In honor of the birthday of the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch, listen to these five songs that MCA himself loved and might have recommended.
Breaking into the public consciousness in the early 1980s as MCA, one member of the bratty hip-hop group responsible for brash hits like “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” Adam Yauch — and the Beastie Boys — matured dramatically as the decade wore on. Though their humor remained, both the Beastie Boys’ music and lyrics became deeper and more complex. And Yauch branched out into filmmaking, Buddhism, and political activism. Albums like 1989’s Paul’s Boutique and 1992’s Check Your Head are still treasured by Gen Xers who watched Yauch gracefully enter middle age along with them, so his death of salivary cancer in 2012 was in some ways more devastating to them than Kurt Cobain‘s had been 18 years earlier.
On Aug. 5, 2015, Yauch would have turned 51. Celebrate by listening to his fuzzed-out bass line in “Gratitude” and his amazing rhymes in “Egg Man,” as well as by listening to these five songs, music that Yauch himself loved and might have recommended:
Public Enemy – “Rebel Without a Pause”
Touring on the success of their 1986 album, License To Ill, the Beastie Boys chose Public Enemy, then a fledgling hip-hop group from Long Island, New York, as their opening act. The tour helped kick-start P.E.’s career ahead of the release of their debut album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show. Years later, Yauch wrote about how Public Enemy had returned the favor with their music: “They inspired a lot of people who believed that you can effect change through music, and they’re still inspiring to me.” “Rebel Without a Pause,” Yauch said, was “unlike anything I had ever heard before. It blew my wig back.”
Luscious Jackson – “Daughters of the Kaos”
In the wake of their 1980s success, the Beastie Boys created vanity record label Grand Royal for their own releases and to promote other bands that interested them. Grand Royal’s first release was Luscious Jackson’s debut EP, In Search of Manny, which featured “Daughters of the Kaos” and several other songs. When Yauch died in 2012, Luscious Jackson’s Jill Cunniff posted a touching remembrance of her friend and colleague, saying, “Adam was always at the center, the heart, the creative and fun loving core of all of these adventures in culture. He was someone who made it all feel healthy and legit.”
Namgyal Monks of Tibet – “33rd Kalachakra Ritual Offering Dance”
Yauch became a deeply spiritual person as he matured, embracing Tibetan Buddhism in the early 1990s and becoming active in the movement to free Tibet from China. This focus led to Buddhist themes in Beastie Boys songs like “Shambala” and “Bodhisattva Vow.” When the Beastie Boys joined the Lollapalooza tour in 1994, Yauch brought along the Namgyal monks of Tibet, who performed sacred chants and dances.
Rancid – “Ruby Soho”
When Yauch married Tibetan-American activist Dechen Wangdu in 1998, they hired anything but the typical wedding band. The 1990s punk rockers Rancid, reputedly one of Wangdu’s favorite bands, entertained guests on the happy occasion. Yauch hired Rancid as a surprise to Wangdu, and later recalled, “It was bizarre: My wife’s parents’ friends and all these older people were dancing to Rancid!” The set list has been lost to time, but we imagine that Rancid must have played a rousing version of their classic “Ruby Soho.”
Bad Brains – “Jah People Make the World Go Round”
Yauch had been a fan of hardcore pioneers Bad Brains since before the Beastie Boys existed, and he eventually produced their 2007 album, Build a Nation, trying to recapture the sound and energy he remembered from the early Bad Brains shows he attended. “Jah People Make the World Go Round” is one of the standout tracks from the album.