The tributes to Adam Yauch are unlike anything I've seen before. This is what it looks and sounds like when a particular generation of music fans have their hearts ripped out all at once and turn to their teenage reminiscences to ease the hurt.
There was a sense of collective mourning when Michael Jackson died too, but this is different. Everyone knew who Michael Jackson was, he was everybody's phenomenon, even parents and grandparents knew his songs. If you're under the age of fifty then you can't remember a time when Michael wasn't a star. But if you were a teenager in the late 80's or early 90's, then you probably remember the impact made by the Beastie Boys when they burst onto the scene. Whether you liked them or not, they made an impression. And they were a group that your parents would never, ever, understand. Plenty of rock and pop bands were ripping off the previous generation, long hair and makeup was by then a safe marketing choice, and your mom might groove to Duran Duran because they looked like movie stars and their videos were fun to watch. But nobody would have confused the Beasties for hand-me-downs from your parents record collections.
I didn't listen to a lot of music in '86-'87-'88, I didn't buy albums, barely listened to the radio, didn't follow what was on the charts, and certainly wasn't listening to any hip hop. But I knew who the Beastie Boys were. You couldn't be a kid and not get accidentally exposed to them in those days. I knew some of their songs, I knew they were bratty, I knew they were cool and wasn't completely sure why. So I wasn't much of a fan, mainly because I didn't get what they were about. Then "Paul's Boutique" happened, the people who liked them were scratching their heads (of course it's since been universally acclaimed as a classic), and "Hey Ladies" was all over radio and Much Music and I couldn't stand that annoying chorus and cowbell.
I forgot about the Beasties for a while, "So What'cha Want" excepted. At some point I heard "Check Your Head" and was surprised by how good it was, especially considering that the Beasties were hasbeens who weren't supposed to be making relevant music anymore (or so I thought).
Then in spring '94, my friend Paul (who was and is a real hip hop head, unlike me) scored tickets to a Beasties show at a really small venue (the Palladium on Danforth Ave for you Toronto vets), it was a kind of warm up show for their upcoming tour in support of "Ill Communication" (which had just been released but hadn't yet broken big). I wasn't keen on seeing the show, but he talked excitedly about how the tickets had sold out in minutes and how cool it would be to see them in a venue of that size. Naturally he was right (he usually was, and still is). I only knew about two of the songs they played, but was blown away by the energy of the show. I saw them again that year at Lollapalooza, but watched most of their set from a safe distance. They were massive by then, "Sabotage" was the most played video in the universe, and I wanted to hear and see them properly, not as I gasped for air in the moshpit while they shredded their way through "Paul Revere". But the Palladium show was more fun by far, as if you needed to ask.
I thought their rap style was somewhat formulaic, I liked hearing their albums but didn't feel the need to own any of them. The Beasties, like other 80's/90's alternative lifers such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, seemed like they would always be around making a healthy living from their live shows. And you'd hear their new songs one way or another, whether you sought them out or not.
They were banned from Much Music in 2004 after they were invited to the Much Music Video Awards, filmed themselves on the red carpet without permission (the footage was used in the intro to the "Triple Trouble" video), and apparently acted like the snootiest of snooty prima donnas. IIRC, Much had never banned anyone before this. It was a dick move on both sides, but a funny one. I tended to side with Much Music with this fight.
Hopefully my rambling has shown that anyone of my generation who was into music will have a fistful of memories of Adam Yauch and the Beastie Boys, whether they were fans of the band or not. That's how you can tell the important bands -- the ones that define their times -- from the other 99% of bands that don't matter in the long run (except to their fans).