Friday, May 11, 2012

The Beastie Boys - An Appreciation

On Friday March 4, Adam Nathanial Yauch succumbed to cancer at the age of 48.  Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, was one of the founding members of The Beastie Boys.

The Beastie Boys started out as a hardcore band.  Influenced by Minor Threat and the legendary all black punk group Bad Brains, the Beasties played a sped up punk.

The song “Cookie Puss” from 1983 was their first hip hop song.  Their underground success with the song led to the band incorporating more hip hop into their repertoire.

Melding Metal, Punk and Rap, Licensed to Ill was the first number one album in hip-hop history.  Typified by songs like “Fight For Your Right” in some ways the album was widely misunderstood on its release even by them.  The song “Fight For Your Right” was intended to be a satire of a drunken frat boy party mentality.  However once this became their signature song, they actually became the drunken frat boys they were supposedly making fun of.

After an acrimonious split with Def Jam Records, the Beastie Boys decamped to Los Angeles.  After meeting the Dust Brothers, they recorded Paul’s Boutique.  This album featured a densely sampled production techniques.  While not a commercial success on release (personally I’m not the biggest fan of the first single “Hey Ladies” and it initially soured me on listening to the rest of the album) it has now become a critical success.

Listening to “Shake Your Rump” this week, I was by how ahead of its time it sounded.  In the chorus after the phrase “Shake Your Rump-ah” there is a slight pause and the bass drops and even becomes a little wobbly.  The effect is similar to what we would now hear in dubstep.

With Check Your Head, the Beastie Boys started playing instruments again.  Combining rock, rap, funk and reggae influences, the band gained new fans from the burgeoning alternative scene.  Driven by a Fuzz Bass line from MCA, “Gratitude” shows some of the disparate influences that fueled this album.

“Jimmy James” is one of my favourite tracks from Check Your Head.  It was a tribute to Jimmy Hendrix created by MCA.

A couple of years later The Beasties came back with Ill Communication.  The first video “Sabotage”, directed by Spike Jonze is a classic.

Whether it was their activism with respect to Tibet or support for feminism, the band displayed a maturity that complimented their still goofy nature.  As a fan, it seemed to me that this was led by Yauch.

Yauch, inspired by the Dalai Lama, converted to Buddhism.  Proceeds from the song “Bodhisattva Vow” were donated to the Free Tibet movement.

Adam Yauch, credited as Nathaniel Hornblower directed many of their videos.  These included goofy videos like Intergalactic from Hello Nasty.

The Beasties followed up Hello Nasty with the hardcore punk EP Aglio e Olio, the album To the 5 Boroughs, which was both their return to New York and their response to the presidency of George W. Bush and The Mix Up which was an instrumental album.

In July 2009, Adam Yauch announced that he had cancer of the salivary gland.  One day later the first single "Too Many Rappers" featuring Nas was released from the forthcoming Hot Sauce Committee Part One which was scheduled for release in September, 2009 . 

Release of the album was delayed until May 2011 with a slightly altered title Hot Sauce Committee Part Two.  Just prior to that, the single “Make Some Noise” was released.  Its video entitled “Fight For Your Right Revisited” details what happened immediately after the “Fight For Your Right” video.  Written and directed by Adam Yauch, a 30 minute short film version was also released.

On April 14, 2012 the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Adam Yauch did not attend the proceedings.  Two weeks later Adam Yauch succumbed to the cancer.

I’ll leave this post with one final clip.  During the 1994 MTV Music Video Awards (back when MTV actually played Music Videos) Spike Jonze was nominated for directing “Sabotage”.  He lost to REM’s “Everybody Hurts”.  Adam Yauch, dressed as Nathaniel Hornblower objected to that loss.

Rest In Peace, MCA.

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