Monday, May 7, 2012

RIP Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch, A Powerful and Irreplaceable Voice

Friday brought the sad news of the passing of influential hip-hop artist and entrepreneur Adam Yauch, who performed with the Beastie Boys under his stage name MCA. The Beastie Boys were among my first true musical loves. Ill Communication was one of the first albums I had ever purchased and I still have that same copy today. I’m looking at it sitting on a shelf on my desk as I type this. Although the copy is virtually unplayable, I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. I must have carried that everywhere I went for years and played it to every one of my friends ad nauseum. Along with Green Day’s Dookie, it was the soundtrack to my youth. But my obsession didn’t stop there. I followed the band throughout their career, loving each unexpected turn that their music took. Hot Sauce Committee Part Two was one of last year’s best records and is a shining example of how MCA was able to kick out the jams right until the very end.

His legacy goes well beyond just being a part of one of the greatest and most influential hip-hop groups. He founded the Milarepa Foundation that produced the Tibetan Freedom Concert benefits. He also started Oscilloscope Laboratories, the production and distribution company that released Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy and Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop, two of my personal favorites. He lent his production talents to Bad Brains’ comeback album, Build a Nation. Many of the Beastie Boys’ videos including “So Whatcha Want” and last year's Fight For Your Right Revisited were directed by Yauch, sometimes under the guise of Nathanial Hörnblowér. Yauch was clearly a powerful and irreplaceable voice in everything he did and he will be missed. Below is the full obituary posted on the Beastie Boys’ website as well as some of my favorite music videos.

It is with great sadness that we confirm that musician, rapper, activist and director Adam "MCA" Yauch, founding member of Beastie Boys and also of the Milarepa Foundation that produced the Tibetan Freedom Concert benefits, and film production and distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories, passed away in his native New York City this morning after a near-three-year battle with cancer. He was 47 years old.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Yauch taught himself to play bass in high school, forming a band for his 17th birthday party that would later become known the world over as Beastie Boys.

With fellow members Michael "Mike D" Diamond and Adam "Adrock" Horovitz, Beastie Boys would go on to sell over 40 million records, release four #1 albums–including the first hip hop album ever to top the Billboard 200, the band's 1986 debut full length, Licensed To Ill–win three Grammys, and the MTV Video Vanguard Lifetime Achievement award. Last month Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with Diamond and Horovitz reading an acceptance speech on behalf of Yauch, who was unable to attend.

In addition to his hand in creating such historic Beastie Boys albums as Paul's Boutique, Check Your Head, Ill Communication, Hello Nasty and more, Yauch was a founder of the Milarepa Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting awareness and activism regarding the injustices perpetrated on native Tibetans by Chinese occupational government and military forces. In 1996, Milarepa produced the first Tibetan Freedom Concert in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, which was attended by 100,000 people, making it the biggest benefit concert on U.S. soil since 1985's Live Aid. The Tibetan Freedom Concert series would continue to stage some of the most significant benefit shows in the world for nearly a decade following in New York City, Washington DC, Tokyo, Sydney, Amsterdam, Taipei and other cities.

In the wake of September 11, 2001, Milarepa organized New Yorkers Against Violence, a benefit headlined by Beastie Boys at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom, with net proceeds disbursed to the New York Women's Foundation Disaster Relief Fund and the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA) September 11th Fund for New Americans–each chosen for their efforts on behalf of 9/11 victims least likely to receive help from other sources.

Under the alias of Nathanial Hörnblowér, Yauch directed iconic Beastie Boys videos including "So Whatcha Want," "Intergalactic," "Body Movin" and "Ch-Check It Out." Under his own name, Yauch directed last year's Fight For Your Right Revisited, an extended video for "Make Some Noise" from Beastie Boys' Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, starring Elijah Wood, Danny McBride and Seth Rogen as the 1986 Beastie Boys, making their way through a half hour of cameo-studded misadventures before squaring off against Jack Black, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as Beastie Boys of the future.

Yauch's passion and talent for filmmaking led to his founding of Oscilloscope Laboratories, which in 2008 released his directorial film debut, the basketball documentary Gunnin' For That #1 Spot and has since become a major force in independent video distribution, amassing a catalogue of such acclaimed titles as Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy, Oren Moverman's The Messenger, Banksy's Exit Through The Gift Shop, Lance Bangs and Spike Jonze's Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait Of Maurice Sendak, and many more.

Yauch is survived by his wife Dechen and his daughter Tenzin Losel, as well as his parents Frances and Noel Yauch.

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