Adam Yauch, the gruff-voiced rapper, musician and video auteur known as MCA in the groundbreaking hip hop trio The Beastie Boys, has died after a lengthy illness, Billboard has confirmed. He was 47. The band’s rep confirmed that Yauch passed away in his native New York City Friday morning after a three-year battle with cancer.
Yauch underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his salivary gland in July 2009. Treatment included radiation therapy, and in December of that year, he sent a email message to fans to share that we was feeling “healthy, strong and hopeful” he’d beaten the disease.
• SLIDESHOW: Beastie Boys 101
The Beasties’ lineup of Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Yauch came together in Brooklyn in 1983; the group’s debut album, 1986’s “Licensed To Ill,” was produced by Rick Rubin and featured iconic singles like “No Sleep Til Brooklyn,” “Brass Monkey” and “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).” After touring the world behind “Ill,” the Beastie Boys changed up their sound with 1989 album “Paul’s Boutique,” a critically lauded, sample-heavy record that featured production from the Dust Brothers.
“Adam was incredibly sweet and the most sensitive artist who I loved dearly. I was always inspired by his work. He will be missed by all of us,” said Russell Simmons, whose Def Jam Recordings released the group’s multi-platinum debut “Licensed to Ill” in 1986.
The Beasties continued to collect hits in the 90s, with songs like “So Whatcha Want,” “Sabotage” and “Intergalactic” coming from 1992’s “Check Your Head,” 1994’s “Ill Communication” and 1998’s “Hello Nasty,” respectively. The group went on a hiatus before returning with 2004’s “To The 5 Boroughs,” a post-9/11 tribute to New York City that included the hit single “Ch-Check It Out.”
| “So WhatCha Want”
After releasing an instrumental album, “The Mix-Up,” in 2007, the Beasties had announced a Sept. 15, 2009 release date for their eighth album, “Hot Sauce Committee Part 1.” But Yauch’s cancer diagnosis forced the group to push back the album and scrap headlining dates at festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits in 2009. A revised version of “Hot Sauce Committee” was released in 2011, but Yauch’s health prevented the trio from touring behind the record.
In January of 2011, Mike D told the BBC that the group was “really happy” about Yauch’s improved health, a statement that led to reports that Yauch was cancer-free. A spokesperson for the group told Billboard at the time that “Mike did not say that” and Yauch released a statement thanking fans for their support.
“While I’m grateful for all the positive energy people are sending my way, reports of my being totally cancer free are exaggerated,” said Yauch. “I’m continuing treatment, staying optimistic and hoping to be cancer free in the near future.”
The nine Beastie Boys albums released in the SoundScan era (including two greatest hits packages and one archive release, “Same Old Bullshit”) have sold 10.2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month, but did not attend the April 14 ceremony.
“We’re in the rock and roll hall of fame? That’s f—-n’ crazy and awesome!” the group said 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.”
Rick Rubin, who produced “Licensed to Ill” recently told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer of the group’s importance to the growth of hip hop as a mainstream force in pop music.
“The Beasties opened hip-hop music up to the suburbs,” he said. “As crazy as they were, they seemed safe to Middle America, in a way black artists hadn’t been up to that point in time.”
Among Yauch’s many passions was his work behind the camera, most notably under the alias Nathanial Hörnblowér. He directed many of the group’s iconic videos, including “So Whatcha Want,” “Intergalactic” and last year’s star-studded short film for “Make Some Noise.” He also made a name for himself in documentary filmmaking, including three full lengths: “Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That,” a concert film; the high school basketball documentary “Gunnin’ for That #1 Shot” and the 1998 concert film “Free Tibet.”
Yauch was a devout Buddhist and supporter of a free Tibet and in 1994 founded the Milarepa Fund which organized a series of rock festivals called the Tibetan Freedom Concerts, which ran between 1996 and 2001.
Yauch is survived by his wife Dechen Wangdu and their daughter Tenzin Losel.