“MC - For what I am and do. The A is for Adam and the lyrics”
It doesn’t seem fair that we keep losing hip hop pioneers. Last year, we had to say goodbye to Heavy D. Last week, we had to do the same for MCA, the deeper voice member of the Beastie Boys.
For me, it was always tough to tell who was who just by listening to them. But it helped remind me that Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA were a group. A band of brothers united in having a good time and representing New York. And as groups began to fade from the landscape, they reminded me what it used to be.
Besides Licensed to Ill being the smash we all know (1st hip hop album to go #1), the Beastie Boys were one of the first hip hop acts to grow up. We know how they started – the frat boy vibe of Licensed to Ill is still required listening at colleges it seems – but we remember them as far beyond that. I remember MCA saying these words on “Sure Shot,”released at the height of gangsta rap in 1994.
“I wanna say a little something that’s long overdue. The disrespecting women has got to be through. To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends. I wanna offer my love and respect to the end.”
That was a grown up line at a time when Death Row was talking about “Ain’t No Fun, if the Homies Can’t Have None” and not too soon after Apache dropped “Gangsta B---h.” Looking back at it now, it showed off the conscious of MCA and the group and how they were always evolving.
By the time I first got exposed to a new Beasties song in high school, it was “Intergalactic” and I loved it. It sounded futuristic, the video was a trip and everybody was quoting it. Then I started listening to KROQ and soon I got put on to all the classics from Licensed to Ill and Ill Communication, not to mention “So What’Cha Want.”
For my money, Paul’s Boutique is my favorite Beasties album. License to Ill has the party joints with rock guitars (The New Style/No Sleep Til Brooklyn are my faves). “Sure Shot” of Ill Communication is probably my favorite Beasties song while “Sabotage” is my favorite video (and has an ill bass line from MCA). But as a fan of hip-hop, Paul’s Boutique is beyond amazing and virtually impossible to make again.
It’s one of the Holy Trinity of sampling – the others being Public Enemy’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions….” and De La Soul “3 Feet High and Rising. It’s an incredible collage of obscure and known samples and it schooled me to a lot of music. Not to mention the Beasties were left for dead after leaving Def Jam and found inspiration out here in L.A. at Capitol Records with the Dust Brothers.
I later read in the 33 1/3 series book on the album that MCA took the move the hardest, which prompted a lot of introspection and led to him going off on “A Year and a Day.” Thanks to sampling laws, albums like that will never be created again without paying hefty fines.
Just like that album is underrated, I feel like the Beasties are underrated by modern hip hop folks because they picked up their instruments again and went more rock in 1991 (even though their punk background reminds you that punk/New-Wave kids were some of hip hop’s biggest supporters back in the day). Hip hop radio may have abandoned them but they never abandoned them.
Even when you hear newer joints like “Ch-Check It Out” or “Triple Trouble” from 2003 or “Too Many Rappers” from 2009, they still rapped like a true group. They made you dig for obscure records to check their samples. They had fun and continued to be inspired.
MCA was at the forefront of their visual/political evolution. He shot several of their videos and helped them be involved in the Tibetan Freedom movement. He loved hoops so much that he later shot a documentary on the 2006 Elite 24 Hoops game, released in 2008. And in 1998, he said these words about America's involvement in the Middle East that are sadly prophetic of the 2000's and today.
The Beastie Boys will be remembered as pioneers – the first White hip hop group to make an impact and influenced rappers Black and White to have fun. As my friend Evan said, they seemed to always be ahead of the game and watch folks catch up to them.
I’ll always love how visual they were. They had the coolest videos and “Sabotage” will keep inspiring people for generations. Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing an exhibit at the MOCA downtown – an Audiovisual exhibit curated by none other than Mike D. A reminder they not only made you listen, they made you watch and appreciate others who shared in their vision.
As I continue to dig into their albums, I’ll be digging into more artists they sampled.
I’ll play “Howlin for Judy” and think of that flute sample for Sure Shot. “Big Sur Suite” for that bassline in “Pass the Mic”. Jimmy Smith’s “Root Down” for the Beasties’ ode of the same name.
I’ll keep schooling folks on how incredible Paul’s Boutique is as one of the most underrated classics of the last 25 years. They kept it true to the old school while they stayed relevant in the new.
I’ll miss MCA and his “beard like a billy goat” but he was a big help in showing that one should strive for excellence, creativity and growing as you age. His loss is sad for music, hip-hop and visual artists altogether.