Their follow-up, 1989's "Paul's Boutique," ended any suggestion that the group was a one-hit wonder. Extreme in its sampling and thoroughly layered, the album (produced by the Dust Brothers) was ranked the 156th greatest album ever by Rolling Stone magazine in 2003.
The Beastie Boys would later take up their own instruments — a rarity in hip-hop — on the album "Check Your Head" and subsequent releases. Yauch played bass.
On "Pass the Mic," he rapped: "If you can feel what I'm feeling then it's a musical masterpiece / If you can hear what I'm dealing with then that's cool at least / What's running through my mind comes through in my walk / True feelings are shown from the way that I talk."
For many, the Beastie Boys' lyrics — overflowing torrents of wit, humor and rhyme — were always the main draw. While other forms of hip-hop celebrated individualism, the Beastie Boys were a verbal tag team. Yauch once rapped, "on the tough guy style I'm not too keen."
Their popularity perhaps peaked with 1994's "Ill Communication," which spawned several of their most famous music videos, including "Sure Shot" and the Spike Jonze-directed "Sabotage" — a hit highlighted by Yauch's bass solo.
Yauch used the group's growing fame to attract awareness for Tibetan Buddists. He founded the Milarepa Fund to promote activism for Tibet in defense of what the nonprofit considered China's occupational government.
In 1996, Yauch and Milarepa produced a hugely popular benefit concert for Tibet in San Francisco, which was followed by more concerts over the next decade.
"He was a goofball and behind a lot of their prankiness, but if you wanted to talk to him about what was going on in the world and social issues and everything, you got a totally different guy," said Rick Krim, executive vice president of music and talent relations at Vh1.
Introducing the group at the Rock Hall, Public Enemy rapper Chuck D said the Beastie Boys "broke the mold."
"The Beastie Boys are indeed three bad brothers who made history," Chuck D said. "They brought a whole new look to rap and hip-hop. They proved that rap could come from any street — not just a few."
Yauch also went under the pseudonym Nathanial Hornblower when working as a filmmaker. He directed numerous videos for the group, as well as the 2006 concert film "Awesome: I F-----' Shot That!" and the basketball documentary, "Gunnin' for that (No.) 1 Spot."
In 2008, he co-founded the noted independent film distribution company Osciolloscope Laboratories, named after his New York studio.
Yauch is survived by his wife, Dechen Wangdu, and his daughter, Tenzin Losel Yauch.
AP Music Writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody and Associated Press writer Mesfin Fekadu contributed to this report.