Adam Nathaniel Yauch (pronounced /ˈjaʊk/; August 5, 1964 – May 4, 2012) was an American rapper, musician, film director, and human rights activist. He was best known as a founding member of the hip hop group Beastie Boys. He was frequently known by his stage name, MCA, and sometimes worked under the pseudonym Nathanial Hörnblowér.
Yauch founded Oscilloscope Laboratories, an independent film production and distribution company based in New York City. As a Buddhist, he was involved in the Tibetan independence movement and organized the Tibetan Freedom Concert.
Born in Brooklyn, New York City, Yauch was the only child of a social worker, painter and architect. Yauch had a non-religious upbringing. His father had been raised a Catholic and his mother was Jewish.
Yauch attended Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood. In high school, he taught himself to play the bass guitar. Yauch formed the Beastie Boys with John Berry, Kate Schellenbach, and Michael Diamond. They played their first show—while still a hardcore punk band in the vein of Reagan Youth—on his 17th birthday. He attended Bard College for two years before dropping out.
The Beastie Boys, a hip hop trio, released their first album Licensed to Ill on Def Jam Records when Yauch was 22. Yauch directed many of the Beastie Boys’ music videos, often under the pseudonym Nathanial Hörnblowér.
In 2002, Yauch constructed a recording studio in New York City called Oscilloscope Laboratories. He began an independent film distributing company called Oscilloscope Pictures. Yauch directed the 2006 Beastie Boys concert film, Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!, although in the DVD extras for the film, the title character in “A Day in the Life of Nathanial Hörnblowér” is played by David Cross. He also directed the 2008 film Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot about eight high school basketball prospects at the Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic at Rucker Park in Harlem, New York City. Yauch produced Build a Nation, the comeba from hardcore/punk band Bad Brains. In addition, Oscilloscope Laboratories also distributed Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy (2008) and Oren Moverman’s The Messenger (2009).
The Beastie Boys had sold 40 million records worldwide by 2010. In April 2012, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yauch was inducted in absentia due to his illness. His bandmates paid tribute to Yauch; a letter from Yauch was read to the crowd.
In 2011, Yauch received the Charles Flint Kellogg Award in Arts and Letters from Bard College, the college he attended for two years. The award is “given in recognition of a significant contribution to the American artistic or literary heritage.”
Yauch was a practicing Buddhist. He became an important voice in the Tibetan independence movement. He created the Milarepa Fund, a non-profit organization devoted to Tibetan independence, and organized several benefit concerts to support the cause, including the Tibetan Freedom Concert.
Yauch was also a strong supporter of feminism apologizing for early lyrics which he retroactively deemed offensive. Yauch’s verse in the song “Sure Shot” includes the lyrics “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue/ The disrespect to women has got to be through/ To all the mothers and sisters and wives and friends/ I want to offer my love and respect to the end.”
In 1995, while attending a speech by the Dalai Lama at Harvard University, he met his wife, Tibetan American Dechen Wangdu. They married in 1998 and had a daughter, Tenzin Losel, the same year.
In 1998, during the MTV Video Music Awards, when receiving the Video Vanguard Award, Yauch took the opportunity to make a statement about America’s wars against Muslim countries and prejudice against Muslims and Arabs; this was before the term Islamophobia was in wide circulation. Artist Cihan Kaan wrote an obituary in Al Jazeera that Yauch was “Muslim Americans’ hero, and America’s personal Jewish Gandhi”, judging his plea to be greater for intercultural healing than the music of later anti-war rappers whose lyrics included anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories.
Illness and death
In 2009, Yauch was diagnosed and unsuccessfully treated for a cancerous parotid gland and a lymph node. He underwent surgery and radiation therapy, delaying the release of Hot Sauce Committee Part Two and the subsequent tour. He was unable to appear in music videos for the album. Yauch became a vegan under the recommendation of his Tibetan doctors. At the time, Yauch described the cancer as “very treatable”.
Yauch died at age 47 on May 4, 2012.
Upon his death, fellow musicians and artists paid tribute:
- Russell Simmons of Def Jam Records said that Yauch “was incredibly sweet and the most sensitive artist, who I loved dearly.”
- Ben Stiller tweeted that Yauch “stood for integrity as an artist.”
- Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam said that Yauch was “a crazy talent whose contributions with his band were inspirational and consistently ground breaking”.
- Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke wrote, “We looked up to the Beastie Boys a lot when we were starting out and how they maintained artistic control making wicked records but still were on a major label, and the Tibetan Freedom Concerts they organized had a very big influence on me personally and the way Adam conducted himself and dealt with it all impressed me a lot. He was a mellow and [very] smart guy. May he rest in peace.”
- Eminem said in an interview, “Adam Yauch brought a lot of positivity into the world and I think it’s obvious to anyone how big of an influence the Beastie Boys were on me and so many others.”
- Billy Talent dedicated the song “Line And Sinker” to him during their televised time slot at Reading Festival in 2012.
- Linkin Park inserted a verse of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” into the bridge of “Bleed It Out” while touring during Summer through their KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas show in 2012 in tribute to Yauch.
- Vernian Process performed “Sabotage” on stage in 2012 as a tribute to Yauch’s multi-genre influence and legacy.
- Madonna reacted to the news “The Beastie Boys were one of a kind! And so was Adam! They were all an important part of my musical history and integral to the musical revolution that was happening at the time.”
- Coldplay performed a cover of “Fight For Your Right” during a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in tribute of Adam Yauch on May 4, 2012, the same day Yauch died.
- Phish dedicated their cover of “Sabotage” to Yauch during a concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on July 7, 2012.
Beastie Boys rapper Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz posted a note on the Beastie Boys’ Tumblr page about the death of Yauch, acknowledging the pain of losing Yauch as well as the admiration for Yauch.
In his last will and testament, Adam Yauch left instructions that his music could not be used in advertising, though some legal experts said that it may not be valid.
On May 3, 2013, ceremonies were held to rename the Palmetto Playground in Brooklyn, New York, to Adam Yauch Park.
- with Beastie Boys
- Licensed to Ill (1986)
- Paul’s Boutique (1989)
- Check Your Head (1992)
- Ill Communication (1994)
- Hello Nasty (1998)
- To the 5 Boroughs (2004)
- The Mix-Up (2007)
- Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011)