Adam Yauch, better known as MCA, of the Beastie Boys died today. There have been a lot of celebrities and musicians that have passed away in my lifetime, but something about the death of MCA has really hit me hard. I'm not a huge Beastie Boys fan- I own a couple of albums, I know the lyrics to choruses and some verses, and I would sometimes play their songs on my college radio show- but overall I'm a very casual fan of the group's music.
In spite of that, my level of respect for the group is through the roof. It annoys me to no end when people dismiss the band as a "gimmicky white boy" rap group because that couldn't be further from the truth. As everyone probably knows at this point, the Beastie Boys started as a hardcore punk band influenced by the likes of Bad Brains and Reagan Youth before making the shift into a hip hop trio. And while their first album, Licensed to Ill, was primarily focused on party anthems and a frat boy like mentality, the rest of their discography is incredibly diverse and refined- something that doesn't tend to stick into society's collective memory, regardless of all the songs they've released or the fact that they would publicly state a distaste for Fight for Your Right and even stopped playing it live in 1987. It's kind of a shame that they've never been able to shed that image, and also surprising because they're often praised for having reinventing their sound and image with each album (there's also a chance that I just hang out with all the wrong types of people, and my perception of the Beastie Boys public image is slightly off).
Anyway, even though I'm not close to being the Beastie Boys number one super fan, I have a lot of respect for them, as performers and as individuals, for making the music that they wanted to make, for becoming successful while doing it, and for not compromising their ideals in the process. Their ability to shift through hip hop songs, fast punk tunes, and slow reggae dubs all on the same album is something that not many other bands have been able to pull off, and for all their musical ability it's weird to me that they're still considered "just" a rap group by so many when it would be as clear as day that they're so much more than that if people listened to even just the first half of Ill Communication.
Granted, their music videos (and sometimes songs) were still goofy on a regular basis, but that goofiness just made the band seem more human, showing that they were genuinely having fun and not just going through the motions. Someone on Pitchfork wrote (in a review of their newest album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two) that one of the most amazing things about the Beastie Boys wasn't so much that they were still churning out songs after 25 years- but it was that they were still having fun while doing it and based their whole sense of being around the friendship between the three of them rather than anything else (okay, so I'm paraphrasing the reviewer but I don't really feel like searching for it). And that is 100% spot on. Just listen to their songs, live or in the studio, and you can hear that they're not three megastars writing songs to be played on the radio to make millions, they're just three buddies from New York City who love each other and love what they do and I find that to be incredibly inspiring.
And I think that's what makes MCA's passing so tragic to me. There are a lot of musicians that I look up to, but I looked up to MCA not just as a musician, but as a person- which is not something that I can say about many celebrities. I may not have known him personally, but that doesn't mean it's any less sincere when I say that I'll miss him. The chances of them reading this are slim, but I send my condolences to his friends and family. RIP, MCA.
PS. In a short moment of "fanboy-ism" I think it would be fitting to also mention that MCA, along with Mike D and Ad-Rock, are the only celebrities that I've named video game characters after. Usually when I name characters, I shy away from the names of famous people, but I made an exception for the Beastie Boys when it came time to name my characters in Dynasty Warriors 3. It's not necessarily the most fitting of tributes, but I can't think of any other time when I've done that for any other famous names and it was my way of honoring MCA (and Mike D and Ad-Rock) for being the band that accompanied me on all those late nights as a high schooler who never did any homework.