Truly heartbreaking news to close off the week, as reports have come in from multiple sources, including Russell Simmons‘ GlobalGrind and Rolling Stone, that Adam Yauch, aka MCA of the Beastie Boys, has passed away at the age of 47. Yauch was a founding member of the seminal hip-hop group, along with Mike Diamond, Adam Horovitz and Michael Schwartz, and also co-founded Oscilloscope Labs, one of the most exciting distributors of independent film in the U.S.
The Brooklyn-born Yauch started playing with his bandmates in a hardcore band, but they soon moved to hip-hop, and became one of the first megastars of the MTV generation, thanks to game-changing albums like Licensed To Ill and Paul’s Boutique (the latter still one of hip-hop’s finest creations). The band always considered videos a key part of their art, and aside from early videos from the likes of Spike Jonze (a friend and collaborator), Yauch would also direct a number of the band’s spots, under the name Nathanial Hörnblowér. The band took home a Video Vanguard Award at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards for their contribution to the form, and The Criterion Collection honored them by releasing an anthology of their videos.
Yauch always maintained an interest in film. He directed the 2006 concert movie “Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That!,” which used crowd-sourced footage of concertgoers for one of the most dynamic examples of the genre, and two years later helmed a documentary about one of his other great loves, basketball, with 2008’s acclaimed “Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot.”
To release the film, Yauch set up the distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories (named after his New York studio, where he would produce albums for Bad Brains, among others). And over the last four years, Oscilloscope have gone on to be one of the most forward-thinking indie companies around, with an impressive 50 releases, including some of the best films of any kind of the last few years. “Dear Zachary,” “Wendy & Lucy,” “Burma VJ,” “The Messenger,” “The Exploding Girl,” “The Unloved,” “Exit Through The Gift Shop,” “Bellflower” “We Need To Talk About Kevin” and the upcoming “Shut Up And Play The Hits” and “Wuthering Heights” numbered among their releases, films that would have struggled to find audiences without the passion and taste of Yauch. And these works have been able to get real attention, with “The Messenger” winning two Oscar nominations, and “Exit Through The Gift Shop” picking up a nod for Best Documentary.
Yauch was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, causing Beastie Boys activity to be suspended, but he was well enough for the band to release last year’s Hot Sauce Committee. Yauch was also a devoted Buddhist, and was well-known for campaigning for Tibetan causes. He’s survived by his wife, Dechen Wangdu, and daughter Tenzin Losel Yauch. It’s terribly sad news, and he’ll be sorely missed by countless film and music fans. Our thoughts are with his friends and family.