On May 4, the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch, also known by his stage name, MCA, passed away after a long battle with cancer. Yauch and his group—who originally formed as a hardcore band, opening for the Bad Brains and Misfits, among others—helped spearhead the crossover between hip hop and metal with hits like "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)!," "No Sleep till Brooklyn" (featuring a guest solo by Slayer's Kerry King), and "Sabotage." Here, Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine, Street Sweeper Social Club, and the Nightwatchman, remembers him.
"The Beastie Boys were as big an influence on me as they were on America. I was swept up in the jaw-dropping awesomeness of Licensed to Ill like everyone else. And while I was also into Run-DMC and Public Enemy, it was the Beastie Boys that hammered hip-hop into the suburbs of Middle America, and Middle America hasn't recovered yet. The Beasties connected with my hard-rock roots and had the same kind of spirit and irreverent attitude as my favorite punk bands. It felt entirely brand new and at the same time inevitable. And of course Adam Yauch was a linchpin of the group's powerful music.
"You could single out Adam's greatest-hits moments, but the thing that makes his work so brilliant is his unpredictable humor and his genius interplay with Ad Rock and Mike D. MCA was the gruff voice, part comedian and part catalog of arcane '70s and '80s trivia which would explode into unforgettable nuggets of lyrical wit and wisdom. He was also a fine musician, and transitioned the Beastie Funk to live instruments and millions of fans without skipping a beat.
"One of the very few bands in the history of Rage Against the Machine that kicked our ass in a live setting was the Beastie Boys. It was a benefit show in LA in 1994 for Leonard Peltier, the Native American activist. The Beastie Boys played right before us. They came out in UPS suits, and rocked, like, the 12 greatest songs of all time and destroyed the place. Then we came out and did these long, experimental jazz poetry jams. It was like, Uh oh, we just got it handed to us. I'm a pretty competitive rock person, so I thought, Damn it, we've got to get those guys back! So the next time we saw them, sometime in the late '90s, I was backstage with Adam and I was laughing about the previous gig and how we had really prepared our set list this time. Then he showed me the Beasties' set list, and they were just playing their songs in alphabetical order! You could tell a profound change had happened in his bandmates and him. Their vibe was 'We're at peace. Let's just play some music and enjoy it for the people.' Whereas I was still in my Neanderthal stage of 'We've got to compete!'
"Over the course of his career, I had the good fortune to witness Adam seamlessly segue from the wild, hard-rocking, hard-partying Beastie Boy to the artistically adventurous, ground breaking hip-hop artiste, and then he became a great humanitarian and proponent of world peace and the Tibetan cause. Adam spearheaded the Free Tibet movement and his unique talents and conviction made it a global phenomenon. While Rage Against the Machine spoke out forcefully for many social justice causes, the level of focus and success Adam achieved in galvanizing a generation around the Tibet issue was historic.
"A few years ago, another one of my favorite musicians, Ronnie James Dio passed away, like Adam, from cancer. At Dio's memorial, his brother spoke forcefully about how there is a time to grieve, a time to appreciate the music, but also a time to remember that this tragic passing is a wake-up call regarding your own health. Get regular check-ups and if something seems a little bit funny health-wise, get it checked out. It could save your life. You don't want the weight of the sadness that we all feel about Adam in your own family because you couldn't make time to go to the doctor.
"Adam Yauch's life as an artist and activist is one that I greatly admire and his passing is such a tragic loss. There are some lights that burn so very brightly and when they're gone, it's hard to imagine things ever being right again. Adam Yauch was one of those guys. The good news is we will always have his breathtakingly funky music and videos to light the way. He will be missed."