Adam Yauch, the raspy-voiced rapper known as MCA of the Beastie Boys, died today in New York at the age of 47. Yauch was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and has been been largely out of the spotlight since. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last weekend, but Yauch was not in attendance.
Yauch and bandmates Michael Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad Rock) are credited with helping push hip-hop into the mainstream. Founded as a punk act when Yauch was 17, the group began fusing elements of rap and rock on its 1986 debut, Licensed to Ill, released by the then-brand-new Def Jam Recordings. That album and others, including Paul’s Boutique (1989) and Ill Communication (1994) are now hailed as classics for their adventurous production techniques, genre-mashing experiments and the cheeky lyricism practiced by the three MCs. Yauch’s career diversified as the band’s image, which at first championed partying, moved towards political awareness. He helped organize the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1996, and founded Oscilloscope Laboratories, a film production company, in 2002.
Diamond and Horovitz appeared without Yauch on Morning Edition last year to promote Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2, the Beasties’ first proper album in seven years (the release of which was delayed during Yauch’s battle with cancer). Speaking to NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Diamond explained they were handling their friend’s illness one day at a time. “[We’re] just holding on,” he said. “He’s obviously our lifelong best friend. You have to just sort of hope for the best.”