(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Remain Relevant!)
“Pass the Mic”
Adam Yauch, also known as MCA and one of the founders of the Beastie Boys died on May 4th of cancer of the salivary glands. He was 47 and is survived by his wife, Dechen Wangdu, their daughter Tenzin Losel and his parents, Frances and Noel. For those familiar with his life and music — and those who know his name only from the many obituaries and tributes of the past few weeks — there remains a poignant, yet instructive tale of how deliberate living maintains relevancy through life’s many changes.
“Make Some Noise”
Yauch and his partners Mike Diamond — rap moniker “Mike D” — and Adam Horovitz — Ad-Rock — made an unlikely rap group as three white Jewish kids emerging from Brooklyn in 1983. In fact, the trio first tried to make a go of it as a punk band in 1981 and added rap as a hook to lure fans and show attendees. Their fusion of rap and punk and rhythm also contributed to the growth of hip-hop. The Beastie Boys continued to challenge simple music genre categorizations by touring with pop musicians such as Madonna.
“Get It Together”
Instead of becoming what most music fans expected of them in the beginning – a one-hit trivia question answer or a joke band a la Weird Al – the Beastie Boys continued to successfully create, evolve and produce popular music for three decades, almost up to the time of Yauch’s death. The band won a Grammy Award in 2007 for an instrumental album, sold over 22 million albums in the US alone, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year in April.
“Now Get Busy”
Not only did Yauch continue to create music with Diamond and Horovitz, he also founded a successful independent cinema production company, Oscilloscope, in conjunction with his partner David Fenkel in 2008. Yauch was proclaimed by The New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis as “one of the best things to happen to American independent cinema in years.” Using the pseudonym Nathaniel Hornblower, Yauch also directed a number of the Beastie Boy’s videos, including their first for the song “Holy Rollers” as early as 1981. During the 1990’s the band also began a music label and founded a magazine, Grand Royal that explored fashion, style, music and film.
Although the Beastie Boys’ music and lyrics still celebrated fun, a party and a good time rolled into a raucous rhythm and rhyme, their lyrics and subject matter matured as they grew older and followed new interests and new lives. Yauch became a practicing Tibetan Buddhist after visiting Nepal and Tibet in the early 1990’s. His conversion was apparently as sincere and eccentric as his artistic vision. On the III Communication album released in 1994, he rapped “Bodhisattva Vow,” a version of ancient Buddhist vows above a hip-hop beat grounded by the deep, rhythmic traditional chanting of Buddhist monks. Through the work of the Beastie Boys, Buddhist monks also performed “ceremonies” at the 1994 Lollapalooza Festival. That same year, Yauch founded the Milarepa Fund, a nonprofit group designed to protest Tibet’s cultural and governmental takeover by the Chinese. Four years later, he married his wife, a native of Tibet.
“Right Right Now Now”
Yauch and the Beastie Boys remained creative and relevant for more than three decades by remaining flexible, learning and growing. They weren’t left behind as answers to a trivia question. Everyone in his own way is faced with this challenge in life: grow or grow stale. Growth can be as informal as not automatically changing an unknown radio station to pursuing education credentials to further a career. Either way, it’s a choice we face daily.
About the author: Lindsey Harper Mac is a freelance writer living and working in the Indianapolis area. She writes on behalf of American InterContinental University.
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