Adam Yauch, the gravel-voiced third of Noo Yawk '80s and '90s rap-rock superstars the Beastie Boys, has died at age 47, Rolling Stone reports. The exact circumstances of his death were unknown at press time, but Yauch had been battling cancer since being diagnosed with a tumor in his salivary glands in 2009.
As the first group to bring rap and hip-hop to a largely white, suburban audience, the Beasties' influence on the past 30 years of popular music cannot be overstated. Their breakthrough 1986 album, Licensed to Ill, combined heavy sampling of classic-rock groups like Led Zeppelin (which later got them into hot water) with sophomoric humor and the Boys' irresistible, sometimes inscrutable Brooklyn slang.
With estimated sales around the nine or ten million mark, it is the most successful debut album of all time and the most successful album in the history of its label, Def Jam.
As they matured, the Beasties tried to distance themselves from Ill's frat-boy image and somehow became even more influential. Produced by the Dust Brothers, Ill's 1989 follow-up Paul's Boutique was a madcap collage of samples and references from old-school rap, '70s cinema (Car Wash, High Plains Drifter, The Harder They Come), and obscure soul and funk; anything from bong hits to Deliverance's Eric Weissberg playing the banjo.
Although it undersold at the time, Boutique was directly responsible for the stardom of roots-savvy hip-hop troubadors such as Beck and G. Love and made the Dust Brothers one of the most in-demand producers of the '90s.
Thanks in part to the stricter sampling and fair-use laws Paul's Boutique helped bring about, the Beasties eased up on the sampling and largely played their own instruments on their next two records, Check Your Head (1992) and Ill Communication (1994). By then the Beastie Boys had completely overhauled their image into the wisecracking, lovable hipsters next door, and those albums spawned such hit singles as "So Whatcha Want," "Sabotage" and "Sure Shot."
Although they never lost the old Brooklyn pass-the-mike vibe, later albums such as like 1998's Hello Nasty and last year's Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 were heavily influenced by electronic groups like Daft Punk. Early on, some rappers were skeptical about the group's skills (and jealous of their success), but the Beastie Boys became among Generation X's most revered artists. Everybody under 45 better be blasting "Fight for Your Right to Party," "Shadrach" or "Intergalactic" right now.
Yauch was born August 5, 1964, as an only child in Brooklyn. He grew up a fan of hardcore punk rock, and formed the Beastie Boys with fellow MCs Michael "Mike D" Diamond and Adam "King Ad-Rock" Horovitz in 1979. Just a few years later, they were superstars.
Yauch became a fan of Eastern philosophy, and inserted his interest in Buddhism into songs like Ill Communication's "Bodhisattva Vow," and was one of the organizers of the Free Tibet concerts. He is survived by his bandmates, his wife, Dechen Wangdu, and one daughter. According to fan site beastiemania.com, he hired her favorite band, Rancid, to play their wedding as a gift.
There is no telling the last time the Beastie Boys played Houston. It looks like it was at the Summit for the Ill Communication tour with the Roots and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the show that spawned the memorable Uncle Charlie poster at right. They also appeared with Run-DMC at the Summit in 1987 and the Sam Houston Coliseum in November 1992 with Rollins Band and Cypress Hill, a show commemorated by another famous poster by Charlie's mentor, Frank Kozik (top).
Here is part of the comment former Houston promoter Tom Bunch, who also brought the Boys to the Unicorn in 1991 with House of Pain, posted about that Coliseum show:
One of the waitresses recognized the Beastie Boys and called her son, who got all his friends together and waited outside of Mai's at 3am and when the Beastie Boys went out the front door, there were 20+ Vietnamese kids, all dressed up in their best hip hop gear, singing Beastie Boys songs.
The Beastie Boys were amazed, actually blown away, as they did not see the kids outside waiting. Mike D asked one of the kids if he went to the concert and he said he did not know they were playing in Houston, so Mike D told me that i dropped the ball and did not properly market the show to the Vietnamese community (he was joking, as the show was a huge success).
Great times, great friends.
After Yauch's diagnosis, the Beasties stopped performing live and had to cancel an appearance at the 2009 Austin City Limits Music Festival. That could conceivably have brought them to Houston, but we'll never know. The only other time they performed in Texas in recent memory was a surprise appearance at Stubb's during SXSW 2006.
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See the next page for a few of the Beasties' promo photos through the years.
See more pictures from MCA and the Beastie Boys' career in this slideshow.