Adam Yauch (MCA), 1964–2012

End of an Era

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I can still vividly remember my first rap show. It was the spring winter of 1986 1987, and the Beastie Boys were touring to support their debut album, Licensed to Ill. They weren’t opening for Run-DMC; they were headlining this tour, backed up by punks (Murphy’s Law) and funks (Fishbone). The Jacksonville Coliseum was nowhere near full capacity, and it would be another year before the crew fully blew the fuck up, but the atmosphere was surely electric. Being a lowly eighth grader at the time, full of angst and whatnot, the gratuitously raunchy, and now infamous, show was obviously thrilling for me; this was my own rebel music. When the parents read about the inflatable erection in the paper the next morning, I could hardly help not to pound my chest like an ape at the breakfast table. “Brass Monkey!” I yelled. Parents just didn’t understand.

Looking back at this early stage of their career and development, it’s obvious that their raunch is not what they’ll be remembered for. They were true pioneers in music. As Chuck D pointed out, “They proved that rap could come from any street.” But more than just crossing racial barriers, they brought hip-hop into the national consciousness and dialog. It wasn’t just Eminem who would benefit from their success; it was every rapper and group that came after them. Rap was never again thought of as some passing fad or left-field anomaly. Suddenly, even your mom knew what rap was, for better or worse, but certainly forever.

Adam Yauch (aka MCA)—rapper, father, activist, pioneer—passed away today after a brave battle with cancer. He was forty-seven years young.

When Guru passed away a couple years ago, the hip-hop community—especially the older heads that can remember when these records came out—was shocked and saddened. It wasn’t just the death of a beloved icon, but the symbolic death of an ideal. The golden era and the old school are now truly things of our past. These were musicians who were part of what was essentially a youth movement. We can’t stay young forever; and let’s not try to. Growing up and old is an everyday occurrence. And death, that’s something we see all too often. Publishing this magazine for a decade, we’ve dealt with death. Older jazz cats and soul singers pass before we ever get a chance to talk with them. And too often, these icons pass away right after we talk to them—sometimes right before their article is published. But now, a younger generation is dealing with loss. And with MCA’s passing, we can truly mark an end of an era.

But there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve recently emerged from a dark decade where hip-hop had lost its voice, its power, its way. Today, there is a lot to be happy about. There is a new generation of hip-hoppers who truly understand and appreciate the roots. They’re finally creating new music for us, and inherent in their art is a respect for the past. Something that had been missing for many years.

So let’s celebrate the life and accomplishments of Adam Yauch, and let’s always remember the pioneers.

 

 

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