Adam Yauch – Beastie Boys: The rapper who loved Milarepa

- through Sophie Solere

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A member of the Beastie Boys, the legendary group of the New York hip hop scene in the 80s, Adam Yauch was also a devout Buddhist, supporter of the Tibetan cause and founder of the Milarepa Fund. On the occasion of a documentary by Spike Jonze on these rap pioneers, broadcast on April 24 on Apple TV +, portrait of a benevolent rebel.

Rap and Buddha… funny duo. Rare are the followers of the sung-spoken to pour into the mantras. It is hard to imagine these apostles of urban culture making the big difference between chronicles of the lowlands of society and Way of the Buddha. Few know it, but one of these kings of the “battles” (oral contests) was a practicing Buddhist, more interested in the destitution of Milarepa than the kilos of jewelry of the gangsta rap scene. Adam Yauch, alias MCA, co-founder of the hip hop trio Beastie Boys, created the first bridges between these two worlds not used to meditating together, marrying frontal flow (the scansion in rap jargon) and fraternal verses.

Flashback: in the very early 80s, MCA and his acolytes Michael "Mike D" Diamond and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horowitz were royally hanging out at the foot of their Brooklyn blocks. To pass the time, they tease the instruments and decide to form their own group, instead of vegetating on the school benches. The Beastie Boys are born and will soon revolutionize the New York hip hop scene, with their explosive cocktails of punk rock and hip-hop. The guitars sting and stun via riffs that go inside, the bass thunders and the flow hits hard, without manner. The paw, or rather the claw, of the three kids? A caustic and mischievous pen more than revolted, hedonistic, non-nihilistic appeals, an apology for the bazaar. Live intensely, here and now, even if it means burning the candle… The three Critters dream of the big night, but every night and until dawn.

BB fights

1980, the freak years. While the hip hop scene unfolds the revenge of the outcasts of the American dream, with a lot of convertible cars, gold chains and rings and ever more naked "sisters", the Beastie Boys call for parental disobedience more than civil. They don't dream of changing society, they want to have fun. If there is one song that perfectly sums up their speech, it is their hit “(You gotta) Fight for your Right (to Party!) », from their debut album Licensed to Ill, signed to the prestigious Def Jam label in 1986. Fight for your right to party, the title says it all. The clip features a teenager party that degenerates into an orgy, the guests literally setting fire to a small bourgeois apartment. A thousand leagues from the war of gangsta rap, which opposes the clans of the East and West coasts, ending in a bloodbath, the Beatles Boys play the antiheroes of hip hop, a few decades before the Orelsan and Big Flo & Oli. Between recreational provocations and festive rap pastiches, the troublemakers of Brooklyn distance themselves from the hate speech and misogynistic scores of their colleagues on the microphone. Wise and dirty kids at the same time.

“The Dalai Lama is an incredible man, a radiant being of compassion, like the Tibetan people, also resolutely turned towards the things of the heart. »

Being entertained does not prevent being indignant. In 1994, fervent defenders of the Tibetan cause, the Beastie Boys sampled chants of Buddhist monks on the tracks "Shambala » and “Bodhisattva Vow” from their 4th album, III Communications. In 1998, two months after Al-Qaeda's attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, MCA reminded its compatriots, during the MTV Awards, that not all Muslims were terrorists. The following year, Ad-Rock protested against the numerous cases of sexual assault which multiplied during music festivals, such as during the 1999 edition of Woodstock. Finally, a month after the attacks of September 11, 2001, they organize the concert " New Yorkers Against Violence” to end the cycle of hate. Like MCA, which regularly speaks of compassion, the discourse of the Beastie Boys stands out among all these rappers who fantasize about being public enemies number one.

MCA in the footsteps of Milarepa

With a Catholic father and a non-practicing Jewish mother, Adam Yauch finally turned to Buddhism. As a good rapper, it was first through a clash that he took a stand: in May 1994, he created with the entrepreneur Erin Potts the Milarepa Fund, a nonprofit foundation that raises money for the Tibetan independence movement. On June 15, 1986, with his two companions from the Beastie Boys, he launched the first Tibetan Freedom Concert in San Francisco, the proceeds being donated to the support fund. Many other festivals will honor the Roof of the World in the land of skyscrapers.

Having espoused the Tibetan cause partly through his wife, Dechen Wangdu, an American activist of Tibetan origin (member of the Students for a Free Tibet, US Tibet Committee and Tibetan Women's Association movements), Adam the anarchist gradually transformed into Yauch the yogi. In 1995, they attended the speech of the Dalai Lama at Harvard, the only idol of the man who tore down a number of statues in his songs. During an interview with the magazine Rolling Stone, MCA admitted that before he met his future wife, he hesitated between “becoming a Buddhist monk and starting a family”. His discovery of Buddhism? “In the early 90s, I read a lot of books on the “Natives”, the Amerindians, but also on various religions. Then I went to Nepal, to Kathmandu, where I met Tibetan teachers. I walked with them, we visited monasteries, discussed with people; little by little, I became passionate about Tibetan culture. Upon my return to the United States, I attended the teachings of the Dalai Lama in Arizona, in September 1993 (relating in particular to the Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life by Shantideva, editor's note). The Dalai Lama is an incredible man, a radiant being of compassion, like the Tibetan people, also resolutely turned towards the things of the heart. So Buddhism was kind of an afterthought, but one that was present in me, obvious,” he explained in a 1995 interview with the Shambhala Sun magazine (which will become the Lion's Roar one year later). And to add: "To be a bodhisattva is to learn to strengthen oneself, to make oneself a strong place in order to be able to help others".

May 4, 2012, sad day: MCA died after a long battle against salivary gland cancer, at the age of 47, ending the adventure of these Not So Bestial Boys, with nine albums on the clock and forty millions of copies sold worldwide! On his death, the spokesperson for the Dalai Lama paid him a vibrant tribute: “Adam had helped us to raise awareness of the plight of the Tibetan people by organizing various concerts for freedom in Tibet and he will be remembered by His Holiness and of the Tibetan people”.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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