Bill Adler Remembers Adam Yauch, Beastie Boys In Def Jam Days

Beastie Boys co-founder Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch died at the age of 47 on Friday (May 4), leaving behind a legacy that shaped both the hip-hop and rock n’ roll musical landscapes, beginning in the early 80s. Bill Adler, house publicist for Def Jam Records between 1984-1990, began working with Adam and the Beasties during their early years on their label when they released the critically-acclaimed album Licensed To Ill. Adler, co-author of  “Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label,” is currently penning another book on Public Enemy and he gave MTV News a first-hand account of his time with  Adam Yauch and the Beastie Boys. Read Adler’s own words below.

“My very first impression of the Beastie Boys? They were little brats. They certainly weren’t interested in making nice with me — although I can’t say I took it personally. That’s just the way they were at the time. But as they were pulled into the Rush Artists family and they started going out on tour with Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Whodini and the rest of our guys, they relaxed and warmed up quite a bit – and not just with me, but with all of us who were working with Russell Simmons then.

What was Yauch like then? He always struck me as a singularly angry guy. Of course, the great thing is that he ended up really transforming himself. It must have been 20 years ago or more that he found Buddhism and managed to calm down, making the last half of his life much more peaceful than the first half.

The Beasties as a group also evolved. When Licensed To Ill came out late in 1986, the Beasties Boys were devoted to living up to their name. When they came back with Paul’s Boutique in 1989, they were markedly less cartoonish and more conscious. They’d had some second thoughts about the sexism on Licensed to Ill. Accordingly, Paul’s Boutique was much more woman-friendly, Of course, the Beasties cartoonishness was also their saving grace. Even in their earliest days, when they were still punk-rockers, they had a sense of humor. And it was that same sense of humor that distinguished them as rappers.

How did these three young white kids manage to make a place for themselves in the overwhelmingly black idiom of hip-hop? They did it not by trying to imitate other rappers, but by staying true to themselves. They wrote about their lives — high school hi-jinks and television, mostly – and they dressed the way they’d always dressed. They were also given huge assists by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, who provided world-class management skills and production skills, respectively.

The other thing to keep in mind about the Beastie Boys is that the music itself was so magnificent and the guys were great live performers. I remember them on the Raising Hell Tour in 1986. It was Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and Whodini, with the Beasties at the bottom of the bill. The tour was playing nothing but arenas and the audience was about 95 percent black, so you might imagine that it would be a tough crowd for the Beastie Boys. But they scampered out for 15 minutes at the start of every show, funny and funky, and they made friends every single night all summer long.

What was their biggest contribution as a group? To me, they might’ve had a bigger effect on the rock mainstream than on hip-hop per se. When the Beasties emerged in the mid-Eighties, it was a gruesome time for rock’n’roll. The music then was terribly bloated and self-important, not to say decrepit. The Beasties, by contrast, were funny, smart, quick, and self-mocking. Their songs were well-shaped and hard-hitting. At that moment, then, the Beasties were able to inject a much-needed jolt of uncut punk energy into the rock mainstream.

Yauch’s particular contributions? Well, that raspy voice of his made him the blackest-sounding, or best “conventional” rapper, of the trio. But he was also a musician, producer, and director of many of their videos. And I think his personal journey must’ve had its effect on his two partners as well. MCA started out as a Beastie Boy and ended up a Beastie man.”