By the time Check Your Head made Beastie Boys commercial superstars again, Yauch’s life and career were about much more than hip-hop or even music in general. Yauch began directing music videos under the pseudonym Nathaniel Hornblower and quickly established himself as one of the masters of the form, an aggressive and accomplished stylist with an irreverent, pop-culture-crazed sense of humor that set him apart from his peers.


Throughout the late ’80s and ’90s, Beastie Boys reigned as cultural tastemakers who played a huge role in kick-starting the ’70s-nostalgia craze with its videos for “Hey Ladies” and “Sabotage,” the latter of which introduced the world to a skate-punk and photographer turned music-video director named Spike Jonze, who would go on to enjoy a fruitful and important relationship with the group.

Beastie Boys used the power and money that comes with being one of the most popular groups in the world to agitate for the artists, causes, and art they believed in, and nobody in the group was more passionate or successful in evangelizing for movies, musicians, and causes that mattered to them than Yauch. Yauch’s ever-growing political and social awareness was expressed in the lyrics he wrote and the songs he made. The group that once toured with women in cages became some of hip-hop’s most outspoken feminists (granted, they didn’t have a lot of competition), recording songs about the male gaze, sampling the chanting of Buddhist monks, and releasing songs like “Bodhisattva Vow” that reflected Yauch’s Buddhist convictions.


While Beastie Boys’ commercial fortunes declined somewhat in recent years, Yauch remained as culturally relevant as ever by shifting his focus and attention to film, both as a filmmaker (he directed the 2006 Beastie Boys concert film Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That! and the 2008 basketball documentary Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot) and as the leading light behind Oscilloscope Laboratories. Over the course of less than a decade, Oscilloscope released a string of important independent films whose impact belied their modest budgets: the Kelly Reichardt masterpieces Wendy And Lucy and Meek’s Cut-Off, both of which starred Michelle Williams; the 2009 Iraq War drama The Messenger, which was nominated for two Academy Awards; Banksy’s brilliant provocation Exit Through The Gift Shop; and the controversial art-house shockers Bellflower and We Need To Talk About Kevin. Oscilloscope shows no sign of slowing down, distributing three films that made a big splash at Sundance: the deliriously fun LCD Soundsystem concert film Shut Up And Play The Hits, the crowd-pleasing Melanie Lynskey vehicle Hello I Must Be Going, and a well-regarded adaptation of Wuthering Heights from Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold.

Yauch’s life and career are a testament to the possibilities of emotional, creative, and artistic growth. A man who rose to fame peddling a proudly obnoxious form of adolescent nihilism grew up to be a man whose life and career were defined by idealism and integrity. Adam Yauch wanted to make the world a more compassionate, loving, and funky place. He succeeded. The world is poorer for his loss but richer for the contributions he made.