- Last Updated: 7:43 AM, May 5, 2012
- Posted: 1:11 AM, May 5, 2012
Adam Yauch, a Brooklyn-born rapper who helped turn the MTV generation into a nation of hip-hop fans as a member of the iconic Beastie Boys, died yesterday in New York after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 47.
Yauch, who was known by the stage name MCA, had battled illness since he was diagnosed with a cancerous salivary gland in 2009.
A filmmaker and activist, Yauch was instrumental in the Beastie Boys’ 25-year run of musical accomplishment, including a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, four No. 1 albums, 40 million records sold and a laundry list of hit songs, such as “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!),” “Sabotage” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.”
“Adam was incredibly sweet and the most sensitive artist, who I loved dearly and was always inspired by his work. He will be missed by all of us,” said hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, whose “Def Jam” label put out the group’s debut, “Licensed to Ill,” in 1986.
With Yauch’s smooth rapping style and the group’s humorous lyrics, the Beastie Boys became the first white rap act to hit it big.
Fast-paced, rebellious and fun, the threesome helped popularize hip-hop among kids in the suburbs and served as a blueprint for hip-hop stars to come.
“I think it’s obvious to anyone how big an influence the Beastie Boys were on me and so many others,” rap star Eminem said yesterday. “They are trailblazers and pioneers, and Adam will be sorely missed.”
Yauch was known as the Beastie Boys’ most thoughtful member, and source of their innovative spirit. “Yauch was an immense talent and creative visionary,” said Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy.
Born in Brooklyn in Aug. 5, 1964, Yauch formed the Beastie Boys as a hardcore punk act in high school with pal Michael “Mike D” Diamond. Their first performance was at Yauch’s 17th birthday party.
Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz would later come aboard, and the three Jewish kids from New York turned their focus toward taking over the hip-hop world.
With lyrics such as “Your mom busted in and said, ‘What’s that noise?’/ Aw, mom you’re just jealous it’s the Beastie Boys!” in “Fight for Your Right,” the group appealed to middle-class teens who may have never heard another rap song before.
Fans soon flocked to record stores in suburban malls and quickly propelled the album to the top of the charts.
“They made it safe for white people to listen,” said Tabitha Soren, a former MTV News correspondent who appeared in the video for “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!).”
“They were just so much fun. They weren’t off-putting for suburbanites like myself.”
What impressed Soren even more about the Beastie Boys was how they managed to grow as artists from their party-hearty beginnings. Their 1989 follow-up album, “Paul’s Boutique,” was both a critical and commercial success.
Their 1994 album “Ill Communication” would become their magnum opus with songs such as “Sabotage.”
Yauch would become a devoted Buddhist and advocate for a free Tibet. He also co-founded the independent-film distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories.
When he was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, he said he initially hoped it would be “very treatable.” But as his illness grew worse, the group was forced to cancel shows and the release of their 2011 album, “Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2” was delayed.
Yauch is survived by his wife, Dechen Wangdu, and his daughter, Tenzin Losel Yauch.