August 5: M. C. A.

MCA“Born and bred in Brooklyn the U.S.A./ They call me Adam Yauch but I’m M.C.A./ Like a lemon to a lime a lime to a lemon/ I sip the def ale with all the fly women.”  -The Beastie Boys, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn”

Hey ladies (and gentlemen) in the place I’m callin’ out to ya, cause today would have been MCA’s 50th birthday and we’ve got to celebrate it. MCA was one of three nice Jewish boys from Brooklyn who performed together as the Beastie Boys and had more hits than Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh. The Beasties (MCA, Ad-Rock and Mike D.) started out performing hardcore punk, but soon shifted their focus to hip-hop when they hooked up with DJ/Producer Rick Rubin.

The Beastie Boys’ first record, Licensed To Ill, was a mad mix of hip-hop and hard rock with a little room left over for the pseudo-novelty song “Girls.” The album’s clever and often ironic lyrics, filled with obscure cultural references, made the album a hit with critics, while its sometimes juvenile humor and simple beats made it popular with the masses. However the strong success of the record amongst those who didn’t get the irony of songs like “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” led to the band being branded as “frat hip-hop.”

However, the Beasties’ reputation was greatly improved with the release of their second record, 1989’s Paul’s Boutique. Although the record was a commercial flop when it was first released, it received widespread critical acclaim and is now frequently listed as one of the best records of all time. Paul’s Boutique was a daring achievement in pop with the Beasties dropping science against an eclectic collage of samples curated by production duo the Dust Brothers. The record features samples from no less than 105 songs including 24 different samples on the record’s epic twelve minute long closing track. No less an innovator than jazz pioneer Miles Davis was quoted as saying that he never got tired of listening to Paul’s Boutique.

The Beasties would remain a key presence in the pop scene for the next 23 years, but MCA would always find time to pursue other interests: He dabbled in film as both a director and producer, including starting the independent film distributor Oscilloscope Pictures, and acted as a strong advocate for political causes like Tibetan independence, feminism and LGBT rights. Tragically, MCA’s life was cut short when he died in 2012 after a three year fight against salivary gland cancer. One year after his death, the City of New York held a ceremony in which Brooklyin’s Palmetto Playground, where he played as a child, was officially renamed as Adam Yauch Plark, a fitting tribute to a man the NYC Parks Department called “one of Brooklyn’s most influential musicians.”

So, today you should raise a glass to MCA with a Brass Monkey. As any Beastie fan will tell you, Licensed To Ill features a song called “Brass Monkey,” a joking tribute to the premixed cocktail of the same name that was popular in the ’70s and ’80s. Now, there are a couple of recipes for a Brass Monkey (including the ghastly concept of adding orange juice to a half-empty 40 oz bottle of malt liquor), but the best one is this potent mix of rum, vodka and orange juice.

Brass Monkey

  • 1 ounce Dark Rum
  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1 ounce orange juice

Pour all ingredients into a highball glass half-filled with ice and stir.

Tomorrow: We go stompin’ at the Savoy.

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