Born in 1964, Adam Yauch started out in a hardcore punk band. He formed the Beastie Boys in the early 1980s with friend Mike D. Later Adam Horovitz, aka Ad-Rock, joined the trio. The band released their first album, License to Ill, in 1986, and quickly became rap-rock superstars. They released several hit albums, including Hello Nasty (1998) and To the 5 Boroughs (2004). Yauch was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. He died in New York City on May 4, 2012.
For more than three decades, Adam Yauch—also known as MCA—created irreverent and imaginative music that fused rap with funk and rock as a member of the Beastie Boys. He started out as a teenager, playing hardcore punk with Mike D (Michael Diamond), Kate Schellenbach, and John Berry. The band soon evolved, shedding members Schellenbach and Berry and bringing in Adam Horovitz, also known as Ad-Rock.
This trio showcased their legendary sense of humor on one of their early tracks, "Cooky Puss." Named after a popular Carvel ice cream novelty cake, this rap single featured crack calls to an ice cream shop. Before long, Yauch and his band mates met Rick Rubin who served as their DJ for a time. Rubin and Russell Simmons, the co-founders of the Def Jam record label, started working with the trio. In 1984, Def Jam released the Beastie Boys' single, "Rock Hard."
The following year, Yauch and his band mates went on tour with pop star Madonna. The pairing proved to be a terrible mismatch with Madonna fans, booing the loud and rowdy rappers. The group fared much better the following year with the release of their first album.
In 1986, Yauch went through a tremendous career transformation, from little-known performer to MTV darling. The Beastie Boys' first album Licensed to Ill (1986) featured the youth anthem "Fight for Your Right (To Party)," which was a Top 10 hit. The song's video, which depicted the trio as party animals, ended up in heavy rotation on MTV. And on the tour for the album, they did their best to live up to their reputation. Licensed to Ill went on to sell more than 4 million copies.
Splitting with Def Jam in the 1980s, the Beastie Boys continued their musical evolution with Paul's Boutique (1989). Dropping some of their early bravado, the group showed their abilities as careful musical craftsmen without losing their sense of fun and good humor. Unfortunately, the recording did not get the respect it deserved at the time.
Over the years, the Beastie Boys continued to rework and re-imagine their sound. They returned to the top of the charts with 1994's Ill Communication, which contained such songs as "Sure Shot" and "Sabotage." One of the more unusual samples found on the album was the sound of Tibetan monks, which reflected Yauch's interest in Buddhism. He became very active in the fight for Tibetan independence, helping to stage a series of rock shows known as the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. These concerts were held across the globe, beginning in 1996 with a performance in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Over the years, the Beastie Boys and other performers, such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins, worked to support this cause.
The Beastie Boys' popularity continued with 1998's Hello Nasty, an album that earned Yauch his first two Grammy Award wins. Their tribute to their hometown, To the 5 Boroughs (2004), proved to be another big hit for the group. In addition to providing vocals, Yauch helped write the band's music. He also served as a director on many of the group's videos. This interest in film and storytelling led to more work in the visual arts. He directed and produced the 2006 Beastie Boys live concert film Awesome: I F— Shot That!. In 2008, Yauch debuted another film, Gunnin' for That #1 Spot, a basketball documentary.
In July 2009, Yauch announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Doctors had discovered a tumor on his salivary gland. He and his fellow Beasties canceled their summer tour so that he could focus on getting better. To treat the condition, Yauch had surgery and radiation treatment.
Postponed because of Yauch's illness, the Beastie Boys finally released their next album, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2, in 2011. The recording proved to be a strong seller, hitting the top of the rap, rock, and hip-hop charts. In addition to their commercial success, the group also received a prestigious honor the following year: The Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2012. However, Yauch was unable to attend the ceremony. A few weeks later, on May 4, Adam Yauch died in New York City at the age of 47.
Yauch's death was a great loss to the musical world. Friends and colleagues mourned his passing. "Adam was incredibly sweet and the most sensitive artist who I loved dearly," Russell Simmons said in a statement. "I was always inspired by his work. He will be missed by all of us."
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