RIP Adam Yauch
Could the Beastie Boys be my generation’s Beatles? This was brought up in a brief conversation I had with somebody this afternoon. While it’s definitely an apples and oranges discussion (and Adam Yauch’s death certainly can’t compare to when John Lennon was shot), it’s hard to think of any other post-70s band (I use ‘band” to not overlook Michael Jackson) that was as successful, influential, and overall loved by so many different demographics (for so many different reasons).
Because really, who’s fucking with the Beastie Boys? Not many groups have had that undeniable synergy and talent to reinvent themselves numerous times throughout a 25+ year career, all the while essentially writing the definition of what “cool” was for the rest of the world to follow. Superficial as it might seem, I for one could make serious judgement about a person based on whether or not they liked the Beasties (and *how* they liked the Beasties).
But what else could you expect from someone who was so definitively influenced by a group? As a white hip hop head in my late 20s, it would be facetious to suggest that the Beastie Boys’ role in my development as a musician and listener was anything short of monumental. @Chromeo posted on Twitter that the Beastie Boys basically invented the concept of the cool white person, and they pretty much hit the nail on the head.
My real awakening to them was with the Check Your Head/Ill Communication albums – two records that are blissfully time stamped from an era in which hopping musical genres seemed bold yet earnest, live instrumentation could seamlessly co-exist with the tools that were emerging as the standard for what would be the modern late-20th Century musician (sampler + records), and going crazy with samples was still a viable option (if you had Licensed to Ill money, anyway).
Of course the Beastie Boys didn’t invent sampling, but they WERE both statesmen of “cool” as well as a potential gateway into the rest of hip hop culture (what you choose to do when presented with the red and blue pills was of course entirely up to the individual). And while listeners may choose their favorites when it comes to embracing the rest of their catalog, I will say that the majority of the releases that came before and after those early 90s albums are records that still find their way into my rotation today – and it’s not just for nostalgia. There really are few groups that took it to where the Beasties did, so well, so frequently, so fresh.
As early as high school, I was making 4-track recordings that ranged from vague descendants to straight up BITING of this group. And as I matured and grew, just maybe slightly behind the evolution of the band members themselves, I found more elements to appreciate, blatantly copy, digest, and finally appropriately incorporate into my own identity. Their endorsement of bands and other cool factions of popular culture (often DEFINING WHAT WOULD BE POPULAR CULTURE) exposed me to music and artists that might otherwise have not been a blip on my radar. That same vibrance for music also applied to their visuals (frequently credited to the vision and direction of MCA himself), and if there is a group out there that has as rich a catalog of videos to their name, then please let me know. Everything they seemed to do would inspire and enliven my mind and my idea of what is actually possible – and what more can you really ask for from an artist?
There’s much more that can be said about the group and Yauch’s place in the canon of music and pop culture, and it can probably be summarized a lot more eloquently than I’m able to at the moment. Yes, the music and legacy will live on forever (that is, after all, part of the reason why artists create art in the first place, right? to achieve a form of immortality?), and yes, this guy lead an amazing life – a life more incredible than what most of us get to experience. But it’s certainly a surreal and sad feeling to know that the Beastie Boys will no longer exist in the way that they have the majority of my life. I’m grateful for what Adam Yauch was able to contribute to my life and the world around me, and I can only hope to put my own spin of bboy-makin-with-the-freak-freak into everything I do till I’m no longer here, too.
RIP Adam Yauch.