It’s astonishing to think that 25 years have passed since Fight for Your Right (to Party) introduced the world to the rap and roll of the Beastie Boys. Despite the song’s inescapable TV and radio presence during the summer of 1986, many skeptics dismissed the Brooklyn trio has a faddish throwaway. Yet here we are, a quarter century later. The Beastie Boys have made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Adam Yauch, MCA to his fans, has left us.
After a three year battle with cancer, Yauch died this morning. He was 47.
In many ways, Yauch, a devout Buddhist, was the Beasties’ utility man. He directed many of their videos, founded the Milarepa Fund, which, in turn, organized the first Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1996 and numerous other benefits including the post 9/11 organization New York Association for New Americans.
But when I think of Yauch and his Beastie bros, the image that first comes to mind is of the group in their best Starsky & Hutch regalia for the 1994 music video to Sabotage, a mesh of rap immediacy and frazzled guitar rock with a generous touch of humor. Behind that, my favorite Beastie Boys TV moment came when the three departed from rap altogether and played as a straight up rock trio (with Yauch on bass) behind Elvis Costello during a blazing version of Radio Radio for Saturday Night Live’s 25th Anniversary special in 1999.
In short, the Beasties fought for the right to party but were never anyone’s fool. The crossroads of rap and rock – and perhaps the entire evolution of ’80s and ‘90s pop – would have been immeasurably duller had Yauch and his pals not thrown their Brooklyn street music smarts into the mix.
“I think every person has the ability to effect change,” Yauch said in an interview with PBS. “I think we’re often led to believe that just celebrities have some ability to effect change. But what’s important to realize is that every one of us affects the world constantly through our actions, through our every smallest action, through our every thought, our every word, the way that we interact with other people. We’re constantly affecting the world.”