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Adam Yauch (MCA) dead: Rapper gave Beastie Boys their grit

Adam Yauch of Beastie Boys, left, has died at the age of 47. Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images.
Adam Yauch of Beastie Boys, left, has died at the age of 47. Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images.

May the fourth be with Adam Yauch, a.k.a. MCA of the Beastie Boys, who died today, according to multiple sources.

Yauch was 47.

Adam Yauch gave the Beastie Boys their gritty soul, from his early days as a fresh-faced, street-sounding MC to his latter days as the hoarse-voiced, stern-faced member of the trio – partially the result of a cancer he was diagnosed with in 2009.

When the legendary rap trio was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month, Yauch was absent like Axl (Rose) – but for medical reasons. The same health conditions postponed the Beastie Boys’ most recent effort, “Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2” and somewhat dictated the last few years of the group’s touring schedule.

Yauch will be best remembered for his heartfelt rhymes and his passion for Tibetan culture and the Buddhist religion.

The last time we rocked with Yauch: We’ve seen the Beastie Boys a number of times out of state — at Coachella and the like. But nothing will compare to their last show at Red Rocks. The group was supporting “The Mix Up” in 2007, and the three guys threw down an old-school, all-hits show at Red Rocks followed by a new-school, all-instrumental set at the Fillmore Auditorium the next night.

Yeah, it was that cool.

Red Rocks was the dance party. The Fillmore was the black-tie gala.

So of course we were at the Red Rocks show. Looking back, we all got drunk on the good vibes flowing around the natural outdoor amphitheater — and the tallboys and vodka lemonades didn’t hurt. The Boys brought it all, from newer jams “Ch-Check It Out” to classics “Shake Your Rump,” “Root Down,” “Sabotage” and my personal favorite “Pass the Mic.”

“Pass the Mic” is one of those songs that truly embodied the spirit of those Beastie Boys years, which were the best of their career. It’s all about sharing the microphone, passing it back and forth and spreading the love — calling each other out by names, nicknames and more nicknames and encouraging each other to rock the mic.

MCA’s last rhyme in that song still owns me: “I’ve been coming to where I am from the get go/Find that I can groove with the beat when I let go/So put your worries on hold/Get up and groove with the rhythm in your soul/And now I’d like to pass the mic to my brother Adrock/C’mon and shine like a light.”

When read outside of the context of “Pass the Mic’s” psychotic, rich production, it’s clear: Of course Yauch was a Buddhist. That’s some feel-good action, right there.

Even at that 2007 show, Yauch’s voice wasn’t in top form. It was deteriorating, and you could hear it — especially when held in contrast to his counterparts’ ever-youthful vox. But still he was bringing the rhymes, the vibes, the silliness and the goodness. Some of it meant nothing at all. Some of it meant everything. And for that we’ll bang “Ill Communication” really loud this weekend.

“But for now, I’d like to ask you how you like the feel of the bass in your face in the crowd.”

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Ricardo Baca is the founder and executive editor of Reverb, the co-founder of The UMS and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post.