MCA Day in NYC

“Yeah, I smoke cheeba. It helps me with my brain. I might be a little dusted, but I’m not insane.”

Or am I? With weed packed in my luggage, I boarded a cross-country flight to New York City — even today one of the harshest cities in America on marijuana — to meet up with people I know only through the Internet.

I did it to celebrate my favorite band of all time, and, more importantly, one of my personal heroes: Adam Yauch.

Known as MCA to the masses, Yauch and the other Beastie Boys — Adam “Adrock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond — captivated my ears as a kid growing up.

Through the early ‘90s, I was concerned with Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and the syrupy-sweet positivity of KIDS Incorporated. That all changed in 1994, when the Beasties released “Ill Communication” — and I entered middle school.

Growing up Beastie

That perfect blend of authentic hip-hop beats, hardcore punk rock blasts, and smoothed-out jazz instrumentals became the soundtrack of my adolescence.

Trying to find the path to becoming a cool teenager, the Beastie Boys embodied the word “cool” to me. The flannel and skullcaps, clever pop culture references, and especially their worldly activism and humanity spoke to me at an age when influence means everything.

While most kids in my school were embracing Snoop Doggy Dogg’s infectious G-funk hits full of violence and misogyny, I decided that the disrespect to women was through. Freeing Tibet was more important to me than the 2Pac and Biggie West Coast/East Coast beef.

High school would become dominated by “Hello Nasty,” which fully cemented my status as a hardcore Beastie fan. I revisited all their past albums. I wasn’t big into teenage drinking, so the boozing frat boy sensibilities on “License to Ill” did little to win me over, and I wasn’t quite ready for the psychedelic hip-hop masterpiece of “Paul’s Boutique.”

It would take until my senior year to fully appreciate the drug-fueled genius of that album.

By then I was an editor for my high school newspaper, preparing for a future career in journalism — if only for the chance to one day meet and interview the Beasties. I wanted to emulate MTV VJ Jim Shearer, who was always an outspoken Beastie fan and showed it during their interviews.

I was later to it than most of the other kids, but I finally decided to try smoking pot a few months before graduation. Cannabis gave me a most excellent mind-expanding experience that I preferred over getting drunk.

Yauch would further grow into a role model for me, spitting rhymes like, “I’m a writer, a poet, a genius, I know it/I don’t buy cheeba, I grow it.”

Love for both the Beasties and cannabis have remained a constant throughout my adult life.

And my plan worked. I did end up interviewing the Beasties in 2007 for SF Weekly. It wasn’t a letdown; it instilled in me even more respect for the trio. They genuinely lived up to the immense expectations I had for them for so long.

I even managed to get a brief personal conversation with Yauch. MCA was such an amazing, selfless soul. He even put me on his personal guest list for their concert that evening.

Two years after I accomplished my life goal, bad news befell us all. The group announced that Yauch had been diagnosed with cancer in a salivary gland.

Cancer hit closer to home a year later, when my mother told me that she had been diagnosed with cancer in her colon.

In May 2012, a year after the Beasties’ final album was released, I found out that Adam Yauch had finally lost his fight against cancer.

The announcement shook my core, not only because I had lost a childhood hero whom I actually got to meet, but also because Yauch’s condition was sort of a barometer for my mother’s health at the time.

I always thought to myself that if Yauch can battle cancer, so can my mom.

I decided that day to visit my mother and spend as much time with her as I could. I told her that she should do anything to fight back.

I had hid from her the fact that I had a medical marijuana recommendation, but at that point I came clean and offered to get her some cannabis meds.

My mother, who lived through both eras of Reefer Madness and the War on Drugs, gave me an answer that haunts me to this day:

“No. I don’t want to be a loser.”

She lost her battle exactly a week and a day after Adam.

Honoring the legacies

Having seemingly achieved my life’s goal at an early age, I now write about marijuana legalization and cannabis culture. I debunk marijuana myths and spread awareness of its cancer-fighting qualities in the name of both my mother and Adam.

It was only until recently that I got to celebrate both the life of Adam Yauch as well as the further legalization of medical marijuana in America by flying to New York for MCA Day, an annual celebration of the life of Yauch and the music of the Beasties.

New York’s record with arresting black and brown people for marijuana is infamously bad. But with the state’s newly implemented medical marijuana laws, I decided to take advantage of the situation.

I packed some pot of my own in the form of liquid hash oil cartridges, which can be inconspicuously vaporized through a slim oil pen.

I figured at worst, TSA would confiscate my cartridges, and at the very least, I would just look like a West Coast douchebag packing an e-cigarette. Much to my surprise, airport security didn’t even blink at the contents of my carry-on, leaving me to travel 3,000 miles with highly potent cannabis concentrates in tow.

This relaxed drug policy paved the way for a fantastic time in Brooklyn. I made new friends, I listened to funky beats, and I got nicely toasted.

MCA Day allowed me to unite with a massive amount of friends, who I had only previously known through an online fan group of fellow diehards.

While the proposition of meeting up with people over the Internet can be highly suspect, our mutual devotion to a band with such a true and positive message trumped any sort of predatory creepiness. I can now consider these fans — hailing from places like Utah, Maryland, New Jersey, Brooklyn, North Carolina, Florida, even Ireland and Germany — as close friends, all because of the three bad brothers we know so well.

We had the pleasure to mingle and personally speak with notable musicians, artists, and photographers synonymous with the Beasties’ seminal career. It was surreal, yet somehow quite comfortable to have casual conversations and take selfies with the likes of legendary emcee Darryl McDaniels of RUN DMC, DJ Hurricane, visual artist Cey Adams, and photographers Glen E. Friedman, Jeremy Shatan, and Ricky Powell.

I even got to talk with former MTV and now VH1 VJ Jim Shearer and thanked him for inspiring my career choice. Naturally, Jim was awesome.

I enjoyed a stellar four-song set from DMC while ripping my deliciously-flavored LA Confidential oil cartridge courtesy of Gold Drop, which provided ample vapor clouds packed with euphoric vibes.

The King of Rock regaled us with fond memories of Def Jam’s Beasties/RUN DMC era in between fierce performances of “Peter Piper,” “Mary Mary,” and “Walk This Way.”

Even the late Jam Master Jay was present. His son TJ Mizell was behind the turntables for McDaniels as he joined UnLearn, a local Rage Against the Machine cover band, for a rocking rendition of “It’s Tricky.”

While my discreet vape pen use raised no concerns, it did arouse interest. A friend from Florida curious about medical marijuana decided to take a hit. He was surprised by the mellow effect. He was used to the feelings of paranoia and anxiety when he last smoked pot. When we return to New York next year, we both hope we can just buy it there.

MCA Day proved to be a life-affirming day, celebrating the life of a man who shined like a light, and a band that taught us the meaning of Gratitude.

Long Burn the Fire.

Photo by Michelle Lawlor