Dubstep writer Sarah Bennett contributed to this post.
It’s another week in the dubstep universe and another death of an iconic musician. News of the death of Beastie Boys member MCA (a.k.a. Adam Yauch) has us dusting off the New York trio’s groundbreaking hip hop albums and breaking out the best of the Beasties — and there’s a lot of it. Losing someone as influential as MCA forces us to hit “rewind” on our musical lives (though we do more scrolling through songs these days than the physical tape-player maneuver we would have done in the Beasties’ era) and look back on what got us here.
Beastie Boys are a good example of a group that dove head-first into experimenting with sounds and breaking down genres, both foundational concepts of L.A. dubstep. They started out as a hardcore punk band–in the vein of Black Flag–morphing into rappers after meeting some success in NYC with a hip-hop release. The guitar-bass-drums trio were now using their ear to make funk-hop hybrids — tasty beds of beats to rap over. MCA traded in his electric bass for lower-pitched, ashy-delivered lyrics, setting himself apart as a distinct voice in the group’s fast-paced flow.
The band’s second studio album, 1988′ Paul’s Boutique, is one that has a particularly unique relationship to dubstep in that the majority of its music is comprised of samples, layered on top of one another using manual techniques that were newly being explored. Dubstep lovers have to give a nod to their work which was made of organic found melodies and beats before beat-production software even existed–and that’s in addition to pushing lyrical raunch on its slack-jawed audience with a playful but hard attitude and being relentlessly honest about the fact that they came to party.
There are so many samples used in Paul’s Boutique, in fact, that there is an entire website dedicated to exploring its individual pieces, references and lyrical inspirations, an interest in context and history that is lost on much of new electronic music. Dubstep fans prowling Soundcloud or Tumblr for new mixtapes today can only guess as to the origins of the sounds the DJ used to make his favorite track–and that’s assuming if the DJ even knows where he got the beats himself.
The death of MCA reminds us how hard it is to trace back music’s DNA strands in today’s reblogged, creative-commons world, but the late icon’s work with found sounds and the Beastie Boys shows the importance of knowing your roots, a rallying cry that we strive to learn from every day.
RIP MCA. YOU WILL BE MISSED!!