When the Beastie Boys first hit big with “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)” in 1987, they crossed the hip-hop color lines and became the first white rap group with any real cred.
Still, with its frat-boy chorus, the song seemed to be somewhat of a novelty. Would they really be able to keep up with the likes of Run-DMC, Public Enemy and Eric B. & Rakim – all contemporary black rap groups?
I, like many other young blacks into hip-hop at the time, was skeptical. But the answer was a surprising, resounding yes. Which is why the untimely death of Adam "MCA" Yauch from cancer at 47 hits so hard.
Signed to the pioneering hip-hop label Def Jam, the Beasties truly changed the game, opening the door for every other white rap act that came after them, from 3rd Bass and and, yes, Vanilla Ice to Eminem. This New York crew proved, like so many Motown acts in the ’60s, that music was not about color and helped bring hip-hop to the masses with their multiplatinum debut, 1986’s Licensed to Ill, the first rap album to hit No. 1 on Billboard. They would go on to bring ambitious, eclectic sounds to hip-hop with albums like 1989’s Paul’s Boutique, pushing the genre forward sonically while maintaining a verbal virtuosity that was uniquely their own. But their importance is as much cultural as musical.
Yauch, Mike “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horowitz made it cool for suburban white kids to embrace the hip-hop lifestyle, from its music and fashion to its lingo. All these years later, just look at Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island trio or Justin Bieber rapping on his new single “Boyfriend,” and you can feel the influence of the Beastie Boys.
Sadly, because of his declining health, Yauch was not able to join Mike D and Ad-Rock when the Beasties were deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month. But at least he could die knowing that his legacy as a member of this groundbreaking group will live on forever.
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