(This article was originally published in The California Aggie)
Adam Yauch, also known as MCA of the Beastie Boys, died this weekend and since then I’ve been trying to figure out how to process his death as well as the end of the Beastie Boys. I was too young to really grow up on any of the pantheon albums or remember specifically where I was when I first heard Ill Communication for the first time. For me, the Beastie Boys were just there.
I was very aware of the band and their existence. Although I had no idea what it was like to fight for my right to party and couldn’t spot Brooklyn on a map of New York, I knew that the Beastie Boys were a group of rappers that I liked. It’s still tough to tell whether I made the decision to like them or if others made it for me.
I knew I was supposed to like them, for whatever reason. And I did. By the Napster era I had the majority of the discography and I knew the lyrics to the important songs and some of the extra-illin one-liners from the less popular ones. I was a Beastie Boys fan first because they seemed cool then because they were similar to me and later because they were actually great artists.
I bring this up because since the news broke this Friday, I’ve received texts from numerous childhood friends asking my opinion on the subject. I don’t remember expressing any out of the ordinary support for the group, but for some reason people associate me with MCA, Mike D and Ad-Rock. Which is like, awesome, but probably undeserving.
As a Jewish kid growing up with an affinity for rap, rap culture and comedy, it’s easy to see why I would be the target market for Beasties, but part of the allure for me was that I never really felt like I was the target market. They didn’t think about marketing or how to structure a demographic, and as a result one structured around them. Their demographic was themselves. Take a rapper like Mac Miller. Although he wouldn’t admit it, I’m probably his exact target market. He wants me to be a fan which is perhaps why I am so repulsed.
It was unclear who the Beastie Boys were for. They were respected within multiple music scenes and carved out a certain aesthetic as white MC’s existing as themselves in a seemingly black space. They weren’t trying to act black, but they didn’t shy away from the culture ingrained in what they did either. It almost seems stupid to talk about race with regard to the group because it was such a non-story in respect to the band’s story as a whole. Their race was budweiser, rejecting authority and lackadaisical yet brilliant and self-reflexive rap lyrics.
The Beastie Boys have represented youth culture for multiple generations, something I don’t think any other artist has ever been able to do. If you consider that the group rose to fame on the curtails of Run DMC, it’s pretty unbelievable that their youthful, hedonistic messages are still reaching a relevant audience. They were illin before I even knew how much I would love using the term “illin.”
I think for the majority of my generation, we didn’t have much of a chance but to connect with the group. Growing up in the Bay Area, LIVE 105 still continues to play at least one Beastie Boys song an hour and DJs will still drop “Intergalactic” at a party if the vibes are right. I can tell you from experience that there is nothing better than excusing yourself from a conversation, putting down your drink and running into a venue just in time to yell, “Well, now don’t you tell me to smile / You stick around I’ll make it worth your while.”
With the passing of Adam Yauch, the Beastie Boys will probably cease to perform or create much new music. In their latter days, their sound became more mature, while still remaining relevant and experimental.
It’s a bizarre feeling knowing that a Beastie Boy is dead. I realize that they were significantly older than me, but I sort of always still envision them as their “Yo! MTV Raps”-selves. They were never the group that I listened to every day, but it was comforting knowing they were there.