As the stray reader might have noticed, the blog has been dormant for a while here, feeling the effects of pressure elsewhere. I can’t let the passing of Adam Yauch, aka. MCA of the Beastie Boys pass in complete silence, however.
I refer you to the New York Times obituary for the lowdown on his remarkable career, and New York Magazine‘s oral history for a record of the auspicious beginnings of the Beastie Boys. Here, I’ll merely add that they were always the exception to the rule: three Jewish kids staking an entirely credible claim in hip hop that has never been challenged, communicating with a wide, predominantly white audience at a time when the genre had not yet become the commercial juggernaut we came to see through the nineties, and doing it without losing any cred with the hardcore audience. Part of their innovation, and surely instrumental to their success, is that they took the humor and irony of old school rap and gave it their own twist, maintaining and developing it over the years as the rest of hip hop largely forgot it.
They may not ever been a the center of things in hip hop, but always retained their spot simply because they were doing their thing so convincingly. Something no other white act, not even 3rd Bass or Eminem, were able to achieve more than momentarily.
With Paul’s Boutique they took things to the next level. This is abstract, at times entirely instrumental, hip hop before such a thing existed in any large measure. A record that expanded the very idea of sampling as a creative avenue in music in ways only few other artists — primarily The Bomb Squad — had been able to until then. Not only is it hard to imagine DJ Shadow, Company Flow, Anticon, or many other city-to-suburban hip hop pioneers of the late nineties and early naughts without the example of the Dust Brothers and the Beasties, they also anticipated developments in more true school experimental hip hop, from Native Tongues to Hieroglyphics, and more fundamentally they surely helped shape the evolution of electronic music in ways that remain to be examined.
Besides grounding the group with his awesome bass playing, Yauch’s raspy basso was the foundation of the three-way exchange on the mic the trio developed over the years. Beyond that he was the straight guy to Mike D and Adrock’s clownery, crucially tempering their frivolity by dropping the odd bits of science around his own tomfoolery. The moral center to the group. Rest in peace.