Beastie Boys, Adam Yauch

Jon Furniss/

Adam Yauch might have best explained what the Beastie Boys were, and weren't, in their 1980s prime: "Hey, we're not exactly angels."

Yauch, the once-rowdy rap trio's MCA, died Friday after an almost three-year battle with cancer, the Beasties' reps confirmed. 

He was 47.

News of Yauch's death was broken by longtime friend Russell Simmons, the music mogul who served as the Beastie Boys' mentor and original manager.

It was Simmons' Def Jam label that released the group's 1986 debut album. More than a breakthrough for the Beasties, Licensed to Ill was a breakthough for hip-hop, becoming the genre's first collection to top Billboard's pop-album chart 

As pioneers, Yauch and his New York-based band of brothers, Michael "Mike D" Diamond and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz, endured the attacks and fear that always seem to rise up right alongside innovations. In Jacksonville, Fla., in 1987, in one instance, city officials demanded that tickets and ads for a Beasties concert be stamped, "For Mature Audiences Only."

Conceding the rappers weren't angels, the then-23-year-old Yauch denied in the Tampa Bay Times that they were on "some kind of satanic mission."

"We're just havin' a good time," he said in the newspaper.

The group's hit anthems included "(You Gotta) Fight for the Right (to Party!)," "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" and "Brass Monkey."

In the 1990s and beyond, the Beasties joined the ranks of rap's elders, and won the first of their three career Grammys. An older, grayer Yauch told Britain's NME that the trio changed up the lyrics of songs that they retroactively found offensive.

Born Aug. 5, 1964, Yauch propelled the Beasties into existence, legend has it, when the future rapper formed a group to play his 17th birthday party.  

Off the stage, Yauch was a leader in the Free Tibet movement, and branched out into film.

"I've been playing music a long time," he said in 2008. "It's interesting to try Door No. 2."

Under the name Nathanial Hornblower, Yauch directed the fan-footage-shot Beasties concert film,  Awesome, I F--kin' Shot That!. His independent film company distributed the acclaimed Michelle Williams drama, Wendy and Lucy.

Yauch was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his parotid gland in 2009.

In 2011, it was said Yauch had been declared disease-free, but the artist called the report "exaggerated." Months later, the Beasties' released a new album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two.

Last month, things turned ominous when it was announced Yauch would miss the Beasties' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Minus their bandmate, Diamond and Horovitz declined to perform.

Even if the group didn't attend, they'd arrived, and all because, as Yauch once put it to Canada's The Record, they started out "making the music that we wanted to make." 

(Originally posted at 10:14 a.m. on May 4, 2012.)

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