How Adam Yauch's Cancer Battle Changed The Beastie Boys
2009 was supposed to be the Beastie Boys' big comeback year.
"Hot Sauce Committee Part 1," the trio's eighth album and first non-instrumental full-length in five years, was set for a Sept. 15, 2009 release, and was set to feature guest appearances by Nas and Santigold. MCA, Ad-Rock and Mike D had been confirmed as headliners at U.S. festivals like Lollapalooza, Outside Lands and Austin City Limits, and a proper tour was in the works.
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Everything came to a halt, however, on July 20, 2009, when Adam "MCA" Yauch announced that he had been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his left salivary gland. On Friday, May 4, that cancer tragically claimed Yauch's life.
When MCA first announced that he was battling the disease, he lamented the effect that his health would have on the Beasties' upcoming plans, but remained optimistic that immediate surgery would lead to a full recovery. "I just need to take a little time to get this in check, and then we'll release the record and play some shows," he said in a written statement at the time. "It's a pain in the neck (sorry had to say it) because I was really looking forward to playing these shows, but the doctors have made it clear that this is not the kind of thing that can be put aside to deal with later."
Consequently, "Hot Sauce Committee Part 1" was pushed back indefinitely, and all of the group's upcoming performances were scrapped. Tenacious D picked up their slot at Outside Lands, while the Yeah Yeah Yeahs filled in for the Beastie Boys at Lollapalooza and paid tribute to the group by playing the "Sabotage" riff, much to their crowd's delight.
In October 2009, Yauch sent an email update to Beastie Boys' official fan list, writing that he was "taking Tibetan medicine and at the recommendation of the Tibetan doctors I've been eating a vegan/organic diet," after undergoing surgery in late July to remove the cancerous tumor. "I'm feeling healthy, strong and hopeful that I've beaten this thing, but of course time will tell," wrote Yauch.
One year later, a track list for "Hot Sauce Committee Part 2" -- which was to be released before "Hot Sauce Committee Part 1" -- was unveiled, with a spring 2011 release date in mind. After Mike D told the BBC that he was "really happy" about his group mate's improved health, reports surfaced that Yauch was cancer-free; however, Yauch called the claims "exaggerated. I'm continuing treatment, staying optimistic and hoping to be cancer free in the near future."
"Hot Sauce Committee Part Two" was given a May 3, 2011 release date, and Capitol Records' rollout of the album was highlighted by unique promotional stunts that never included the trio performing live or on camera. The music video for "Make Some Noise," the album's first single, was an abridged version of Yauch's short film "Fight For Your Right Revisited" and a star-studded homage to the Beasties' "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)" video, with Seth Rogen, Elijah Wood and Danny McBride playing the Beasties. Later, a music video for "Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win" (featuring Santigold) reunited the Beastie Boys with director Spike Jonze -- responsible for their classic "Sabotage" clip -- and featured MCA, Mike D, Ad-Rock and Santigold… in action-figure form.
And the trio previewed the album before its release by placing a TK3 Speaker Boombox at half court at New York's emptied Madison Square Garden, pressing play on "Hot Sauce Committee Part 2" and broadcasting the playback via Livestream. Despite the lack of live record promotion, "Sauce" debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and sold 128,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan (its current sales stand at 347,000 copies).
When the Beastie Boys were announced as part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2012 class (along with groups like Guns N' Roses and the Red Hot Chili Peppers), the group called the honor "f----n' crazy and awesome!" in a statement. "While we are very proud of the music we make, we have to acknowledge the inspiration from our families, friends and musicians like the slits, bad brains, x-ray spex, the treacherous three and too many others to possibly name. And most of all, we give thanks to New York City and the world of musical influence it provided for us," the group wrote.
However, Yauch's health prevented the Beastie Boys from performing at the Rock Hall induction ceremony in Cleveland on April 14. The Roots, Kid Rock and Gym Class Heroes' Travie McCoy paid homage to the group with performances of tracks like "Sabotage" and "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn." HBO will premiere the broadcast version of the ceremony on Saturday night (May 5).
It is unclear whether or not "Hot Sauce Committee Part 1" will ever be released, or what the future of the remaining Beastie Boys looks like. But in his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech, which Ad-Rock and Mike D read at the ceremony, Yauch thanked the group's fans for being so integral to their legendary -- and over the past three years, trying -- past. "This induction is as much ours as it us yours," wrote MCA.