Adam Yauch

Adam Yauch

Born Adam Nathaniel Yauch (pronounced "Yauk") in Brooklyn, NY on Aug. 5, 1964, he was the only child of painter and architect Noel Yauch and his wife, Carol. A devoted fan of hardcore punk long before his days as a hip-hop pioneer, Yauch started his own band, the Beastie Boys, with a cadre of friends including Michael Diamond and Kate Schellenbach. The Beastie Boys soon became a fixture of the New York punk scene, landing opening slots on high-profile bills with the Misfits and Bad Brains, among other legendary punk acts. The group's earliest incarnation recorded an EP, Polly Wog Stew, in 1982, while Yauch was attending Bard College. In 1983, Schellenbach left the group to co-form Luscious Jackson, while guitarist Adam Horovitz from the Young and the Useless joined the lineup. The following year, they recorded their first hip-hop track, "Cooky Puss," which incorporated a recording of an obscene prank call made by the group to a Carvel Ice Cream shop. The single became a cult favorite on the underground club scene, convincing the Beastie Boys, which had slimmed down to just Yauch, Diamond and Horovitz, to shift their attentions to rap.After adopting the hip-hop monikers MCA (Yauch), Mike D (Diamond) and Ad-Rock (Horovitz), the Beastie Boys recorded their first hip-hop EP, Rock Hard (1985), for Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, who had launched their own rap label, Def Jam, from their dorm room at New York University. That same year, the group made their feature film debut in "Krush Groove," which was loosely based on Simmons' experiences during the early days of Def Jam. Their single "She's On It," which was featured on the film's soundtrack, reached the Top 10 on the U.K. singles chart, which helped to launch their popularity in Europe. However, the Beastie Boys remained virtually unknown in America until they landed the opening slot on Madonna's 1985 Virgin Tour. While the pop singer's fan base did not warm to the group's raunchy onstage banter, the exposure afforded to such a high-profile tour boosted their visibility on a national level.In 1986, their debut album, Licensed to Ill, buoyed by the hilariously crass single "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!), became not only the first rap album to hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100, but also the biggest selling rap album of the decade. Critics complained that the Beasties' material was crude, misogynistic and altogether mindless, which may have been part of their appeal to young male listeners of all races. But the album, produced by Rubin, shrewdly drew parallels between the boys-being-boys attitude and ear-splitting volume of heavy metal and punk to rap, which was underscored by the presence of Slayer guitarist Kerry King on the song "No Sleep til Brooklyn." The Beasties soon launched their first world tour, which was punctuated by numerous arrests and lawsuits. By 1987, the group had left Def Jam for Capitol, leaving industry observers to wonder how they would top their astonishing debut success or if they were a bit of a one-hit wonder.To the surprise of nearly everyone, the Beastie Boys delivered Paul's Boutique (1988), a clever pastiche of carefully chosen samples from obscure funk and soul records and updated sonic references to recording styles of the past. The band's humor had also mellowed to show a distinctly self-deprecating side, as evidenced in their music video for the lead single, "Hey Ladies," which featured the Beasties as hapless disco dandies. Though it failed to reproduce the incredible success of Licensed to Ill, Paul's Boutique gave the Beastie Boys credibility in both mainstream music and hip-hop, where they were feted for their detailed musical knowledge and skillful production. It also served as the launching pad for a string of creatively inspired albums that showcased the band's versatility while remaining true to their "old school" hip-hop origins. 1992's Check Your Head saw the group pick up live instruments for the first time since the early '80s and pay tribute to their punk past with a hardcore take on the Sly and the Family Stone song "Time for Livin'." They also launched their own label, Grand Royal, which released albums by Luscious Jackson, among others, as well as a hilariously offbeat if short-lived magazine of the same name.In 1994, the group returned to the top of the Billboard album charts with Ill Communication, the same year they co-headlined the Lollapalooza Festival with Smashing Pumpkins. They continued to broaden their musical horizons with the punk EP Aglio e Olio (1995) and the soul/funk instrumental record The In Sound from Way Out! (1996). During this period, Yauch underwent an extraordinary transformation into a talented video director, as well as the spiritual center of the Beastie Boys. It was a considerable leap from his early days with the group, where his unshaven, T-shirt-wearing persona appeared to be the apotheosis of the band's worst knuckle-dragging tendencies. But by 1996, he had reemerged as a gentler soul, thanks in part to his practice of Buddhism, which he supported, along with the rights of the Tibetan people, through benefit concerts and the all-star Tibetan Freedom Concert series in 1996, as well as his own foundation, the Milarepa Fund.Billed as Nathaniel Hornblower, Yauch also began directing the Beastie Boys' music videos, beginning in 1997 with their proudly offbeat clip for the Grammy-winning single "Intergalactic," which paid homage to Japanese science fiction television like "Giant Robot" (NET/TV Asahi, 1967-1968). Yauch would helm the majority of their subsequent videos while remaining their most politically conscious voice, speaking out against anti-Muslim statements in the media and the lax security at Woodstock '99, which allowed for numerous sexual assaults against female audience members. The Beastie Boys also became one of the first groups to subvert the traditional music distribution method by providing mp3 downloads of their songs to fans via their website. During this period, the Beastie Boys remained active as musicians, releasing the Top 20 best-of album The Sounds of Science in 1999, and their self-produced debut, To the Five Boroughs, which returned them to the top of the albums chart in 2004. Yauch continued to serve as the band's video director while expanding his creative efforts beyond the boundaries of the group.In 2002, Yauch launched Oscilloscope Laboratories, which served as the Beasties' home studio. He soon expanded his directorial efforts into feature-length projects, including "Awesome; I ... Shot That" (2006), a Beastie Boys concert film assembled from footage taken by members of the audience. Two years later, Yauch made his debut as a documentary director with "Gunnin' for That No. 1 Spot," which followed the top eight high school basketball players in the United States as they jockeyed for team placement in the National Basketball League. Oscilloscope soon became a top independent film distribution companies, with such acclaimed features as the Oscar-nominated "The Messenger" (2009), "Exit Through the Gift Shop" (2010) and "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (2011) among its roster of pictures.The Beastie Boys returned to music with the Grammy-winning album The Mix-Up in 2007. Its follow-up, Hot Sauce Committee, was slated for release in 2009, but Yauch was diagnosed with cancerous tumors in both his parotid gland and a lymph node. The record and subsequent tour was postponed while Yauch underwent successful surgery and radiation treatment. The album, retitled Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, which resembled the previous incarnation save for one track, shot to No. 2 on the album charts in 2011, while its second single, a collaboration with Nas on "Too Many Rappers," received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. Yauch helmed the video for "Make Some Noise," a delightful tribute to their gonzo video for "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)," with actors Seth Rogen, Elijah Wood and Danny McBride playing the younger Beasties as they continued their mischievous reign of terror while an all-star cast, including Ted Danson, Will Arnett, Kirsten Dunst and Zach Galifinakis looked on in disgust. A longer, 30-minute version of the video, subsequently released to celebrate the 25th anniversary of "Fight For Your Right," concluded with a dance-off between the "younger" Beasties and their older, more weathered selves, as portrayed by Jack Black, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly.That same year, the Beastie Boys were named as inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while Yauch received the Charles Flint Kellogg Award in Arts and Letters from Bard College, which recognized contributions to American artistic heritage. In 2012, Yauch was noticeably absent from the induction ceremony at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Bandmates Diamond and Horovitz paid loving if somber tribute to their missing comrade, reigniting media speculation that Yauch had suffered a setback in his prognosis. Rumors were sadly proven correct on May 4, 2012, when his death was announced on the Beastie Boys website. Tributes to his status as a rap pioneer poured in from the hip-hop community, as well as from independent Hollywood for his inventive directorial efforts, all of whom expressing their grief for the loss of a true renaissance man.By Paul Gaita