Former Def Jam publicist Bill Adler remembers how MCA evolved from The Beastie Boys' angriest member to an agent of peace.
Written by Bill Adler
I don’t think it’s any secret that the Beastie Boys' career can broadly be broken into two parts: Licensed to Ill and What Came After. Not unnaturally, the life of Adam Yauch, a.k.a. MCA, reflected the same division.
As a young man, Adam was wild, not to say swashbuckling. He took full advantage of all the pleasures and opportunities made available to the Beasties throughout 1987, when Beastiemania was every bit as maniacal as Beatlemania had been 25 years earlier.
The same band that had once made a hydraulic dick their chief stage prop would go on to inaugurate and promote the Tibetan Freedom Concerts.
In the littered aftermath, Yauch teamed up with his bandmates to create Paul’s Boutique, which came out in 1989 and laid out a new playbook for the Beasties. In many ways, they were the same band: playful, exuberant, hard-rocking. But the sexism and frat-boy swagger of Licensed to Ill had been jettisoned, never to return.
In retrospect, they’d absorbed a lot of the sensibility then defining the Native Tongues Posse (the Jungle Bros. and De La Soul) and the acts coming out of Delicious Vinyl (especially Tone Loc)—not to mention Public Enemy, their old Def Jam labelmates. The same band that had once made a hydraulic dick their chief stage prop would go on to inaugurate and promote the Tibetan Freedom Concerts.
It was Yauch who felt that cause most keenly. His conversion to the practice of Tibetan Buddhism was absolutely central to the latter part of his life. As a young man, he was by far the angriest of the Beastie Boys—a conclusion I came to during the years I worked as the group’s publicist at Def Jam.
I remember one night backstage on the Together Forever Tour in the summer of 1987. It was the Beasties and Run-DMC co-headlining an arena tour designed to bring together white rock fans and black rap fans—and it was working beautifully. But after weeks on the road, the guys were getting stir-crazy.
Someone arranged a bunch of Coke cans in a pyramid on a table in the dressing room. The members of Run-DMC and the Beasties formed a line about 30 feet from the table and took turns firing oranges at the pyramid in an attempt to knock it down. No one was having much luck—although it’s not as if the exercise was really about marksmanship anyway.
As time went on Adam Yauch evolved. He meditated, became a vegan, became much more peaceful. He got married and he and his wife had a child. He continued to take a strong hand in the creative output of Beastie Boys—not only as a performer, but as a producer.
The point was to throw the oranges as hard as possible and watch them explode against the wall behind the cans. Run, D, and Jay took their shots, then Mike D and Ad-Rock. The last guy up was MCA, who had no use for the oranges. Instead, he grabbed the wooden bowl holding the oranges, poured the remaining fruit onto the floor, and furiously flung the bowl itself against the wall.
Obviously, as time went on Adam Yauch evolved. He meditated, became a vegan, became much more peaceful. He got married and he and his wife had a child. He continued to take a strong hand in the creative output of Beastie Boys—not only as a performer, but as a producer…and as the director of their videos under the nom de camera Nathaniel Hornblower.
He deepened his commitment to the movies when he founded Oscilloscope Laboratories in 2002, for which he directed Gunnin’ For that #1 Spot, about a bunch of high-school basketball hopefuls—not to mention Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That, the great Beasties concert documentary.
Yauch had been battling cancer for the last several years. He was so sick two weeks ago that he couldn’t attend the induction of the Beastie Boys into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. You didn’t have to be a genius to figure the end might be near.
Me, I’m gonna sit back tonight and listen to Paul’s Boutique. MCA is gone, but the music he made with Ad-Rock and Mike D—his lifelong friends and bandmates—lives on.