When it comes to his 16-year career with the Beastie Boys, rapper Adam Yauch might consider changing his stage name from MCA to MIA; The Beasties haven’t released an album since 1993’s Ill Communication. But it’s not as if Yauch has been slacking – it’s just that where he used to shout, “Fight for your right to party,” now he’s more likely to fight for human rights. A dedicated Buddhist, he has devoted the past few years to raising public awareness of China’s oppression of the Tibetan people. Yauch has organized two Tibetan Freedom concerts, which have drawn such performers as Eddie Vedder, U2, Beck, Alanis Morissette and the Fugees. (Yauch is also planning a third concert, which will take place next summer in Washington, D.C.) Lately he has been busy preparing for the November release of Tibetan Freedom Concert, an album and a film documentary. And, oh, yeah, Yauch is also working on a new Beastie Boys album.
What’s it like to be known as the socially conscious Beastie Boy?
I don’t know if I’d be known as the only socially conscious one in the band, because [fellow Beasties] Mike [“D” Diamond] and Adam [“Ad-Rock” Horovitz] have a lot of positive attitudes that they might not always express in their lyrics. On the Tibet stuff, though, they’re definitely catching my back. They care about people. Adam’s been thinking about doing something to help the homeless in New York.
During the Beasties’ early days, you partied a lot, hung out with groupies and used giant penis sculptures as stage props. What would the MCA of then think of the MCA of now?
Everybody goes through those phases when they’re in college and they act like a drunken fool, but ours happen to be on sale at the video store. Back then, I might have not taken the time to see what’s really going on in Tibet – I’d have just seen a rock star touting some cause and said, “Aw, that dude’s a jackass.” What stayed the same is that it’s still about having fun. What seemed like fun then, though, ended up being destructive.
What’s been the most moving moment of the Tibetan Freedom concerts so far?
One really powerful moment [occurred] at the end of the San Francisco concert. Palden [Gyatso, a Buddhist monk] spoke to us and offered us hatas, which are offering scarves, which is kind of a way to thank someone in Tibetan culture. He said that during his 33 years of prison and torture, he prayed every day for a day like this, when he would be able to come out and tell people what happened. Being able to speak his mind was the answer to those prayers, and now he could die in peace.
Why hasn’t the Dalai Lama come to the shows?
Our stance is a bit more extreme than his. He’s just asking to negotiate with the Chinese for autonomous rule for the Tibetan region, but he’s not asking for Tibet to be completely separate from China. The Dalai Lama’s main objectives are to get the cultural destruction to stop, get the human-rights abuses to stop – whatever that takes, he’s willing to make those concessions. We, and probably most Tibetans, want Tibet to be free, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
Do you think that Tibet will be free by the time the Beasties finish their next record?
[Laughs] I don’t know if you’re implying that Tibet will be free soon or if the next record will take a long time! The latter. It’s taken a long time. It has – if it comes out in the spring, we’re coming on four years.
Why the delay?
Partly because we’ve been focusing on other things. But we’ll periodically go into the studio for a few months and then take a few months off. We’ve just been living our lives and hangin’ out. But the record’s coming along now –I wouldn’t say it’s done, but it’s starting to jell. Actually, I’m supposed to go to the studio now – I’m late to meet Mario [Caldato Jr., the Beastie’s longtime co-producer].
How are you going about writing songs for the new album?
We’ve got a cellar that we work in – we like to work in bummy-type places where we don’t feel pressured, where we’re not spending a lot of money and something’s expected of us. We like to be able to sit around and shoot the shit. There’s a bunch of songs that are half-done, and they’re pretty weird. As it’s going now, it seems like it’ll be a pretty weird record.
You guys are working here in New York as opposed to Los Angeles?
I’ve just been enjoying being in the city, riding bikes and skateboards around. It’s home: Mike has a place here now; Adam has a place here.
Does the flavor of New York feed the grooves?
I think it does – pizza and subway trains and bagels; perhaps not specifically lyrically, but vibewise, Although there is some country music on [the new record], so I don’t exactly know where that fits in [laughs].
Garth in the park?
No, we did that stuff way before that.
Are you going to bust any Buddhacentric rhymes?
I don’t really know.
Any last words on Tibet?
I would ask the Chinese government to please make a change while there’s time to preserve this culture that’s such a treasure to all of humanity, this culture based on nonviolence. Don’t go down in history being remembered like the Nazis.
This story is from the October 30th, 1997 issue of Rolling Stone.