Hip-hop pioneer Adam Yauch, better known as MCA of the Beastie Boys, died this morning of cancer, at age 47. The information was reported by Def Jam founder Russell Simmons.
The Beasties' legacy spans three decades, crossing genres and mediums. The group had a knack for innovation. Originally a hardcore New York City punk band, they first found fame in the mid-'80s opening for Madonna and performing their famed Rick Rubin-produced rock-rap hybrid music.
MCA was immediately the stand-out presence of the trio, his grizzled voice — between Ad-Rock and Mike D.'s higher-pitched wails — made for their most conventional element, allowing them to connect to a more traditional hip-hop audience.
Their 1986 debut, Licensed to Ill, was the first rap album to top the Billboard 200 chart and has sold 9 million copies.
The group returned in 1989, toning down their belligerent goof-ball attitudes on the groundbreaking, Dust Brothers-assisted landmark album Paul's Boutique. Evolving with the times, the group continued through the '90s by playing their own instruments on their albums Check Your Head, Ill Communication and Hello Nasty. They hit a creative stride with their music videos, winning the MTV Video Vanguard award in 1998.
While the trio released music far less frequently in recent years, Yauch stayed busy in other mediums. His basketball documentary Gunnin For That #1 Spot was released in 2008. An avid basketball fan, Yauch was also frequently found as a hidden player in popular basketball games such as NBA Jam and NBA Street V3.
Yauch, along with the other Beasties and the Smashing Pumpkins, established the non-profit Milarepa Fund for Tibetan independent in 1994. He also organized the first Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1996, raising over $800,000 and inspiring other similarly-minded concerts around the world.
But in 2009…
…Yauch announced that he had a cancerous tumor in his parotid gland. While the group never performed together again, they put out their final album Hot Sauce Committee Part Two in 2011. Its promotion was led by the Yauch-directed video “Make Some Noise,” and extended celebrity-laden short film Fight For Your Right Revisited. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in December, although Yauch wasn't present for the ceremony.
Following his passing, everyone from Lenny Kravitz to Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong have expressed their sympathies. UGK's Bun-B tweeted “Brass Monkey was the worst tasting liquor ever. And we drank it anyway. Cuz the song was so jamming. RIP MCA.” Comedian Michael Ian Black added: “Unique among long-lived bands, The Beastie Boys never sucked. Never.”
A father and husband, Yauch leaves us with a legacy spanning several mediums and generations.