the Tibetan Women's Association. She appeared in Yaught’s 1998 documentary Free Tibet.

Our hearts are with Yaught’s surviving family members, including his wife and their daughter Tenzin Losel. Rest in peace, MCA, you will sorely missed.

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