Adam Yauch, aka MCA, one of the three emcees from seminal hip-hop group the Beastie Boys, died today of cancer at the age of 47. Part New York City legend, part musical pioneer, Yauch is already dearly missed if Twitter, Facebook, and other social-media sites are any indication. For a moment this morning, Beastie Boys references made up all 10 top trending topics on Twitter. Music moguls like Russell Simmons, whose Def Jam label released the first Beastie Boys record, Licensed to Ill, in 1986, have also expressed their condolences. But while lots of people are mourning the loss of one of their favorite musicians and activists (Yauch's dedication to causes like freeing Tibet were nearly as famous as his music), I mourn a different loss, one of an unintentional civil rights advocate.
Growing up in Tucson, Arizona, urban culture was sometimes hard for me to come by. I started listening to hip-hop early because I had two music-obsessed older brothers who had sought out rap LPs on vinyl for years. Were it not for them, however, my exposure to the genre would have been close to nil. Big rap shows never came through my hometown, and the one time I got tickets to see the Wu-Tang Clan in Phoenix, the show ended up falling on a day I had to go to a soccer tournament in California (only five of the notoriously unreliable Clan ended up showing, so it wasn't a major loss). Years later, when I went away to college, I'd get jealous listening to stories from my friends who grew up in Manhattan or Boston, places where there were serious rap talents, and serious rap-music record stores.