R.I.P. MCA of the Beastie Boys
To most kids of my generation, only a couple of years behind Adrock in age at the time they blew up, the Beastie’s were super heroes. Who didn’t want to be them? Signed to the coolest Hip Hop label, growing up in public and doing the rock star thing for their first album and then moving to the west coast and hooking up with the Dust Brothers for the second.
They were a gang, you knew all their close friends from shout outs on the records and collages on the record sleeves, and you knew what they were into from their lyrics. Skateboarding, snowboarding, hardcore, rap, funk, rock, playing basketball backstage, making films and building their own recording studio. Always flipping the script with artwork and videos and always one step ahead of a trend as evidenced by countless articles in their Grand Royal magazine and the Yauch-directed ‘Sabotage’ video. Never taking themselves too seriously, you knew they were doing exactly what they wanted and having a ball.
The news that Yauch is gone is just unfathomable, I mean, he had throat cancer a few years back and he beat that, didn’t he? As far a we knew he did – of course he did, he was a superhero, beating cancer was childs play for him - “hang on, we’re just going to postpone our album for a bit while Adam battles cancer”. 6 months later, job done, the album’s out, let’s move on. You never doubted he’d beat it, it was just a formality, he was a Beastie Boy, a super hero. The news on May the 4th came out of the blue like a left hook you never saw coming, this time there would be no comeback for a new cross-over series starting next month. Now I’ve had time to take it in I’ve written some memories of the Beasties – who it will always be impossible to separate MCA from – who have been part of my musical merry go round since 1985.
I (unknowingly) first heard MCA’s gruff tones over the early Def Jam oddity, ‘Drum Machine’ by Burzootie, shouting, “Now there’s a thing called the drum machine”, repeatedly over a DMX beat that sounded like Tackhead. One of those weird one-off records that only happen when labels are finding their feet, it was a collab between Jay Burnett (Burzootie) MCA (Master Def Yauch) and Arthur Baker (Shakin’ Baker) with edits by the Latin Rascals. Next was ‘Slow & Low’ which turned up on a free 7″ with the NME I think and by the time ‘Hold It Now, Hit It’ surfaced they were most definitely on the radar.
Raising Hell Tour ’86 at the Hammersmith Odeon with LL, Whodini & Run DMC: Beasties were first on, they did ‘Slow & Low’ and ‘Hold It Now, Hit It’, wisely leaving the metal of ‘She’s On It’ off the set list for the Hip Hop crowd, and that was it. They had precious other material released at that point that anyone had heard (‘Cookie Puss’ was still under the radar and even ‘Rock Hard’ and ‘Drum Machine’ were not that well known). ‘Licensed to Ill’ wasn’t out then but they tore into the 10 minute set they had with Rick ‘DJ Double R’ Rubin as their DJ.
Less than a year later ‘Licensed To Ill’ was the soundtrack to the summer holiday of ’87 and I painted the Beastie Boys’ logo from the tail of the plane on the cover on the back of my jacket. A kid at college asked me, “what’s does ‘Licensed to three’ mean?”. After seeing Mike D on the cover of the NME wearing a VW logo round his neck I went out and pulled a big silver one off the front of a van the next weekend. Saw them in Brighton at the Conference Centre and they had the caged girls, inflatable penis, beer throwing and we saw them walking along the sea front, I still have the programme. I bought the tour T-shirt which I wore into an exam that bore the legend ‘Get Off My Dick’ on the back, I was told not to wear it again.
‘Paul’s Boutique’ - still one of my top 3 Hip Hop records and one of my favourite albums of all time. The haters at the time were wrong, it was a classic all along, they were far more than just a white rap act with rock riffs. The bad press didn’t make sense at all, this album was way better than the debut – just too far ahead of the game I suppose. It’s widely acknowledged that, along with De La‘s ’3ft High & Rising’, ‘Paul’s Boutique’ was one of the last albums made with huge samples. They were sampling the Beatles for godsake, you can’t make records like that anymore.
‘Check Your Head’ – summer soundtrack of ’92, up their with PB as a favourite, but this time they were playing as well as sampling! I used to walk around with this on my Walkman trying to find a job when college finished for the summer. I had no money and had just come out of a long relationship, it kept me sane. Saw them with the Rollins Band at the Town & Country Club and crowd-surfed – awesome gig.
‘Ill Communication’ – blasting it out of the warehouse in the first job I had post-college, that and Grand Royal magazine after it just cemented the legend. Video for ‘Sabotage’ was a classic and I saw them at Glastonbury in the rain in ’94, and sought out the bootleg tape of the set later.
‘Hello Nasty’ tour, Brixton Academy ’98, I was one of the support acts alongside Kid Koala, Money Mark, Invisibl Skratch Picklz, X-Men, Ollie Teeba and the Scratch Perverts. Ollie and I practiced a 4 deck routine for weeks but I was so nervous I couldn’t enjoy the gig for one second. Had dinner backstage with Mixmaster Mike and Kid Koala and MCA sat on the next table, no big star trip, just a regular guy. The gig poster still hangs in my kids’ bedroom and they have a gang that they want to call the Beastie Boys.
I always thought that MCA came across as the more mature member of the group, the one keenest to put the events of their first album behind them. He seemed to grow out of that the quickest and his support for the Tibetan Monks just cemented this, his concerns were far wider than just the group. Out of all the lyrics that MCA threw out into the world this one always comes back and I think it would make a fine epitaph:
“I want to say a little something that’s long overdue
The disrespect to women has got to be through
To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends
I want to offer my love and respect to the end”
Thank you MCA, Adam Yauch – I will miss you but I have so many good memories because of what you and the Beasties did.