Shake Your Rump
Me, my dad, and MCA
By Luke Winkie,
12:53PM, Sat. May 5, 2012
My dad's not a big hip-hop guy. He grew up around London, wandered towards Southern California, married a girl from the Midwest just over a year after meeting her, and spent the majority of the early Nineties dealing with three kids under the age of four.
He had better things to do than investigate music encoded in an alien cultural rhetoric. He’d rather stick to his New Order records. He didn’t trust the pre-programmed beats or the dangerous accessories. Materialism and misogyny only builds a wall.
There was almost a dash of disappointment when his eldest son started spinning rap, like he was watching us drift to different poles of a developmental equator. When my parents bought me a car for my 18th birthday, I put a burnt copy of the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique in the suspended CD-book. It only made sense.
Two years later, when I finished my second semester at UT, my dad, brother, and a rental car helped me move back home for the summer. That same CD-book sat on the dashboard, the Boutique burn still sharpie-etched with a barely legible “Beasties.” I slid it in and skipped past the intro to the second track, “Shake Your Rump.”
“Who is this?” asked my dad in a way that usually meant he was deeply enthused.
I like to think my taste made a little more sense to him that day. It’s definitely the first time I saw him regard a rap tune with palatable joy rather than an arched eyebrow. The relentlessly funky march of Paul’s Boutique makes for an equa opportunity groove, but maybe my dad just liked the idea of three cheeky, savant-smart Jewish boys making baseball jokes over Beatles samples. No matter what it was, we played it a dozen more times.
A year later, yesterday, when I called home weepy with the news that Adam “MCA” Yauch had died after a three-year battle with cancer, my dad told me he still keeps “Shake Your Rump” in rotation.
For all of the chaos and genius they were responsible, Mike D, Ad-Rock, and MCA were amazingly universal. So much so that a West Coast kid born in 1991 and a 52-year-old Englishman could somehow meet in the middle.
It was the glory of their craft. They were breathlessly creative, hugely influential, and recklessly dedicated, all without ever taking themselves seriously. Remember that Licensed to Ill (1986), Paul’s Boutique ('89), Check Your Head ('92), and Ill Communication ('94) were all released before the group members hit their mid-30s.
They were a group of troublemakers never meant for permanent canonization, but somehow found themselves completely singular in modern music perception. They’d be parodied, saluted, referenced, and depicted for decades: two squeaky voices and MCA’s gravelly snarl. Pop culture is fickle terrain, but it seems we’re long agreed that the Beasties are irreplaceable.
Adam Yauch was the change-up. Always the reflection to the pinched, high-strung antics of Ad-Rock and Mike D. His verses were long, narrow things, cramming dozens of syllables into every bar. He was responsible for a number of the group’s iconic music videos, was first to apologize for the goofy misogyny of his earliest songs, and took his Buddhist faith very seriously through the latter part of his life. Not exactly what you’d expect from the guy who helped write “Brass Monkey.”
You could’ve called him the leader, if only because he seemed older and wiser than his rabble-rousing friends, but statements like that hardly do the trio's relationship justice. The Beasties had such symbiotic reverence for each other. Their taste, humor, and ideals were inseparable. For all of the individual flair, Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D came together in single strokes. The fact that this impeccable, productive, and wonderfully artistic friendship was permanently maimed yesterday is beyond sad.
When Yauch first announced he was sick, we sent prayers to his family and friends, but mostly we thought about Ad-Rock and Mike D. Two musketeers isn't the same as three – this trio of best friends who managed to concoct great art through wild tour bus debauchery, slick-fingered music exec commandeering, and vapid commercial identities? Now Ad-Rock and Mike D are left to pick up the pieces, figure out what the world means without MCA.
The death undeniably marks the beginning of the post-Beastie era. These three were put on earth to rap together. It’s a dynamic that nobody would even think to replace. When Wu-Tang's ODB died, the world mourned a brilliant aesthetic. When MCA died, the world mourned the untimely end of a cultural institution.
Time For Livin’
As cyberspace eulogized MCA throughout Friday, the requisite Beastie Boys albums started hitting the needle, stereo, and mouse-click. Somehow I started to feel better. Not okay, but better.
The more that played, the more I felt grounded. This wasn't how an RIP was supposed to feel. I wasn’t crawling into these songs to sob. I was enjoying myself, the way I’ve always enjoyed myself.
MCA’s verses, even up to 2011’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, ostensibly recorded in the depths of his cancer struggles, were just as irreverent, vivacious, and free as ever. The man left us so much joy, so much life, only to be punctuated with such an ugly death. Even in the original video announcement of his cancer, Adam Yauch called it a “hassle,” a momentary issue, something with light at the end.
It’s hard to find that light right now, but it’ll always glow in his music. For my dad, too, I'd venture.