It’s apt to commemorate the life and work of Adam Yauch under the auspices of SPIN.
The Beastie Boys, after all, were the first rap act to grace the cover of SPIN Magazine in the 1980s. It was a controversial milestone. SPIN set the tempo for a new American generation, and was one of the first mainstream publications to give respectful ink to hip-hop acts like Run-D.M.C. But it was the white rappers, the Beasties, who became a core representation of SPIN’s concept of cool in part because they were deemed more accessible to SPIN’s readership; but also because they mirrored, in some honest ways, the curiosity and openness of those same readers.
Let us honor Adam Yauch, then, with a lesson: Cool comes from courage.
Yauch was not just a member of the Beastie Boys. He was part of a larger crew, a loose community of kids from the boroughs and suburbs of New York who converged on downtown Manhattan in the early 1980s and in so doing created a culture and a moment that presaged the next 30 years. Much of what we are, we owe to Yauch and those kids.
Yauch and his initial partners Adam Horovitz, Michael Diamond, and Kate Schellenbach were city kids by birth, not by choice, in a time when being a city kid carried greater risk, but also afforded greater freedom. Much of lower Manhattan had been abandoned, leaving cavernous warehouses and theaters open for use as decrepit playgrounds. In these spaces, the floors great petri dishes of beer and bodily fluids, punk rock grew. These spots also received ambassadors from uptown, guys like “Fab 5” Freddy Brathwaite and Michael Holman, who brought DJs and MCs downtown just as this thing called “hip-hop” received its name.
Yauch and his generation cross-pollinated punk, hip-hop, metal, and new wave from the Roxy to the Mudd Club, from Save the Robots to the Latin Quarter jaywalking across cultural boundaries without a roadmap, and perhaps most importantly, without self-consciousness. You can mark the veterans of this time because they have an unmistakable down-to-earth, eclectic, cosmopolitan air about them: Black folks who can recall a Clash concert in loving detail and white kids who were among the first to see Afrika Bambaataa get down on the wheels of steel.
You know some of their names: Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons, the men who brought you Def Jam and everything that flowed through it from LL Cool J to Kanye West. Some of them are more obscure, but no less crucial: Like Dante Ross, the friend of the Beasties who went on to shepherd acts like De La Soul, Brand Nubian, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard; or Peter Dougherty, a kid who taped punk and rap concerts for a living until he got a gig at MTV and launched the channel’s first rap show, Yo! MTV Raps; or Cey Adams, another friend and graffiti artist who ended up doing some of the most recognizable cover art and branding for the hip-hop generation; or Glen E. Freidman, whose photography first linked hip-hop and skater culture; or Def Jam employees Faith Newman and Lisa Cortes (Newman later signed a rapper named Nas, and Cortes became a producer of Oscar-winning films). These were the folks who, in many ways, not only made hip-hop possible, but made it possible for black artists and musicians to remain at the forefront of the genre, rather than the story ending with white co-optation. We dont hear the word “Elvis” uttered in the same breath as “Beastie Boys.” The integrity of Yauch and his peers had a lot to do with that. Full Article.