Bill Stephney, an advisor to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, has previously led the music companies Def Jam Recordings, SOUL Records and Stepsun Music. Stephney has produced artists ranging from Public Enemy and Vanessa Williams, to the social satirist Paul Mooney. He has supervised music and produced soundtracks for films such as “Boomerang,” “Be Be’s Kids,” “CB4,” “Clockers” and “Shaft.”
Special to NewsOne & TheUrbanDaily
Adam Yauch, a co-founding member of famed music group, the Beastie Boys, passed away yesterday. He was only 47 years old.
Yauch, known by his nom de hip-hop as “MCA,” was for certain, a deft (and “def”) emcee – but he was also a musician, music video director, journalist, activist, philanthropist, film executive, husband and father.
He was many things, and judging by the results, pretty darn good at each one of them.
From 1985 through 1988, I had the unique pleasure of serving as the promotions and marketing exec for Def Jam Records, now considered one of the eminent pop culture companies of its era. Yauch and his fellow Beastie Boys Adam “King Ad Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond, were a part of a raucous Def Jam roster during the label’s early years that included LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Slick Rick, 3rd Bass, Oran “Juice” Jones, Alyson Williams, Slayer, and others.
I fondly recall trading bass guitar riffs in 1986 with Yauch during rehearsals for the group’s Manhattan homecoming show from their first tour, which was staged at the famed Ritz nightclub. The performance was after the breakthrough success of their multi-million selling debut album “Licensed To Ill.” The Beasties’ regular deejay, Hurricane, was on tour at the time, as he doubled as part of the Run-DMC’s “homeboy support system,” the Hollis Crew. Although I was the humble promotion guy for the Beasties and Def Jam, the group somehow cajoled me into emergency turntable service (I had been a radio deejay prior to working on the recording side of the biz).
With regard to Yauch and the Beasties’ place in music and rap history (the group was just inducted last month into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame – in a ceremony at which Yauch was absent due to his serious health challenges), I recall the general paranoia swirling about in some culture circles over the success of the group: “Well, you know they will be considered the inventors of rap… It’s “Elvis” all over again.”
The coronation of the Beastie Boys as hip-hop’s “kings” never occurred. In fact, the Beasties’ intense love of rap and deference to their fellow artists, especially Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy, and Biz Markie, earned them respect throughout the industry.
Public Enemy, a group that I helped create and produce, were perhaps the biggest and most immediate benefactors of the Beasties’ success. It was Yauch and the Beasties who served as surrogate promotion aides for PE right before their 1987 album release, “Yo! Bum Rush The Show.” They would tout P.E. to critics during their interviews, would play P.E. music at their shows prior to taking the stage, and they later brought the group on tour with them. Moreover, the profit windfall of selling four million Beastie Boys albums allowed Def Jam the financial wherewithal to take a business risk on an overtly political rap group.
Yauch and the Beasties left Def Jam in 1988 over a contractual dispute. The group asked me to leave the label, too, to become their personal manager and to uproot from New York City to their new b-boy/skater/punk base of operations in Los Angeles. I declined the warm offer, but also regretted the fact that it signaled the end of my involvement with them. In retrospect, they were among the most enjoyable and cooperative artists that I have had the pleasure to work with.
I would bump into Yauch occasionally through the years. During the mid 1990s, I would consistently attend the benefit concerts that he, Ad Rock, and Mike D staged in support of the country of Tibet, fighting for independence from the Republic of China. Yauch was the founder of the Milarepa Fund that raised money for the movement. He had come a long way from the early days of squirting Budweiser on himself in mid-rhyme while onstage.
The last contact I had with him was in November of 2009, through email. I congratulated him for the launch of his indie film distribution company, Oscilloscope Laboratories, which was about to release the war picture “The Messenger,” which went on to score both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. By then, we all had known that he had developed cancer of the parotid gland in his neck, but with the understanding that it had been caught by doctors in its early stages and that he would fully recover. We wished each other well, hoping to connect again sooner rather than later. The unforgiving nature of cancer interrupted our chance for a reunion.
Adam Yauch has departed the stage far too prematurely, but during his all-too brief time, he lived through each act with a passion for his art and a clear respect for each art form in which he delved.
The mic has been passed. May “MCA” RIP.
Bill Stephney is a principal in the media production and consultation firm, Broad/Market Media LLC. Stephney also serves as an advisor to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and also as a producer/curator at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). He has previously led the music companies Def Jam Recordings, SOUL Records and Stepsun Music. Stephney has produced artists ranging from Public Enemy and Vanessa Williams, to the social satirist Paul Mooney. He has supervised music and produced soundtracks for films such as “Boomerang,” “Be Be’s Kids,” “CB4,” “Clockers” and “Shaft.” In 2006, he was elected to the Minority Media & Telecommunications Hall of Fame.
Stephney also serves as the Chairman of the New Jersey State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights