On this day in 1965, Adam Yauch, vocalist and bassist for punk/rap giants the Beastie
Boys, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. Yauch (a.k.a. MCA) and his fellow Beasties, Mike
Diamond (a.k.a. Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (a.k.a. Ad-Rock), grew up in
upper-middle-class New York homes before becoming active in Manhattan, N.Y.'s '80s
underground scene. Yauch and Diamond formed the Beastie Boys with drummer Kate
Schellenbach (later of Luscious Jackson fame) and guitarist John Berry in 1981. The
next year, the group released an independent EP and met Horovitz, who had been a
member of a hardcore punk outfit. In 1983, Schellenbach and Berry departed and
Horovitz came on board to record the 12-inch rap single "Cookie Puss."
After the track caught on in the NYC underground, the Beasties began concentrating
more on rap and put their punk instincts aside for awhile. In 1984, the Beasties opened
for Madonna's U.S. tour and signed to mentor Rick Rubin's Def Jam label. The group's
first full album, 1987's Licensed to Ill, was the first rap effort to top the
Billboard 200 albums chart and spawned the top-10 hit "(You Gotta) Fight for Your
Right (to Party)." The Beastie Boys also scored in the U.K. with that single, as well as its
follow-ups, "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" and "She's On It."
Switching to Capitol Records, the Beasties released Paul's Boutique in 1989 to
critical and public yawns. Music
reviewers had labeled the Beasties a one-joke novelty act (which the Boys initially
fostered with their rowdy, sexist public behavior and live performances), while much of
their audience had moved on to newer rap stars. But as the '90s progressed, Paul's
Boutique was reassessed by critics as a visionary precursor to the hybrid sound of
the new decade's popular mixture of punk, rap, rock and pop.
The Beastie Boys returned to the top 10 in 1992 with Check Your Head. They
also formed the Grand Royal label, which they strove to make a community of artists.
Slowly, as rap's influence grew, the Beasties were being viewed more as musical
innovators than jokesters; alternative radio embraced tracks such as "Jimmy James" and
"Pass the Mic." At this point, the Beasties' interest in social ills became apparent as they
began donating some concert proceeds to women's rights groups and assisting with
In 1994, Ill Communication cemented the Beastie Boys' comeback as it debuted
at #1 in the U.S. and went platinum on the strength of the singles
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During the ensuing years, the Boys' music took a backseat to their political activities.
Yauch, in particular, took center stage as he waged political battles to alleviate social
injustices in Tibet
and elsewhere. He co-founded the non-profit Milarepa Fund -- an organization
dedicated to the promotion of universal compassion and nonviolence -- which sponsors
the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. These events, largely coordinated by Yauch, have
included performances by some of pop music's most important artists and have featured
rallies and speeches designed to focus governmental action on the plight of those
suffering political and religious oppression in China.
But the Beastie Boys' commercial clout did not suffer from the four-year gap between
Ill Communication and their 1998 release, Hello Nasty, which includes the
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"Body Movin' "(RealAudio excerpt). The latter debuted at #1 last month on the
Billboard 200 albums chart, going platinum (more than 1 million copies sold)
within three weeks of its release.
Despite the Beasties' musical importance, Yauch may go down in history as one of pop
music's most socially committed artists.
In regard to Yauch's efforts in support of the
Tibetan Freedom Concerts, Diamond recently said: "Now, clearly, thousands of people
have embraced Tibet's situation as something that's got to change. They are being
Other birthdays: Richard Huxley (Dave Clark Five), 56; Rick Derringer, 51; Gregory
Leskiw (Guess Who), 51; Pete Burns (Dead Or Alive), 39; and Jennifer Finch (L7), 32.