Some people may be looking askance at tributes to Beastie Boys founding member Adam Yauch, a.k.a. MCA, who died on Friday at the age of 47. Having been one of the first white rappers out of the gate isn't a particularly compelling epitaph in itself, and those who didn't follow the Beasties closely might only remember songs like Fight For Your Right To Party or the fake mustaches and cop sunglasses in the Sabotage video.
The boorish parts of the Beasties' legacy stick out like a burned-out letter in a neon sign – you can't help noticing them, and maybe wincing a little. (I still love Licensed To Ill, but that can be safely attributed to my being of a certain age and disposition.)
But although the Beasties, and Yauch in particular, started out with frat-boy antics, they went on to prove that even those who behave like jackasses in the first act of their careers are capable of redeeming themselves.
When I think of Yauch, I'm sure I'm not the only fan who recalls one of his famous verses, from Sure Shot on 1994's Ill Communication:
"I wanna say a little something that's long overdue/ The disrespect to women has got to be through/ To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends/ I want to offer my love and respect to the end."
In the middle of an album-opening party rap including oddball references to soul legend Lee Dorsey and Minnesota Twins slugger Rod Carew, Yauch – by then a committed Buddhist – dropped a heartfelt message that could have instantly poisoned the atmosphere. But it worked. He also became an active fundraiser for Tibetan causes without getting preachy or self-righteous. He said his piece when he needed to and went back to being a great entertainer.
Humility is an uncommon quality among celebrities, and losing Adam Yauch makes it a whole lot more rare than it was yesterday. May he continue to rock mics in the next life.