NEW YORK (AP) — Adam Yauch, the gravelly voiced rapper who helped make the Beastie Boys one of the seminal groups in hip-hop, died Friday. He was 47.
Yauch, also known as MCA, died in New York after a nearly three-year battle with cancer, his representatives said. He had been diagnosed with a cancerous salivary gland in 2009.
At the time, Yauch expressed hope that it was "very treatable," but his illness forced the group to cancel shows and delayed the release of their 2011 album, "Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2."
He hadn't performed in public since 2009 and was absent when the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month.
Yauch was an integral, founding member to the ever-weaving trio: three Jewish kids from New York who found widespread respect in a hip-hop world with few credible white performers.
In a 25-year span that covered four No. 1 albums and more than 40 million records sold, the Beastie Boys played both prankster and pioneer, a groundbreaking act that helped bring hip-hop to the mainstream.
"The group's music crossed genres and color lines and helped bring rap to a wider audience," said Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy. "Yauch was an immense talent and creative visionary."
The demure, gray-haired Yauch wasn't the most boastful B-Boy; he was the thoughtful one and a steady source of the trio's innovative spirit. A devoted Buddhist, he led the group in performing concerts to benefit Tibet, and, as a filmmaker, he helped grow their imagery.
The rapper Q-Tip, a member of another major '90s New York hip-hop group, recalled that the Beastie Boys "showed us the ropes." Sean "Diddy" Combs called Yauch "a true pioneer and a creative force who paved the way for so many of us." The rapper Nas lamented the loss of a "brother."
"I think it's obvious to anyone how big an influence the Beastie Boys were on me and so many others," Eminem said. "They are trailblazers and pioneers and Adam will be sorely missed."
The Brooklyn-born Yauch formed the Beastie Boys with high school friend Michael "Mike D" Diamond. Originally conceived as a hardcore punk group, they played their first show on Yauch's 17th birthday.
In a letter from Yauch read by fellow Beastie Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Yauch recalled their early days at his parents' home in Brooklyn, "where we used to practice on hot Brooklyn summer days after school, windows open to disturb the neighborhood."
The group became a hip-hop trio soon after Horovitz joined and coalesced after Yauch dropped out of Bard College two years into his studies. They released their chart-topping debut "Licensed to Ill" in 1986, a raucous album led by the anthem "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)". It was the first hip-hop album to top the Billboard chart.
"Adam was incredibly sweet and the most sensitive artist, who I loved dearly," Russell Simmons, whose Def Jam label released "Licensed to Ill," said on his website.