As awkward as I can be when receiving a compliment, and as awful as I am anytime it happens, I can not take for granted the fact that it’s a privilege to have someone tell me that my music means the world to them. It never quite registers or sinks in deep enough when I see a tattoo with words that I wrote, or when someone tells me something I created changed them in some way. So, in those moments, I try to remind myself of how thankful and gracious I am to the artists who have had that effect on me. Today, one of those artists passed away, and I would really appreciate it if you read what is about to be an extremely longwinded profession of my love for him.
At the age of 12, when I heard “Fight for Your Right” for the first time, I didn’t get it. I thought it was some gimmicky anthem that the jocks in my school would play when putting on their shoulder pads and rib guards in the locker room (I would later read that after the release of Licensed to Ill, the Beasties were completely taken aback by the front rows of their concerts being filled with those jocks). “Brass Monkey” was equally as baffling. I was practicing my scales and I had no idea what the hell sampling was at that time. This shit was party music, and I was a nerdy ass little fucker who never knew where the party was.
So, that’s the truth. I can’t lie about that. I missed the boat, entirely. That was my first introduction to the Beastie Boys. I was a long ways from understanding and falling in love with hip-hop, and I was way too young and too close minded to understand it just yet. Fortunately, the Beasties found me when I was at one of my driest spells, desperately seeking inspiration.
I’ll never forget it. I remember coming home from work one day, exhausted as hell, and I somehow found myself lost in the internet for an hour or so, just clicking on video after video of live performances. Somehow, I stumbled upon the music video for “So What’cha Want”. I’ll never forget the first time I heard that Zeppelin sample with that snare drum and feedback that hit like a gun shot, introducing, The King, Ad rock’s first line: “Just plug me just like I was Eddie Harris.”
“Holy shit! What the fuck record is this?!!! How the hell did I sleep on this!!!!What the fuck!? That sample!!! Those flows!!! It’s like they’re harmonizing when they double each other!!!” There’s a good chance all of that was said out loud, in my one bedroom apartment, with no one else there. From there, I found “Pass the mic” and the rest of the genius that is the record, “Check your Head.” When Ad-rock follows the rhythm of the beat in “Pass the Mic,” and spits, “I’m the A-D-R….O…..C-K, and in the place with the bass I’m goin’ all the way,” I completely lost my shit. This record was special.
I have to admit that it took me probably a full month to digest that entire record, simply because I would listen to “So What’cha Want” probably 15 to 20 times a day for weeks. Something about that song and that video were special to me. Something in there just did it for me. Alright, I’m ranting, and I wanna go somewhere with all this ‘cause I do have a purpose for writing this.
From discovering that record, I fell in love with their entire catalog. I sat through interviews of them speaking of their creative process, of their thoughts on hip-hop and their roots in hardcore. I watched and devoured everything. I bought books on how they recorded “Check your Head.” I wanted the background stories, the details, and anything I could dig up about these guys.
I not only fell in love with them as musicians, but them as people and activists as well. They were able to create these records that were pure fun to their fans, while also having this massive impact on the world with everything they were involved with. We’re talking everything from animal rights (the dog show that they brought on tour with them back in the day, which strictly featured rescued dogs…SO fucking cool), the Tibetan Freedom concerts, and so much more. Even today, they’re still heavily involved with the causes they’re passionate about. Recently, I was in the bathroom and had the TV on in the other room, and I heard a Beastie song playing during a commercial and said out loud, “What? I’m surprised they let them use this for a commercial…” Turned out, it was a commercial featuring Grant Hill discussing how it’s wrong to use the word “gay” as an insult. Damn. They did it again. I love these guys.
I still feel like I’ve just been ranting out of passion, and I want to wrap this up in a way that really drives home the point of how devastated I am that we’ve lost MCA. Of the 3 of them, MCA was my girlfriend’s favorite. The first time she heard “Check Your Head”, she always picked his voice out of the 3 and said, “that’s my boy right there.” He had that relaxed, laid back swagger with that raspy voice and semi-lazy delivery. It was the perfect compliment to Ad rock’s high pitched percussiveness and Mike-D’s innocent and adolescent timbre. He was the man. We’d rewind the parts in their music video where he would jump into frame and spit his verse, over and over again, just saying, “He’s the best!!!”
On top of his contributions to the Beastie Boys, MCA influenced me via other mediums as well. In doing all that homework on them, I discovered that MCA ventured into the film world during the Beastie Boys’ career, and did film projects for the group at his self-built studio, Oscilloscope Laboratories. If you’ve seen Banksy’s “Exit through the Gift Shop,” then you’ve seen a film that his company put out. Perhaps my favorite of the Oscilloscope releases is his documentary on a very special collective of artists that came out of NY years ago, entitled “Beautiful Losers.” It features some unbelievable visual artists, directors, and musicians. It’s an unbelievably inspiring doc.
Once again, I’m all over the place, just professing my love for this man and his accomplishments without really being able to articulate just how emotional I am over this loss. So, I’ll end it like this. Back in January of this year, I was itching to get into a studio and sick of working on music from my apartment. My good friend Will Noon (formerly of Straylight Run, now with the band, Fun) invited me to come down to Philly and work on some music at his house, where he has a studio. A week before I went down there, I got a text from Will saying, “Yo, you ever get into check your head?” Of course, I responded accordingly and a week or so later, I was down in Philly recording with Will. Although I wasn’t totally confident in myself at that time, and the material suffered because of it, those weeks with Will were sort of a celebration of that band and their marriage of hardcore and hip-hop and everything that made us smile about them. The minute I heard MCA passed, I remembered being in Will’s studio, with him on drums, and me on bass, playing “Gratitude” through one of Will’s homemade bass fuzz pedals, making believe I was MCA.
Today, in my apartment, my candles are lit for you, Adam Yauch. I will be listening to that record over and over again, and I will be celebrating your life. I will think of you next time someone compliments me on anything I’ve done, because I would love the opportunity just to thank you. I will never take for granted your art, your honesty, your flow, your films, your activism, and everything else you left us with. Mr. Yauch, Nathanial Hörnblowér, the almighty MCA…I fuckin’ love you, buddy.