Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Let it Flow Like a Mudslide...Tears for MCA

This is another post about death. And, even though death in its various manifestations is a part of life, I'm tired of writing about it.  But, Adam Yauch died last Friday and that fact keeps gnawing at me several days later. I was on a mini vacation/family gathering with my boo (and celebrating our one year wedding anniversary :), so I didn't write. But there were times, especially Friday and Saturday, that I wished I could have found a corner to cry, a lot.

I'm not exactly sure what I'd be crying about. Perhaps the fact that a man I've never met, but whose music (and activism) moved me for 25 years is gone. Maybe because I just wrote that last sentence and realize that another person that I grabbed onto in my teenage years fought and "lost" a battle. Or just simply that MCA, a rapper whose rhymes emboldened me at times—but if you’re hot to trot/you think you’re slicker than grease/I got news for ya crews/you’ll be suckin’ like a leech—has died.

(I don’t know what’s gonna happen when Prince dies, I’m just letting you know now).

Like others, I've loved the Beastie Boys since I first heard "Paul Revere" at a house party in the Fall of 1986. Our resident deejay, Juan Alexander, put it on after Club Noveau's "Lean on Me" so the party was already hyped and ready for:

Lookin' for a girl/I ran into a guy
His name is MCA/I said 'howdy' he said 'hi'
He told a little story/It sounded well rehearsed
Four days on the run/And now he's dying of thirst

I had already listened to Licensed to Ill when it first came out, upstairs in my Uncle Charles’ room, at my grandma’s house, where we listened to all the latest albums. “Listen to these white boys,” he said, as he moved the needle to the second track on Side Two. "Here's a little story..."was it for me. I was hooked. But I hadn't heard it at a house party before, over loud speakers, in an empty house, watching folks do the wop. I loved those house parties, watching folks packed tightly onto the “dance” (living room) floor, exploding when a song came on that we collectively agreed was the ish. "Paul Revere" was that song. Standing in the corner (I was more shy back then), I listened as AdRock's singular, high-pitched delivery was broken up by the hoarse, throat dried voice of MCA:

Now I got the gun/You got the brew
You got two choices/Of what you can do
It's not a tough decision/As you can see
I can blow you away/Or you can ride with me

It was “Paul Revere” that made us simultaneously forget and remember that they were white boys (unlike "Fight For Your Right to Party," which we all could barely admit we enjoyed listening to at times). Nor could I admit that I secretly had a crush on Yauch and, to a lesser extent, Horovitz. Side note: since his death, a number of dykes and straight women of color have been coming out with early tales of love for our boyfriend Yauch. Who knew? For me, it was because he was cool: a little older, still goofy like the others, but also kinda serious. And he had a beard. And a leather jacket. And his coolness, growth and maturity as a musician and a man developed on subsequent albums, solidifying his status within and outside of hip-hop. Paul's Boutique was a welcome surprise although, at the time of it's release (my senior year), I thought it was a sophomore slump. While I came to appreciate the sampling, at the time, I wanted more of the energy and maybe even guitar riffs of their first album. 

By college, I had put away Licensed to Ill, as it didn't really mesh with my emerging feminist politic. There wasn't a lot of room for "We rag tag girlies back at the hotel/Then we all switch places when I ring the bell” in my strict feminist training and really, no room for the merging of hip-hop and feminism in the early 1990s. That all changed for me with the release of Check Your Head in 1992. It represented a level of creativity and humor that I had been missing. Sampling lines from Wild Style,

Yo I don’t hang with those guys/man I ain’t got nothin’ to do with those dudes
Man and I saw your female with them too/What’s up with her?
I been hearing that she’s been giving it out/To all them graffiti guys
Man shut the fuck up Chico man/I’d paint three murals for some of that ass

In some ways that album, which I couldn’t really ignore , with songs like “Pass the Mic,” “The Maestro,” and “So Whatcha’ Want (and my boyfriend at the time played it over and over)." The skill, force, and playfulness of that album pushed me to stop hiding out in a feminism that didn’t entirely fit who I was. It (as well as A Tribe Called Quest, Me’shell Ndegeocello, and Queen Latifah) allowed me to straddle the feminism I was embracing in my adulthood with a working-class, hip-hop identity I had set aside when I left for college.  Now, I’m not gonna "front" and say that the Beastie Boys and Adam Yauch were responsible for an early hip-hop feminist politic that I now hold dear…but I did pull Licensed to Ill back out of the closet shortly after that period. My commitment deepened when MCA ordered something "long overdue," in the "Sure Shot" lyrics, "The disrespect to women/ Has got to be through/To all the mothers/And sisters/And the wives/And friends/I want to offer/My love and respect/To the end." Those lyrics, from a rapper with a popular and large audience, demonstrated a growing up that I, at twenty-three and several years younger, was also coming into. His was a good model of the activism, combined with playfulness, that I grew into in my twenties and thirties.

All of this to say, as Joan said the other day, Yauch's death is truly a loss: for the music industry, for activism, and for those of us who love and were raised on hip-hop. And while I'm grappling with getting older--just turned 41 last month--and having a hard time with the death of my early icons, it's nice to reflect on what this music has meant to me. How it raised me in lots of ways and shaped who I am today.  So thank you, Adam Yauch, for being a part of that and for bringing the depth of perception in your text to my own movement and growth.

Maybe the tears can come now. Tears of recognition, gratitude, and loss.

You can't front on that.


lafitch said...

Feeling the love...it was a little different in the Bronx but across state lines we were listening to the same rhymes. Love you

siobhan brooks said...

I feel ya. I LOVED the beastie boys and actually had to pleasure to meet them after a show in the early 90s in San Francisco. My friends and I acted like we were 14, screamed how much we loved them, and asked them for a hug, which they granted us! I remember thinking they were short cuz Mike D was my height :) RIP MCA :(