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Adam Yauch was a Beastie Boy tamed by age, wisdom

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Published : 2012-05-07 19:22
Updated : 2012-05-07 19:22

LOS ANGELES ― Most fans of the Beastie Boys’ early hits know Adam Yauch, or MCA as he was known, for a few choice boasts, like “I got more juice than Picasso’s got paint” (from the 1986 song “The New Style”). Despite the group’s early reputation as party animals, however, peace, mindfulness and positive energy were subjects the rapper wanted to represent in his work.

Any remembrance of Yauch has to focus on the more spiritual lines he wrote, as on 1998’s “Intergalactic,” where he perfectly described himself with: “Well I got to keep it going keep it going full steam/ Too sweet to be sour too nice to be mean/ On the tough guy style I’m not too keen/ To try to change the world I will plot and scheme.”
The Beastie Boys perform at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards. Adam Yauch (center) died Friday. (MCT)

The most tethered and thoughtful of a trio of New York rappers who became the Beastie Boys, Yauch died Friday after a three-year struggle with cancer. He was 47, and in that half-century he managed to carve a path at once so admirable and unlikely that his contributions should serve as a model for a life worth living.

But from a cultural perspective, his biggest influence came as one-third of a group whose debut album, 1986’s “Licensed to Ill,” landed at the top of the Billboard 200, the first hip-hop album to achieve that milestone, and sold 9 million copies. The group changed rap at that moment, and over the next quarter century continually pushed at the boundaries of a music they helped define.

That early success, in turn, helped establish the budding Def Jam Records as a cultural juggernaut. After the Beasties’ success, the label would go on to release seminal records by LL Cool J, Public Enemy, EPMD and Warren G. Equally important, the Beasties’ follow-up, “Paul’s Boutique,” remains, 23 years after its release, one of the most artistically accomplished hip-hop albums ever recorded, a surreal, tripped-out sample-fest that’s been rightly called the “Sgt. Pepper’s” of hip-hop.

At the center of it all, pushing for self-transformation, was MCA, whose gruff bark stuck out amid Ad Rock’s whine and Mike D’s straight-ahead honesty. America’s introduction to Yauch wasn’t great for his image as a peacemaker: In the breakout video for “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party),” we watch as he and his fellow Beasties enter a tame party, where Yauch steals someone’s beer, takes a swig, spits it in someone’s face, then crunches the can on his victim’s head. It’s probably not the first impression he would have preferred, given his later enlightenment. He was, after all, the member of the group who made the biggest arc from party animal to Buddhist peace activist.

By Randall Roberts

(Los Angeles Times)

(MCT Information Services)

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