MCA’s Legacy: Music Icon and Buddhist Pioneer

By J.J. Colagrande

The passing of Adam “MCA” Yauch stings music lovers across multiple generations. But it’s also a moment to reflect on his influence on the broader spectrum of pop culture. Beyond the obvious pain of the loss, the arguable importance of his very existence, and the discussion of the inevitable disintegration of a pioneering band, there exists a man’s legacy.
The legacy of Adam Yauch is deeper and coarser than the raspy throat which inevitably failed him at the young age of 47. This musician’s life was particularly nuanced. You’d be hard-pressed to find an actor, musician, artist or writer who has evolved publicly more than MCA. At first a rebellious, misogynist, drug-yielding bad boy, he matured into a gentle, clear-minded, peaceful soul who quietly gave back to the world through the Tibetan Freedom Concerts he organized in the late ’90s. It is through this transformation that we must appreciate his legacy.

Rhymin and Stealin
It’s common for musicians to glamorize misogyny, drug use, and crime, yet few were more notorious than MCA, early on in his career. If you look at lyrics on the Beastie Boys’ first two albums, Licensed to Ill and Paul’s Boutique, you will find countless examples of MCA’s reckless attitude towards women, drugs, and the law:

“Hold it Now”
Now I just got home because I’m out on bail
What’s the time? — it’s time to buy ale

Well I’m cruising, I’m bruising – I’m never ever losing
I’m in my car — I’m going far and [angel] dust is what I’m using

“The New Style”
Father to many – married to none
And in case you’re unaware I carry a gun

I’ve got money and juice – twin sisters in my bed
Their father had envy so I shot him in the head

Girls with boyfriends are the kind I like
I’ll steal your honey like I stole your bike

The disrespect to women and society is blatant, chauvinistic and rather appalling in these excerpts. It’s downright rude with a borderline personality. And it is laced with drugs and violence.

“Three-minute Rule”
Roses are red, the sky is blue
I got my barrel at your neck so what the fuck you gonna do

I smoke cheeba, it helps me with my brain
I might be a little dusted but I’m not insane
People come up to me and they try to talk shit man
I’ve been making records since you were sucking on your mother’s dick

Yauch had no sense of religion or respect for society. No sense of maturity, responsibility, or peace of mind. And whether you think the lyrics are merely for entertainment purposes, they were still shocking, unhealthy and vagrant. These lyrics are just a few examples of MCA’s rebelliousness and misogyny. You could find 50 more on the band’s first two albums.

Something’s Got to Give
In life, we mature, age and learn from experiences.

On their next album, Check Your Head, you can feel the evolution. You hear the softening of a soul with tracks like “Something’s Got to Give,” “Pow,” “Live at P.J’s,” and “Namaste.”

The whole band sought enlightenment, but they hadn’t attained it. There was still too much rebelliousness and ego, just like you’d see in the psyche of any growing individual.  A theme of “we’re gonna-get-our-shit-together and figure-this-fucker out” ran through the whole album.

MCA voiced this in the song “Stand Together”:

I don’t see things quite the same as I used to
As I live my life I’ve got just me to be true to
And when I find that I don’t know about just what to do
I turn and look within to see what I should do

As MCA found his awakening it figured to resonate; so much vulgarity and rebelliousness will only be balanced out by the same level of understanding and peace. It’s simple cause-and-effect.

Finally, like the sun breaking through a wet Florida day, or a white rose opening its petals for the first time, on their next album, Ill Communication, one feels the evolution, maturity and breakthrough of all three Beastie Boys, with no one more notable than MCA.

With regards to his misogyny in the first song on the album MCA clearly draws a new line:

“Sure Shot”
I want to say a little something that’s long overdue
The disrespect to women has got to be through
To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends
I want to offer my love and respect to the end

Furthermore, with regards to his drug use, in the track “The Scoop” we see the evolution from a bad boy to a man who admits part of his breakthrough came when he quit weed.

Cause I don’t play that, I know who I am
For a minute I didn’t, but now I’m back again
I’m feeling strong see, trust myself G
Well I stopped smoking cheeba
And that was part of the key

Bodhisattva Vow
MCA’s journey towards self-realization was achieved for the world to see. He should be remembered both as a musical icon who matured and found his peace in a public forum, as well as a spiritual pioneer of Buddhism. The ground-breaking Tibetan Freedom Concerts which he organized during the late ’90s brought awareness of Tibetan Activism to hundreds of thousands.

It was through Buddhism that MCA found his peace. MCA didn’t give a lot of interviews, but in his own words in a piece for PBS’ Frontline he elucidates on happiness and peace of mind.

“I think there are a lot of misconceptions in society about what actually brings happiness. We’re caught up in all these ideas that having a lot of money or having somebody beautiful to have sex with or having some cool objects, having a cool car, cool stereo or whatever is gonna make us happy. And those things actually don’t bring us happiness. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about how compassion or altruism actually brings a person happiness.”

You can argue there have been men that have learned the hard way how to grow up and rehabilitate. But not many have done so with the scope and quiet integrity of Adam Yauch.

Gunga Galunga

Even when first diagnosed with cancer in 2009, he never played the pity card. He didn’t seek attention nor did he grant many interviews. Like a practicing Buddhist, he laid low. After his surgery, MCA traveled to India for treatments from Tibetan doctors. They prescribed him an organic diet while nuns offered special prayers. Of the trip to India, he playfully responded in one of the only interviews he gave:

“One nun said to me: ‘We do prayers and then you are better’. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.”

In case you didn’t get the inside joke, MCA was making a reference to Caddyshack, which clearly illustrates his light heart and playfulness, even in the face of death.

Adam “MCA” Yauch will be missed.

But since he was a Buddhist, who knows–maybe we shouldn’t fret; maybe he’ll be back in no time, in some form or another.





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