Flying down the highway, windows open, stereo on blast, Beastie Boys bumping – my teenage version of freedom. The joy of good friends, weird adventures, and great music as the soundtrack to our youthful escapades. If you were not in high school or college in the 80’s or 90’s then the Beastie Boys might not mean much to you, but you had your soundtrack too. Yours might have been Springsteen or Elvis or the Beatles, but in my generation, we had the King Ad Rock, Mike D, and MCA. The Beastie Boys meant rebellion, non-conformity, and pure unadulterated fun.
Last week I was saddened at the early passing of Adam (MCA) Yauch. Always a shame when a life ends too soon, but in a moment of reflection my sadness quickly faded as I thought about that roadtrip, that party, that concert, those times in college – all those formative moments in my life colored by the sounds of Paul Revere, Sabatoge, Sure Shot, and Root Down. I still know every single word of the album “Licensed to Ill” – a lot of people reading this do too.
So in that moment of sadness I found myself smiling. I thought of a quote I’ve heard before: “People will not remember what you said or what you did – they will remember how you make them feel.” And that’s exactly what happens when you do something great, something risky, something that has a positive effect on other people’s lives. You make them feel something – and that feeling never fades.
In that moment I began to reflect on my own life. How will I be remembered? How will you? And beyond that, what did Adam Yauch do that was so special that his actions and his life impacted a generation? What can we learn from MCA?
Speak your mind, don’t speak to everyone. The music of the Beastie Boys is not for everyone – if it was, then it wouldn’t be genuine. It had to be gritty, foul, raucous, and rebellious for certain people to relate to it. If you speak softly to everyone then you speak powerfully to no one.
Find an uphill battle and start climbing. How many times did the Beastie Boys hear “white guys can’t rap” or “rappers can’t play instruments” or “rap music won’t last”? If you’ve got fans, you’ve got critics. In his own words: “They got a committee to get me off the block ‘cause I say my rhymes loud and I say ‘em nonstop.” In the path to greatness you will be met with naysayers, doubters, and skeptics. Use it as fuel for your fire to accomplish something difficult.
Be true to yourself. Early in their career, the Beasties might have been characterized as rude, crass, and juvenile. In time, they used those rebellious attitudes to make statements for freedom and equality. In either case, they pissed people off. You don’t want to hear about kids partying and causing trouble? Don’t listen. You don’t want a rockstar to use their platform for pushing their beliefs? Don’t follow. It is the “do what I want” approach that turned these boys to men. Be bold, be authentic, and celebrate it.
Party. Speaking of celebration, I know we all are focused and driven and relentless and so on, but dammit, every now and then you gotta break the monotony and appreciate the fruits of your labors. Sometimes you gotta turn it up and party like your parents are out of town to remind yourself why you work so hard.
Collaborate. Not only were the Beastie Boys a group of guys that came together to make music – they literally finished each other’s sentences. Their group approach to trading rhymes branded their style, gave them a unique sound, and changed the game. Want to be successful? Get some homies to help you achieve your vision.
I watched the Beastie Boys on stage at Lollapalooza when I was in college. I could not believe the way they moved the crowd. I had never experienced thousands of people rapping in unison along with the artists on stage. I had never heard bass that loud. I remember what I was wearing, I remember what I drank, I remember the vibrations in the ground, I remember the friends who took that crazy journey with me. And I will always, always remember how I felt. Shout out to the Beasties for that feeling. Shout out for the lifelong memories. Shout out to MCA for the reminder to achieve something great.