Summer 1986. I was a round fresh face. I had just finished my very first year of junior high school, Riverview Jr High, which had a mixed reputation even then - not all bad, but not good either. It had it's fair share of inner-city blues: teen pregnancy, petty crime, just overall veil of economic hard times thanks to Reaganomics. And I was, this nerdy girl in the midst of that fray. I'm sure it surprised the popular kids that I was such a music geek. It probably still would, assuming I register on their radars. At that moment the rising stars of hip hop were Run-DMC and Whodini; and though no one talking beefs people were clearly aligned with one group or the other. I like them both, but I was all gaga over Whodini. What can I say, the Rapper Jalil just does it for me. But the scales tilted when word about these 3 white rappers started.
The Beastie Boys. At first, folks thought they were a novelty group. After all, the musical art form known as Rhythm and Poetry (RAP) was definitely a Black Music genre, specifically folks who experienced the grit and grime of urban living. Rap had this authentically tattered image and was beautifully rugged, rough and sharp. The first single that dropped was Paul Revere.
The first 3 seconds of the record was the dopest, most hypnotizing beat I had ever heard. Play that today and the party still goes bananas. No way, these were some white boys. You see, the album cover had no pictures of them. (Which, is an old school record industry tactic when artists are marketed 'outside' of their racial genre.)
Plus, there was no music video for this song or the second release, Brass Monkey, another def jam. Like all great rappers, they copiously identified themselves o their tracks. There were three of them: Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA. I conceded that Mike D and Ad-Rock's voices were a bit nasally and something about the pitch of their voices might belong to white boys, but MCA...His voice was raspy and thick and the cadence of rhymes were smoother, too. He definitely fooled me. He fooled a lot of people. By the time the first video hit MTV, No Sleep til Brooklyn, it was confirmed. (Though I'll admit that track isn't one of my favorites).
We were all fooled. The Beasties were no novelty group, they really did have skills. And they have continued to record and tour. They didn't fade out like man, hence their induction in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year. They could hold a mic and rock a crowd. And let's not forget that they are some of the pioneers of the genre who introduced suburban audiences to their style were the first rap artists to get regular play on MTV. (MTV was being really crappy in the 1980s. They were only playing rock music so a host of artists and music was being overlooked.) You could definitely tell they were influenced by Run-DMC. Like them they employed the volley style of rapping where each artist gives a line or two and the other completes the rhyme. And they did this with 3 people! Listening to them was like listening to a group of kids on a street corner recounting some mad tale. And their individual styles were so apparent, not just their physical appearances, but their voices and rhyme style.
MCA always had this steely resolve to him. Quiet and sure. Don't let the smooth taste fool you. He delivered some of the most memorable spits of the trio. I was surprised when I later discovered he directed many of the music videos and later started his own film company. And let's not forget back in 1998 beef with The Prodigy over performing Smack My Bitch Up. To a young woman, still figuring out her feminist identity, that spoke volumes to me. The Beastie Boys showed me that talent and entertainment could also be purposeful and activist. And MCA was an activist for Tibetan Independence Movement.
So here's to you Adam Yauch, also known as MCA. This Hip Hop Maven misses you already.