Friday, May 25, 2012

Adam Yauch - Pioneer and Original Spirit

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recently inducted into their stable several deserving bands, and of those bands only one, ONE rap/hiphop act made it in 2012.  The Beastie Boys were an enigmatic group that amalgamated perceived differing generations of rap/hiphop.  At a time when it was thought (and in some instances assumed) that rap/hiphop was strictly an inner city phenomena, the Beastie Boys proved them all wrong.  At the forefront of the Beasties was Adam Yauch.

The Beastie Boys became a household name of sorts with their emblematic "License to Ill" and a little ditty called "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)".  There are extreme oddities with the Beasties but perhaps the most extreme is the fact that the aforementioned song was thought of as having brought white teens (more specifically young men) into the world of rap.  When I first heard people actually say that back in 1986 I thought that was by far the stupidest thing I had ever heard, and I think that I was still spot on after all of these years.

Much of 1986 is still a blur for me (I graduated high school that year so things got blurred) but I do remember "License to Ill".  The Beasties and Yauch weren't just "white guys rapping", they were extremely talented musicians and rappers.  Yes I said musicians and I actually mean it.  Yauch was a gifted bass player and when you realize that he taught himself how to play bass and subsequently started the Beastie Boys to play at his seventeenth birthday party then it makes sense.

From that day Yauch picked up a bass for the first time to present the Beastie Boys and Yauch released eight albums, 34 singles, went number 1 four times, and released 43 videos.  As Yauch went, so did the Beasties and despite the fact that much of their success was found within the confines of rap/hiphop, the Beasties didn't start out that way.  From the inception of the band, believe it or not anglophiles the Beasties were once a hardcore punk band.  It wouldn't be outside the realm of thought that the edge the Beasties had could be attributed to their punk roots.

When you look back at the earliest touring days of the Beasties you would see that the band opened for punk bands like the Dead Kennedys, the Misfits and played at punk strongholds like CBGB and Max's Kansas City.  Within the confines of their punk roots, the Beasties could use the angst, anger and violence of the punk world and through all of that make the logical step from punk to rap/hiphop.  Yauch and his mates were able to take all of that and bring it to the world of rap.  During the late '80's and early '90's rap, more specifically "gangsta" rap became more terrifying for white suburbia than the "Satan worshiping metalheads."  Rap music was the antidote for said metalheads as organizations such as the PMRC fired up their engines and went on the offensive.

The PMRC and its ilk decided for all of us that they knew what was best for us all and bands that had profanity, sexual references, drug references and/or violence references were bad.  Bands like the Beasties were in the crosshairs.  The Beasties had music (and videos) that depicted drug use, talked about disobeying your parents (and the establishment), sexual references and all of those other things that were "bad".  Its amusing when I look back at it all today but imagine being a band during that wonderful era.  Yauch and his Beastie-mates were at the forefront of first of all not giving two shakes of Tipper's leg and because of such negative publicity from the PMRC, sales of their music (as well as their contemporaries) sky rocketed.

During the time that era bands came and went regardless of their genre but the Beastie Boys stayed the course.  How could they not?  The Beasties had Yauch and Def Jam Recordings and Def Jam's intrepid co-founder Rick Rubin. Rubin is a genius with his ability to find incredible acts and Yauch and the boys fit their mold perfectly. His (Yauch) skills as a producer, writer, and as a musician are unprecedented but Yauch was so much more than all of that.

Adam Yauch went toward the path less traveled I'm afraid and that was the path of philanthropy.  Yauch was the founder of the not-for-profit organization Milarepa Fund.  The Milarepa Fund is "dedicated to promoting awareness and activism regarding the injustices perpetrated on native Tibetans by Chinese occupational government and military forces." (thanks to the Beastie Boys website for that quote)  In 1996, Milarepa produced the first Tibetan Freedom Concert in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, which was attended by 100,000 people, making it the biggest benefit concert on U.S. soil since 1985's Live Aid. (thank you for this quote too).  Following the attacks of September 11th, 2001 Yauch and the boys headlined a benefit for victims of the attacks and more specifically those victims that would be less likely to receive aide.

The passing of Yauch following a three-year fight against cancer takes away a gifted, uber talented musician, philanthropist, husband and father.  While his fans will mourn his loss, the sorrow felt by his friends, his band mates and music but no one will be affected more than his family.  God rest your soul Adam Yauch.

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