I was surprised at how hard the beat dropped.

I was in Alegbra II unable to focus on another lesson about buckets of multicolored balls and mathematical probabilities. It just didnt seem to matter after the way he spit his flow.

About a week earlier, my friend Matt, who, as far as I could tell, the most knowledgeable person about music I did, or ever would, know mentioned that he had heard this new group from New York. Rappers. White rappers. White rappers that didn’t suck. Listen to the beats, he explained. They are simple in their grooves, but aggressive in a joyful way.

A few days later, I rode my bike to Tower Records and picked up the vinyl. I had a new stereo system that I had spend a summer working and saving for. My father, who seemed to be able to build most anything, and had a record collection that spanned the walls of our living room was to electronics everything that Matt was to music.

Dials matter he explained. You want exactness in your settings.

But, the blinking lights that ebbed and flowed with each note amazed me. I watched them bounce up and down, curious as to how the bass and treble dials could be adjusted just so that the lights never hit the red.

I bought the one with the lights. Dials were so 1970.

The record player I had matched the receiver perfectly, and the growing influence hip-hop had in my life. A Technics. With a glowing red light and a heavy needle, I imagined that LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash, Kool Keith, and even the Sugarhill Gang all listened to records on that same Technics.

I spent hours at Tower Records. It was just far enough away that I never told my mom I was riding my bike over there, because it was easier to avoid the no than battle it. I looked at record after record, singles and LPs. I wandered through Motorhead, Slayer, Culture Club and even a little Bach, until I ended up in the B’s.

The first time I saw that plane crashed into the ground, with Licensed to Ill on the tail, I knew that it was different. That Matt was right. This wasn’t just white boy rap. This was special. I grabbed the album, and pushed some more of my hard earned dollars across the counter. Having started my first real business that summer specifically to be able to buy what I wanted just added to the joy of my purchase.

I rode home, maybe a bit more quickly than I road to Tower, but I’m not sure. I tend to do most everything at a 100mph, so it may not have been possible. I went into my room, tore off the plastic, lifted up the record player lid, took my copy of LL Cool J’s Radio off the turntable, and after quickly blowing any potential dust off the album, put Licensed to Ill down.

After a moment of the familiar crackle of the needle on vinyl, I heard “boom bat boom bat boom boom bat because mutiny on the bounty’s what we’re all about…” and was sold.

I’m not sure why the Beastie Boys were such an influence in my life. I’ve listened to every song of their’s including getting Japanese imports. I saw them several times in concert. Perhaps its because they were three middle class kids that just loved music and you could feel it. Maybe its because they understood that they had a responsibility to the world, and it was real. Or that in a time of racial, ethnic identity, they weren’t defined by their race or religion but by the content of their character (which was rebellious and inappropriate, but honest and real).

But when I heard that Adam Yauch first had cancer causing them to push back a concert series and an album, I figured he would beat it and they would be right back at it. I put it in the back of my mind and let it sit in the same place I put the majority of bad news I hear. Just past worry and next to forgetful.

And when I heard he died, the air was pulled from my lungs. Coming on the heels of Junior Seau’s suicide, it felt that two people who had really understood their place in the world and their ability to make positive change on a community level, had died too early.

Maybe it was the realization that my childhood was a long time ago. Or that my time to make a positive impact on the world may not be as long as I hope. Or maybe, it forced me to look at myself and think what would young Micah think of old Micah, and I’m not sure of his answer.

All I do know, is that I am still surprised at how hard that beat dropped.

Yes, Yes y’a’ll – you don’t stop

You keep it on – and shockin’ the place

Well I’m MCA – I got nothing to prove

Pay attention – my intention is to bust a move

— Posse in Effect, Licensed to Ill