Adam Yauch, a founding member of pioneering hip-hop group the Beastie Boys, died Friday at age 47.

He died in New York after three years of treatment for cancer, his representatives said. He had been diagnosed with a cancerous salivary gland in 2009.

Known by his stage name, MCA, and other pseudonyms such as Nathanial Hörnblowér, Yauch co-founded the Beastie Boys with Mike (Mike D) Diamond and Adam (Ad-Rock) Horowitz in 1979.

The band started off with a punk sound, but soon began experimenting with hip-hop, becoming big with the 1986 album Licensed to Ill issued by Def Jam Records.

As one of the first white hip-hop groups, the Beastie Boys were accused of being cultural pirates. Their second album Paul's Boutique got little attention, but Check Your Head, where they played their own instruments, brought them back to the top of the charts.

Directed videos and concert film

Yauch used the pseudonym Nathanial Hörnblowér to direct many Beastie Boys music videos and also directed the 2006 Beastie Boys concert film Awesome; I F***in' Shot That!

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The Beastie Boys, from left: Adam Horovitz, Adam Yauch, and Michael Diamond. (Thomas Rabsch/Nasty Little Man/Associated Press)

He missed the Beastie Boys' induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in April, and his cancer treatments delayed the release of the group's most recent album, Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2. 

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 was born in Brooklyn, taught himself to play bass guitar and gave his first show with the Beastie Boys on his 17th birthday. The group first played in underground New York pubs before opening on tour for Madonna and Run DMC.

Then Fight for Your Right (To Party) became a massive hit, catapulting the group to fame. The Beastie Boys split with Def Jam for their second record, then built their own studio and founded their own record label, Grand Royal for Check Your Head.

Crossover hits

Early ‘90s songs Jimmy James, Pass the Mic and So Whatcha Want also became big hits on college and alternative rock radio signalling a crossover of the rap sound.  During the summer of 1994, the group co-headlined the fourth Lollapalooza festival with the Smashing Pumpkins. They came to be considered one of the most influential and ambitious groups of the '90s.

 

Yauch's Canadian connection

In 1994, Adam Yauch and activist Erin Potts created the Milarepa Fund to raise money for Tibetan independence.

Two years later, Victoria's Deyden Tethong was finishing her final year at Western University in Ontario and was inspired by the Yauch-organized Tibetan Freedom Concert in San Francisco, especially because of her Tibetan roots.

She ended up worked alongside Yauch and the rest of the Milarepa team until 2001.    

Listen to CBC host Jo-Ann Roberts interview Deyden Tethong about Yauch.

The Mix-Up, an instrumental album the band released in 2007, earned the Beastie Boys a Grammy Award.

In 2002, Yauch built a recording studio in New York called Oscilloscope Laboratories and produced punk band Bad Brains’ album Build a Nation.

Oscilloscope Laboratories also distributed Yauch's directorial film debut, basketball documentary Gunnin' For That #1 Spot in 2008 as well as Kelly Reichardt's feature film Wendy and Lucy and The Messenger  in 2009.

A practising Buddhist, Yauch was heavily involved in the movement to free Tibet and co-organized the Tibetan freedom concerts of the late 1990s.

He is survived by his wife, Dechen Wangdu, and daughter Tenzin Losel Yauch.

With files from The Associated Press