As the earth spins into brand new day
I see the light on the horizons’s not fading away
Gonna shine from within like a bright white sun
No need to hide and no place to run
Got the vibrations of the music
Bringing light to your mind
So you can move and groove
And feel the beat of the time
Sense the power in the air as it starts to move
You get a real good feeling that you just can’t lose
MCA – Beastie Boys “Stand Together”
I first became infatuated with hip-hop at the age of 11 or 12. I was cycling my BMX out on the lane outside my house in the early 90s when I heard this strage, but exciting sound coming from my older neighbour’s bedroom window. A few days later I asked him what it was and he said something along the lines of “You are too young for that!”. Deflated, I went back to my Michael Jackson tape collection.
A few months later the same neighbour came over to my house with a big box of tapes. He handed them to me and said they were now mine – his hip-hop cassette tape collection. He had, apparently, moved on swiftly to the new and emerging Seattle grunge sound. Out was the boombox, and in was a drumkit. Teenage fads move fast. His loss was my gain, I was left with a treasure trove of music including classics that would become dear to my heart, including N.W.A (their first EP “N.W.A. & The Posse” was a particularly proud possession), Public Enemy and 2 Live Crew. It was a good early foundation course in hip-hop for a glasses wearing floppy haired Michael Jackson obsessive. But there was something missing.
I went off to secondary school a confirmed hip-hop fan. These were different times however and whilst rap music is now a mainstream convention, back then it was a thing to be mocked. I was a wannabe, a ‘wigger’ and got reminded regularly. I built my tape collection diligently with pocket money; adding Ice Cubes solo work and more Public Enemy. Then one day I was at home and my sister and her friend walked through the kitchen. Her friend heard what I was listening to and said “Do you like the Beastie Boys?”. I instantly lied, in a desperate attempt to not look uncool, and said I did. “What is your favourite album?” I was asked. “Er..all of them?”
A few days later I asked my sister if she could get a lend of some of her friend’s Beastie tapes (“I lost my copy….”). So I spent one evening doing the old “press play and record” routine and got myself copies of “Paul’s Boutique” and “Check Your Head”, and I was instantly hooked. From that moment on The Beastie Boys would become my favourite group, a group I would listen to on a weekly basis, almost without interruption.
The Beasties earned a special place in my heart. I loved hip-hop, but there was always a tiny disconnection between me and the artists I loved. For as much as “Straight Outta Compton” unfailingly gets my head nodding, I could never really _relate_ to it. The Beasties changed that. They liked shit late night 70s cop thrillers. So did I. They were middle-class nerds. So was I. And they _loved_ hip-hop, and so did I.
So I became a Beastie acolyte from that moment on. Their humour, humanity, eclecticism, musicianship, and energy makes them, for me, the greats musical group of all time. Over their near-30 year career they have made some of the best hip-hop music I’ve ever heard, mixed in with all sorts of crazy different flavours.
I can remember clear as day the first time I listened to every album, from my dusty “Check Your Head” pirate copy, to rushing home with “Hello Nasty” to stick it into the CD tray of our cream Dell desktop, to the unbridled joy of downloading their last album “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” and realising that they had made another classic (I have that on vinyl, despite not owning a record player….) I saw them live in Belgium in 2004, probably the best live show I have ever seen, and the highpoint of a great weekend of beer and banter with my best friends. I once bought a copy of their “Grand Royal” magazine from someone on eBay to be greeted by a bonus DMC (From Run DMC) action figure thrown in by the seller. And there are many more memories.
Through all this, my favourite Beastie was Adam “MCA” Yauch. Its much documented, but Yauch was the one who went from being the most ignorant, obnoxious member to being the thoughtful, spiritual Buddhist member who fought for Tibetan independence. He has supplied some of their deeper moments , through songs like “A Year and a Day”, “Stand Together” and “Bodhisattva Vow” (as well, as some of their silliest). He was also my first real introduction to Buddhism, as he was for many, and laid the groundwork for what has become a key interest of mine.
Yauch nicely maintained the balance between being a goofy entertainer and being a positive force in the world. You get the impression he really worked hard on that; diligent not to put out negative vibes but at the same time expressing themselves in a fun and energetic way.
After dinner yesterday I was just scanning through my Twitter timeline when I saw it. Questlove from the Roots Tweeted:
Yauch is gone. Fuck.
And my jaw dropped. Then I saw another Tweet. And another. And it hit me, he was gone. MCA of the Beastie Boys was dead. Floored. I remember thinking the worst when he didn’t attend the bands induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month, but didn’t entertain really the thought they he might go. He had appeared to be on the mend since first announcing his battle with cancer in 2009.
Buddhism teachs us that everything is impermanent and that accepting and understanding this is the key to enlightenment. And there’s no stronger reminder of impermanence than when someone passes away. It lays it out starkly for you.
Seeing the universal outpouring of love and respect for Adam that has since flowed is testament to his stature as an artist and a man. The Beasties have always been my favourite group, and always will be. And i’ll continue to listen to them daily as I bop around the place.
Thanks Adam, Adam and Mike for everything.
Rest in Peace Yauch.