It’s not just that we’re surprised that Chris Martin of Coldplay and his bandmates were fans of the Beastie Boys, but to devote part of their Hollywood Bowl show last Friday night to the memory of Adam Yauch, aka MCA, who sadly passed away last week of cancer at the age of 47, then it means something. I know what you’re thinking –“Ugh –Coldplay!”. Self-important, navel-gazing, soulless stadium rockers, all their songs sound the same, the lead dude prances around in high tops –yeah, those guys. The same guys everyone’s pretty tired of nowadays.
So you’re already prepared to hate this. Even as you see the words “Coldplay” and “Beastie Boys” together you’re thinking this can’t be good. But it is. It truly is not just because of the noble intent and poignant timing that this guy’s passing affected so many people. Jay Z, the Rev. Run of Run DMC, all sorts of contemporaries have sent Twitter messages or statements extoling the virtues of MCA. Adam Yauch not only helped create the superstar rap outfit, the first rap artists to have a #1 album on the Billboard charts (“Licensed to Ill”), and really quite inventive artists who managed to get themselves inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (The concert, shown over the weekend on HBO, showed the other two Beastie Boys, Mike D and Ad-Rock, pay tribute as well to their ailing and absent leader.)
Two personal notes of disclosure: I went to the Beastie Boys’ very first concert tour back in April 1984, when they opened (get this!) for Madonna’s first tour at the-then Bill Graham Auditorium in San Francisco. I’m proud to say they were absolutely horrible —yes, beyond bad, just a bunch of foul-mouthed kids from NY with somewhat impressive rapping skills that everyone was booing. And yet, this was the start of something big. Madonna, for her part, was breaking out with “Borderline” and she was pretty young and raw too. Later, during the “Licensed to Ill” tour in 1986 at the Shoreline Ampitheatre in Mountain View, the Beastie Boys were a lot more skilled, with a killer stage presence alongside Run DMC, their tour partners.
Take a listen here to what is arguably the biggest Beastie Boys’ hit, “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)—and not done in a loud, party-anthem style, since, well, it’s been repositioned as a stark, slower ballad to reflect the mood of Yauch’s passing. By slowing down the pace, we understand the poignancy of the moment and the meaning that this song had at one time –one of breaking rules, being a rebel, and being confident to be the loud, kooky white-boy rappers that managed to take rap out of the inner city and into the suburbs. If anything, MCA and his mates made rap music inventive and took it out of its grittiness. They made rap less dangerous to some, and redefined what pop culture thought of it.
This was full-form freestyle rap, loaded with an astonishing number of samples and displaying a very intricate use of multi-layering. By slowing down the message and the lyrics, Martin invites us to revisit what the intent was –and remind us that it was all about the “Beastie Boys!”