The Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch rapped that he wouldn’t “sell my songs for no TV ad”. His will shows he wanted to make sure that held true after his death, too.
“In no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes,” says the will, filed this week in a Manhattan court. Yauch, known for his good nature as well as his raspy voice in one of hip-hop’s groundbreaking acts, died of cancer in May. He was 47.
Also known as MCA, Yauch was a founding member of the Beastie Boys, a group that helped hip-hop gain mainstream attention in the 1980s. As white guys from Brooklyn in a genre with few credible white performers at the time, they emerged as prankster pioneers and scored such hits as Brass Monkey, No Sleep Till Brooklyn and (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!) They had four No. 1 albums and sold more than 40 million records.
It’s not clear whether the provision in Yauch’s will, first reported by Rolling Stone’s website, covers all the Beastie Boys’ output. His lawyer and the group’s spokesman declined to comment on Friday.
But the Beastie Boys have signalled that they are keeping a tight rein on commercial use of their work.
The surviving members, Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, and Yauch’s widow, Dechen Wangdu Yauch, sued the makers of Monster energy drink on Wednesday over what the Beastie Boys say was an unauthorised, 23-minute medley of their music in a promotional video.
A representative for Monster Energy Co didn’t immediately return a call on Friday.
As record sales have declined in the digital age, advertising has become an attractive outlet for many artists — and a source of debate among fans about the line between good business and selling out.
Some artists have openly criticised the practice. Grammy Award-winning singer Tom Waits has sued advertisers, ad agencies and his former record label over commercials that used his songs or featured people with similar voices singing them.
“Artists who take money for ads poison and pervert their songs. It reduces them to the level of a jingle,” Waits wrote in a 2002 letter in The Nation magazine. He was responding to a piece earlier that year by The Doors’ drummer, John Densmore, about turning down lucrative offers in the early 2000s for use of such songs as Break On Through and When the Music’s Over. Doors songs had been in commercials in the 1960s and ’70s.
Levon Helm, the drummer and a singer for the The Band, fought an ad agency in court for years over the use of the rockers’ The Weight in a cellphone commercial. He said he hadn’t authorised it and called it “a complete, damn sellout of The Band”.
An appeals court ruled against him in March. Helm died of throat cancer in April.
Yauch repeatedly made clear how he felt about allowing songs to be used in commercials.
“I might stick around or I might be a fad/ But I won’t sell my songs for no TV ad,” he rapped in 1998’s Putting Shame In Your Game. A line in 2004’s Triple Trouble says he “ain’t selling out to advertisers”.
Yauch stopped performing in public in 2009, when he was diagnosed with a cancerous salivary gland.
His will leaves his roughly $6 million estate to his widow and their 13-year-old daughter, Tenzin Losel Yauch.