Remembering Adam Yauch.
I have a canned response ready for whenever anyone asks me my favorite kind of music.
“As a white, Jewish kid from the suburbs of Boston, I think it's pretty clear,” I say, all of it pre-rehearsed. “I grew up listening to hip-hop.”
Maybe once out of every three times, it draws the intended response — a laugh.
But, whatever, it's totally worth it either way. Because it also happens to be 100 percent true. The fact of the matter is, I am the cliche that every magazine warned you about in the '90s. I am the teenager that funded ghetto fabulous.
My older sisters gave me something of an introduction to hip-hop. After their New Kids on the Block obsessions faded, their tastes expanded.
For whatever reason, my sisters' interest in Warren G and Nate Dogg's “Regulate” became a running bit in our family. One time, my dad — a man whose music tastes include showtunes, Frank Sinatra, the Thompson Twins and little else — even rapped the tale of Warren G losing his Rolex during a ride to soccer practice. I was in the third grade.
Basically, by the time I was old enough to recognize the songs being played on MTV, hip-hop had long gone mainstream. As my two older sisters' tastes began gravitating toward Counting Crows, Buffalo Tom and Dave Matthews Band, mine trended more toward the outliers of the growing collection in their shared bedroom.
From their stack, I borrowed — and to this day have never returned — every hip-hop album they ever purchased in high school and middle school.
The Fugees' The Score. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Most important of all, the Beastie Boys' Ill Communication, about which my sisters had at least taught me this much: “Forget 'Sabotage'; listen to 'Get it Together.'”
I relished in that album. To this day, I can rap and dance along to its entire — and, by today's standards, whopping — 59:37 runtime without a single misstep or misrap. I took great care of that disc. And yet, through wear alone, it developed a scratch halfway through “Sure Shot.”
The burned version of that song in my iTunes library even bears that mid-chorus skip.
Slowly but surely, as my sisters went off to college, my tastes started trending more and more toward punk — probably the result of my Beastie Boys exposure. Green Day, The Offspring, NOFX — for better or worse, they were suddenly my shit.
These acts also all had the pleasure of producing albums that my mother snatched away from me for being too explicit.
Around the time I got my driver's license, my parents stopped caring about the music I bought. By this time, I'd started listening almost exclusively to the local hip-hop station, Jam'n 94.5; as a result, I think my parents suddenly realized they couldn't shelter my musical exposure any longer. So, on a solo drive shortly after I'd turned 16, I took myself to the nearest location of the famed Boston-area music retailer Newbury Comics — because I could, and not really for any other particular reason
I had no intentions of buying anything specific. I was just on an adventure, really. But, for whatever reason, the lone album I bought — paid for via savings from my $10 a week allowance, I'm sure — was the Beastie Boys' License to Ill. My sisters' influence in passing Ill Communication my way no doubt influenced the artist selection. As for this particular album, though, I had no justification. Other Beastie Boys albums had long since been released. For whatever reason, this was the one that spoke to me.
Maybe it was the album art, I don't know. I just remember the clerk congratulating my purchase.
The year was 2000. License To Ill was 14 years old. No matter. As is now clear of the entire Beastie Boys' output, the release never sounded dated blaring through my desk-model boombox. They sounded like me. Young, white, suburban, probably a little unnecessarily confident and yet uncertain of what was coming next.
In retrospect, the album's appeal makes perfect sense: License To Ill is a completely post-adolescent release; it's angsty, angry, horny and snotty. It's every teenage boy — starring Ad-Rock as the Id, Mike D as the ego and MCA as the superego.
As more contemporary acts like the Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony entered my lexicon, the Beasties remained. Much as I appreciated the artistry of these newcomers, I couldn't identify with their drug-dealing, death-fearing plights. I was 15 when Eminem's The Slim Shady LP was released. The novelty of his skin color and abrasive wordplay seemed fresh to the public; though I, like the rest of Teenage America, embraced his entrance, I also understood that his delivery was heavily indebted to the Beasties.
And yet, at age 21, when To The Five Borroughs was released, I suddenly couldn't care less for the Beastie Boys. I was in mid-Napster mode. I fed off singles.
In college, I was a post-Napster, Limewire dweller. Rap singles all the time. Eventually, albums started sinking their way back into my listening habits. For a three-year period, I listened almost exclusively to albums by Weezer, Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Somewhere along the line, indie rock entered the mix. Punk revved back up, too. I started reading Pitchfork. And then I started listening to everything I could find. I started reviewing albums for my college paper. My tastes broadened. I wrote more and more about music. I became a music critic.
And then an interesting thing happened. Perhaps because they were my musical Ground Zero, the Beastie Boys flared back up in my listening cycle with startling regularity, forever ready to serve as palate cleanser.
I've long since accepted their place in my musical canon. I am a Beastie Boys acolyte. They are my first love.
For whatever reason, though, I was weary of last year's Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two when it was announced. I saw the appearances of Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Elijah Wood and others in the group's Fight For Your Right Revisited film as the homages they were intended to be, sure; but I also saw it as the Beasties relying on their cache to support the release.
These were, after all, men in their mid-40s. Expectations for the album were fairly low across the board. Perhaps because of those low expectations — and perhaps, as I myself debated, as a backlash to the album's star-studded support — the album came with its release cycle and then fell off the map. Personally, I was floored by the release. The beats were as inventive as the band's ever produced (a remarkable statement), the overall vibe was hype, and the lyrics were patently clever.
But hindsight, I'm certain, will prove kinder to Hot Sauce Committee, Part II. As well it should.
When Adam Yauch's death was announced earlier this week, that much was confirmed. As the final non-posthumous Beastie Boys album (don't discount the possibility of a Hot Sauce Committee, Part One release down the line), it will fall under an inherent spotlight. And, in time, the national press will rescind their shock over MCA's death, reminded that the reason there was no Hot Sauce Committee, Part One in the first place was because Yauch's cancer battles prevented as much. Same goes for his no-show at the band's induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month.
Therein lies the awkward, unspoken truth about the news of Yauch's passing: It came as no surprise. For the first time, hip-hop had an icon dying before its eyes, and not suddenly. Unlike Eazy E's sudden AIDs-related death, Yauch's condition was known — for the better part of two years.
Today, as his death was announced, Yauch finally got the support he deserved over the past two-plus years in his battle with salivary gland cancer. Twitter and Facebook were alike ablaze with tributes. Obituaries came almost obnoxiously fast and furious.
In today's social media savvy, 24-hour news cycle world, that much is perhaps expected.
But the Beastie Boys, like a table, cannot stand on two legs alone. Their run has ended. And when you boil it down, it becomes clear: Everyone loves the Beastie Boys as the once-rebellious, forever-accessible trio that they are and have always been.
Much of a personal connection as I will forever feel with the Beastie Boys, I understand this is everyone's loss. And this loss won't go unrecognized.
Plenty of people, I imagine, will write essays — probably personal ones not unlike this one — in attempt to explain Yauch's importance in the spectrum of recent popular music. They'll explain his influence over artists as wide-ranging as Kid Rock and Odd Future. They'll describe his as the benevolent and fatherly Beastie, if only because he was the first of the threesome to go gray. They'll recall his directorial and film efforts. They'll share their favorites of his many iconic rhymes.
I don't know if they'll all thank him, though. And, if only because of my personal history with his music, for the past 24 hours, that's all I've wanted to do.
I've wanted to thank Yauch for being a voice that shaped my youth — to let him know that his efforts, from his sauciest rhymes to his most over-the-top charitable demands, were all appreciated. That they were needed.
I just felt like this all had to be said. From one rap-loving, suburban Jew from the Northeast to another: Thanks.
You'll be missed, MCA.