The internet has, I think quite oddly, made public outpourings of grief an almost obligatory part of public culture. I don’t really subscribe to the notion that you can feel a genuine sense of loss for someone you’ve never met. I do, however, think that it’s possible to feel genuinely sad about the passing of someone who has in some way impacted on your life, particularly when people bow out before their time. Music more or less is my life and so the passing of artists who have in some way changed my view on what music is and its possibilities does, I think, have a direct effect. In recent years there have been a few such events: Michael Jackson, Keith ‘Guru’ Elam and this week, Adam Yauch, better known as MCA of the Beastie Boys.
Although aware of MCA’s personal achievements; his stance on Tibet and work towards raising awareness and provoking action on preservation and climate change, it is (perhaps selfishly) above all the music that resonates the most and it’s impossible really to talk about that music without talking about three group members as one:
I can be honest in saying that ‘Licence to Ill’ for the most part passed me by. I wrote off ‘Fight for your Right’ more or less as a novelty record never really seeing it as an equal to the output of artists such as BDP dating from the same period. With hindsight and knowledge of their punk roots and musical landscape of the time, I can appreciate the irony, humour and relevance of the album now in a way I couldn’t at the time. Like many people I was a late arriver at the Paul’s Boutique party but found instant joy in it’s uncompromising scittishness, humour, off beat pop culture references and perhaps most importantly a truly eclectic palate of sample material.
But it was the release of ‘Check Your Head’ that for me was the moment that it all fell into place. As a white kid growing up on the outskirts of London I’d followed hip hop from the early days, and started to learn a little about the music that, through sampling, had made hip hop possible. I was a skateboarder, and like many had enjoyed a fleeting interest in ska / punk bands like Operation Ivy through music on skate videos, friends etc. But having all those influences around often felt like something of a conflict – they all had merit but seemed incompatible… and then ‘Check Your Head’ came out and is if by magic all of those influences fitted neatly into one coherent, amazing, thought provoking record. And right there on the cover were three guys who looked and dressed like the people I knew and suddenly all those incompatible influences became one thing, and that was the thing I was into.
Years down the line I can still listen to that album and, although my preference is for the near epic instrumentals over the hip hop tracks it will forever be the soundtrack of a thousand car rides, house parties, barbecues and plenty else besides. I’ll confess to gradually losing interest over successive releases (I’ve never liked Intergalactic and slept on some of the more recent releases) but the piece of magic that was ‘Check Your Head’ and to a degree ‘Ill Communication’ changed my outlook forever and for that I am especially grateful.