Adam Yauch, who helped make hip-hop a worldwide cultural force as one-third of the influential crossover group the Beastie Boys, has died after battling cancer. He was 47.
The band's publicist said in a statement that Yauch died in his native New
York on Friday morning. Yauch, also a film director who co-founded the
distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories and an organizer of several
charitable concerts, including the Tibetan Freedom Concerts, was first diagnosed
with a cancerous tumor in his left salivary gland in 2009.
His death was reported by GlobalGrind, a media company partly funded by Russell Simmons. Simmons and Rick Rubin led Def Jam Records as it rose to prominence in the 1980s thanks to acts including the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC.
With bandmates Mike D (Michael Diamond) and Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz), Yauch started the Beastie Boys in the late 1970s as a hardcore punk outfit. But they evolved into a sneering, comedic rap group that, under the guidance of producer Rubin, broke through by mixing hip-hop beats and classic guitar riffs -- the same formula often employed by Run-DMC.
The Beastie Boys' lighthearted approach -- and whiteness in a genre dominated
by African-Americans -- helped them achieve mainstream success at a time that
hip-hop was often dismissed as urban braggadocio set to music, despite the
artistry behind it. MTV's heavy rotation of the Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your
Right to Party," and Run-DMC's "Walk This Way" helped expose millions of young
people to hip-hop for the first time, paving the way for every massive act that
has come since, from Public Enemy to Kanye West to Eminem.
But the Beastie Boys became one of the longest-lasting acts the genre has produced by evolving constantly. While their breakthrough record, "License to Ill," was full of fratty party jams, their follow-up, "Paul's Boutique," was one of the first albums to recognize the vast potential of aggressive, whimsical, multilayered sampling. It made so many lists of "underrated" hip-hop albums in the '90s that it quickly shed that status. For the follow-up, "Check Your Head," Yauch and his bandmates played their own instruments, deftly combining hip-hop, grunge, jazz and psychedelic influences.
As the group continued to experiment and evolve over the next two decades --
and pack stadiums -- Yauch branched out into directing. Under the alias
Nathanial Hörnblowér, he directed several videos for his group, and later helmed
the Beasties' 2006 concert film "Awesome; I F-----' Shot That!" He also directed
the 2008 basketball documentary "Gunnin' for That #1 Spot," and founded
Oscilloscope in the same year.
He said after his cancer diagnosis in 2009 that it was "very treatable," and the group delayed tour plans and the release of their album "Hot Sauce Committee Part 1," which was finally released last year in slightly different form as "Hot Sauce Committee Part 2."
He is survived by his wife and his daughter.
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