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A member of the Beastie Boys has died. Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, was an anchor of one of the most enduring acts in hip-hop music. The Beastie Boys had more than a quarter century of critical and commercial success.

Adam Yauch was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. He died this morning at the age of 47. NPR's Sami Yenigun has this remembrance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Singing) You gotta fight for your right to party.

SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: Brash, loud and punk, "Fight For Your Right" was the party anthem that launched Beastie Boys. It was the first commercially successful white hip-hop group. They started out as a hardcore punk band in the early '80s and when their debut album, "Licensed to Ill," hit the air, it knocked the industry on its side.

BILL ADLER: That, you know, defined, you know, American pop and international pop the calendar year of 1987. They demonstrated that you did not have to be black to make a credible record.

YENIGUN: Bill Adler was the founding publicist of Def Jam recordings and the Beastie Boys' publicist when "Licensed to Ill" dropped. At a time when rock music was bloated and boring, he says, the Beastie Boys' debut was a welcome blast of attitude.

ADLER: You know, you can go back and listen to it now and it still sounds, you know, very vital, very fresh, very funny, very hard-hitting, all of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN")

BOYS: (Singing) No sleep till Brooklyn.

YENIGUN: "Licensed to Ill" was the first hip-hop album to hit number one on the backs of tracks like "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," "Fight For Your Right" and "Brass Monkey," but they were accused of having sexist lyrics and others called them white imposters taking advantage of the hip-hop sound. But as their producer, Rick Rubin, told NPR in 2011, their flamboyant attitudes and raucous style were central to their success.

RICK RUBIN: That's what the Beastie Boys was. It was like it had a punk rock/pro wrestling attitude of just ridiculous hip-hop boasting and aggression.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN")

BOYS: (Singing) Beastie Boys at the Garden cold kicking it live.

YENIGUN: Adam Yauch addressed this issue directly on WHYY's FRESH AIR in 2006. He said that they were just playing at being frat boys.

ADAM YAUCH: You know, it's almost like we started out kind of like goofing on it, but then just sort of became it, in a way.

YENIGUN: But, as the years went on, Adam Yauch grew up, says former publicist Bill Adler.

ADLER: As a younger man, he was very angry. As he went on, you know, he got into kind of spiritual pursuits and meditation and I think Buddhism and that made a big, big difference in his life. It really, really calmed him down and brought him peace.

YENIGUN: Bill Adler says that Adam Yauch brought that change into their music, as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEASTIE BOYS SONG)

YENIGUN: Throughout their decades-long collaboration, their music depended on the band's chemistry.

ADLER: The three of them were brothers and they got along like brothers. And, you know, he was, you know, like the other two guys, you know, he wrote his own rhymes and also, you know, he had a musical background, an instrumental background, so he could play instruments. And he took a particular interest, I think, in the production side of things.

YENIGUN: Yauch was also interested in film. He founded his own film company and directed music videos and a documentary about basketball. He also dove into some philanthropic projects, raising money for Tibetan Freedom.

In 2009, Yauch announced via YouTube that he had cancer and would have to cancel some scheduled shows.

YAUCH: The reason that we're here talking to you is because I have some pretty heavy news, I guess, to say. Unfortunately...

YENIGUN: Last month, Yauch and the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Adam Yauch died this morning in his native New York City.

Sami Yenigun, NPR News.

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