In a time of year when those who have passed are remembered, The New York Times Magazine has chosen to feature the Beastie Boys’ Adam “MCA” Yauch, who passed from complications from carotid-gland cancer on May 4, 2012.
Grantland writer Alex Pappademas penned the piece, writing about how Yauch was perhaps that catalyst that turned the Beastie Boys from frat-rappers to one of the most socially-conscious groups in recent memory.
Did Yauch’s evolution as a person drive the Beasties’ evolution as a band? Did they grow in order to keep up with him? It’s hard to know. But he continued to be a motivating force in the years that followed. It’s Yauch who raps, “I wanna say a little something that’s long overdue/The disrespect to women has got to be through” on “Sure Shot,” from “Ill Communication” (1994). Should it have been obvious from the beginning that disrespecting women wasn’t O.K.? Sure. But now they were calling themselves on their own failings of judgment. In the early ’90s, they made a video for a hazy, ominous funk jam called “Something’s Got to Give.” It’s a collage of stock footage from a world in turmoil, sort of a Beastie version of “Koyaanisqatsi.” There’s only one actual Beastie in the video — Yauch, who wrote the song’s lyrics. We see him in grainy camcorder footage, on a patio in a red T-shirt and sneakers, his hair cut short like a monk’s. Calmly, he lifts a sledgehammer and brings it down on what appears to be a 9-millimeter pistol, smashing it to pieces. Then he smiles. Why he owned a gun in the first place doesn’t matter; what matters is the look on his face when he breaks it, when he has ceased to be the person who owned it. Of all the things the Beastie Boys rendered cool by association — ’70s cop-show mustaches, outlandish golf attire, throwing eggs at people — the idea that you could change, that in order to be cool you had to change, was the most important. The fact that they’d been unrepentant knuckleheads made their transformation into repentant knuckleheads seem heroic.
The piece also discusses Yauch’s dedication to the Tibetan cause, and touches on the Beastie Boys’ origins. You can read the piece here.