To a particular generation and to a certain strain of collective individuals within that blessed generation, we just had our JFK or John Lennon moment. I make no apology for the words you are about to read. I, and many like me, lost one of the best friends he never knew he had. Adam Yauch, aka MCA of The Beastie Boys, passed away losing his battle against cancer that he valiantly fought for over three dignified years.
I received a text message from my mate Dish, simply saying “Adam Yauch dead?!?” No. It can’t be. This was one third of the musical Peter Pan – as long as they were alive, I could feel eternally young. They were invincible, right? Undefeatable. Not by the police in 1987 on the Def Jam tour, when we had our jaws dropped with lyrics referencing porno mags, packaged in the gatefold sleeve of a crashed plane. Not by the know-all journalists who slated future classic Paul’s Boutique, when they had turned their punk-ass, sneering attitude into the deep grooves and samples that were years ahead of hip-hop’s golden era. Not by record label executives and publishers trying to take their money. Not by the mainstream. Only by a fucking unspeakable disease that has no cure. And when the Dalai Lama makes a comment about an individual’s time on Earth, you know you’re talking about a very special soul indeed.
So why do they mean so much to me, to us? And why does it hurt so much right now? Because, frankly, they validated me – they made being white, skinny and middle class cool. I was 2 out of 3, yet they made me feel totally relevant – never cool, as they set that standard so high, it was always out of my grasp. They made it alright to at least try, and stick two funky fingers up on the way past. As label-mates of the aggressive, proto-righteousness of Chuck D’s Public Enemy, they were alter-ego comic book characters, larger than life, and had the attitude to match. It was call-and-response party music for a generation, who’s musical ability and quality grew and matured with their audience perfectly. They were my Beatles and Stones.
In 1992 they released this writer’s favourite album of all time. Check Your Head is a downright fucking masterpiece. If you don’t believe me – and honestly what claim do I have to this knowledge? – Liam Howlett of The Prodigy described it as “the most street record ever made”. They had spent time away and MCA had rediscovered his love of playing bass, Mike D picked up his drumsticks again and Adrock scratched around on a beaten-up Gibson SG. They rediscovered the energy of their earlier EPs. They became a proper band again. A fucking cool gang. And we were all proud-as-punch, card-carrying members, wearing our X-Large tees and adi Campus in time to the funkiest march.
I spent the summer of 1992 – and most of 1993, I reckon! – telling everyone I knew about it, endlessly, and I’ve written about it before last year when reviewing Hot Sauce Committee Part II. My friends, I apologise to you if I bored the hell out of you. But hopefully you got why it mattered to me. Instrumental funk, hardcore punk, dirty breaks, shouting rhymes, life-changing bass-lines and kick-ass t-shirts. Christ, I even had a baseball cap that I wore so much the white embroidery was golden when I had to throw it away two years later. It identified me. My validation continued.
Whilst Adrock and Mike D got the limelight and celebrity girlfriends, MCA took a different path: he skated, learnt to snowboard before anyone even knew about it, and continued his education of Buddhism – a dedication that will help his family through these dark days of mourning. He also assisted Spike Jonez on their various hilarious video shoots, obsessively watching and learning.
As Nathaniel Hornblower, he established Oscilloscope pictures, and directed a full-length documentary titled Gunning For That Number 1 Spot – combining his love of New York and basketball. I have been burdened with the New York Knicks as my team because of them – the t-shirt Mike D wears in the So What’Cha Want video caught me at my most deciple-able moment.
I’ve been writing these pages for 18 months now, and when I set my page up, I needed an image for the header. Without a moment’s thought, I grabbed Glenn E. Friedman’s iconic shot from the cover of Check Your Head. My favourite photographer, shooting my favourite band for the front of my favourite album. If that doesn’t identify me in one image, then very few others ever will.
No other band will hit me like they did. And within that, MCA was Sid Vicious with Bootsy Collins’ genes. We won’t see their like again, and for that there is only one thing that I, and hopefully others have: it’s called gratitude. And that’s right.
Take it away, MCA. Go skate the clouds.
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