Adam Yauch, one of the founding members of legendary hip-hop group The Beastie Boys has passed away from cancer at the age of 47. The Beastie Boys, though saddled with the silly name, is one of the most important bands in hip-hop and rock and roll, and also to me personally, and his passing away has saddened me deeply.
Yauch was one of the founding members of the band, starting off as a punk rock group while still in high school. After switching to a sort of hybrid of rock and rap, the group released the album Licensed To Ill, which was enormously successful, particularly for the dopey, funny, childish and incredibly catchy “Fight For Your Right (To Party).”
Most people wrote them off – reasonably – at this point as a one-hit wonder who got lucky with a gimmicky hit. Instead, they stunned everyone by releasing a work of genius for their second album, Paul’s Boutique, after deciding that they wanted to become musicians, not just pop stars. It was, of course, a complete commercial failure, but set them on a course of actively learning more about the musical culture in which they operated, and pushing their artistic boundaries (which is not to lay an overly-somber yoke on them – they always continued to flat out rock).
*I wrote about their beginnings long ago, when the blog was new and I had no readers, wanting to chronicle their development album by album. I gave up after the first two, because it was no fun discussing music in a vacuum. Now I wish I’d kept at it. If you’re interested, here’s my dissection of their dopey first album, and the transformative second album.*
They would continue to, in many ways, define and influence the musical landscape of the 1990’s. Determined to continually expand, they learned instruments, experimented in jazz, and reflected on the history of their genre itself. Yauch himself grew from the silly teen-ager in to a filmmaker, an ardent social activist, and committed buddhist.
Yauch was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, and seemed to improve considerably for a while, but the cancer returned and he finally succumbed.
I’m very sorry for his family and friends, and for all of the fans. Thank you, Mr. Yauch, for everything. I am truly saddened to see you go.