Losing his lifelong friend and bandmate has been a crushing experience for Beastie Boys member Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz. But reflecting on the life of Adam “MCA” Yauch in a new interview, Horovitz said there is some solace he can find to fill the hole left behind.
“I don’t believe Adam was afraid,” he told Rolling Stone in an emotional interview just 10 days after MCA’s May 4 passing after a three-year battle with cancer. “Bummed out, yeah. But I can’t think when I ever saw him afraid … That gives me peace.”
During the interview, the only one Horowitz has given to date, he said he was still “totally numb” from the news, struggling to explain his emotions, which he said flow out of him at unexpected moments. “My wife is like, ‘I want to make sure you’re getting it out.’ But then I’m walking the dog and I’ll start crying on the street,” he said.
Horovitz described Yauch as the group’s leader
in the early days, saying he was “smarter, more organized.” When the three were goofing around and coming up with crazy ideas for things they should do, it was MCA who would push the button and make them happen. Case in point: Horovitz once said, “we should take these pictures where we’re dressed as undercover cops.” MCA took that idea and helped turn it into the group’s landmark “Sabotage” music video
In addition to being a great bassist, Horovitz said MCA also had a strong musical sensibility and really knew his way around gear. “I’d be like, ‘Tell me where to put my fingers, and I’ll play that for four minutes,’” he said of his reaction to Yauch’s musical direction while recalling the time he went to MCA’s Brooklyn apartment only to see it strung wall-to-wall with reel-to-reel tape in order to cut up a Led Zeppelin beat.
Fellow B-Boy Michael “Mike D” Diamond also spoke to the magazine about his friend’s creativity, positivity and fighter’s spirit, as well as MCA’s uniquely raspy vocal tone.
“Even when we were doing our first hip-hop records, when we were 19 and 20, he sounded like a gruff 40-year-old. He was the Bobby Womack of rap,” said Diamond. “Yauch was a gifted MC. It was his flow on things, rather than specific lyrics, that first blew Adam [Horovitz] and I away. Early on, we were in the studio, amazed by how Yauch made it seem so effortless. Horovitz and I were maybe a little jealous.”
Diamond remembered how the group played around with an 808 drum machine during the Ill sessions and Yauch asked what the tracks would sound like if the beats were played backwards. “Run from Run-D.M.C. was there, and he was like, ‘Man, this is crazy.’ But Yauch recorded this beat, bounced it to another tape, flipped it around — this is pre-digital sampling — and bounced it back to the multi-track tape,” he said. “The reversed beat basically became ‘Paul Revere.’ Yauch saw this thing we couldn’t see — and he killed it.”
The trio always appeared to present a one-for-all, all-for-one front, but Horovitz said it wasn’t always that way. After arguing over songwriting credits on their smash debut, Licensed to Ill, he said they squashed the beef and always split things three ways from then on. They did, however, reserve veto power, such as the time when Yauch wanted to put a painting of a tree on the cover of the 2007 instrumental album The Mix-Up. “I said, ‘Anything is better than that tree,’” Horovitz said.
Horovitz and fellow MC Michael “Mike D” Diamond saw a change in Yauch when he became a Buddhist in the early 1990s. That mind-flip presented itself in lyrics with “simple ideas about love and non-violence,” which were initially hard for him to put into non-”Hallmark” words.
But when Yauch was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, Horovitz believed his friend when he said, “I’m gonna be okay.” After being right about so many things for so many years, Horovitz said, “You would get swept up in his excitement and positivity. We recorded a few months ago. It wasn’t any different from before. We spent more time making fart jokes and ordering food, which was true to form. That’s why it always took so long for us to put records out.”
Those final sessions were instigated by Yauch, Mike D said. “It could only come from him, in terms of where he was at with treatment. It was stuff we had written or demo-ed, and there were new ideas.” Yauch wasn’t sure if he could record vocals, but ended up laying some down.
Asked if he can imagine making music without Yauch, Diamond said he could, but he wasn’t sure if it would be in a “band format.” What he does know, though, is that “Yauch would genuinely want us to try whatever crazy thing we wanted but never got around to.”
It’s unknown if those recordings will ever see the light of day, but for now, the tributes to MCA continue, including a recent resolution in the New York Senate honoring his achievements and a Facebook petition asking the city to rename Squibb Park in Brooklyn Heights after the late MC.