Adam Yauch, who rocked the mic for more the 30 years as a founding member of the platinum-selling hip-hop act the Beastie Boys, has died. The rapper, who also went by the stage name MCA, was 47.
The news was initially made public by Russell Simmons, the hip-hop honcho whose Def Jam label released the Beasties' landmark 1986 debut, "Licensed to Ill" -- a work that greatly helped popularize rap music in America.
Although the cause of death was not immediately known, Yauch's lengthy battle with cancer had been in the news for years. He was diagnosed with cancer in his parotid gland and a lymph node in 2009, which led to radiation treatments and surgery.
Yauch initially expressed hope that his cancer was "very treatable," but it began to have a huge impact on the band's career. His illness led to canceled shows and a nearly two-year delay in the release of the Beastie Boys' eighth studio effort, "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two," which eventually hit stores in May 2011. (The Beastie Boys, known as much for their sense of humor as anything else, never released a "Hot Sauce Committee Part One.")
Most recently, Yauch also wasn't able to attend the Beastie Boys' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. Fellow founding members Mike D (Michael Diamond) and Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) were on hand to accept the honor, and they reportedly read a letter from Yauch thanking the band's many fans.
The Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock Hall as part of a diversely impressive cast that also included hard-rockers Guns N' Roses, '60s icon Donovan, funk-rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers and acclaimed songwriter Laura Nyro. The Beasties were chosen for both their versatility and their importance in bringing hip-hop to a wider audience, among other reasons.
"At different times over the past three decades, the Beastie Boys have been shaven-head punks, hip-hop bad boys, '70s-funk students, political activists and style icons," reads the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction memo. "Most important: They have had one of the richest, most important careers in hip-hop and rock, introducing rap to a huge new audience and then pushing the frontiers of what a hip-hop group could do."
Founded in 1979, the Beastie Boys debut album, "Licensed to Ill," became hip-hop's first No. 1 record. The album married rap and rock styles like few before, or since, and that relationship reached its pinnacle on the bratty, delightfully obnoxious single "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)." "Paul Revere," "Brass Monkey" and a number of other tunes from that album are now considered hip-hop classics.
Impressively, the Beastie Boys -- a trio of white Jewish kids -- were able to establish themselves as one of the most respected groups in hip-hop at a time when white rappers were few. Introducing the group at the Rock Hall, Public Enemy rapper Chuck D said the Beastie Boys "broke the mold."
"The Beastie Boys are indeed three bad brothers who made history," said Chuck D. "They brought a whole new look to rap and hip-hop. They proved that rap could come from any street -- not just a few."
After the commercial success of "License to Ill," the Beastie Boys established themselves as critics' darlings with 1989's "Paul's Boutique," a work that rewrote the rules of sampling -- in terms of what was fair game for source material -- and has long been considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever released. The group continued to release groundbreaking, adventurous albums, including 1994's "Ill Communication" and 1998's "Hello Nasty," throughout its career. For the past 20 years the release of a Beastie Boys album was seen as a big occasion in the pop music world.
The Beastie Boys have sold more than 40 million records worldwide, which makes them one of the most popular hip-hop acts of all time.
Besides rapping, Yauch also had a great interest in film and other media. He used the pseudonym "Nathanial Hornblower" when directing many of the Beastie Boys videos. He also directed the Beastie's acclaimed 2006 concert film, "Awesome; I (Expletive) Shot That!," and the 2008 film "Gunnin' for That #1 Spot," which dealt with high school basketball prospects.
Yauch is survived by his wife, Dechen Wangdu, and his daughter, Tenzin Losel Yauch.
Associated Press contributed to this report.
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