The news that Adam Yauch, aka MCA, of the Beastie Boys passed away hit me hard. You see, I grew up in an all-white suburb of Buffalo, NY in the 80’s and early 90’s. At that time, listening to rap and hip-hop was decidedly uncool amongst my peers. In high school you were either a metal head, grunge, a redneck, or a jock. Virtually no one listened to rap. I started out metal, but I also listened to rap thanks to a select few enlightened friends. Within a couple years things shifted dramatically, and by the time I graduated from high school in 1994, almost everyone had their own stash of rap CD’s or cassettes. Beastie Boys albums like Check Your Head and Ill Communication bridged the gap and were at the forefront of the social transformation I witnessed. They made it not only okay, but cool to listen to rap.

Through the years, the Beasties’ music has stood the test of time. Even as the group evolved, they always stayed true to their roots. The energy and care they put into every syllable is unmatched. They are true MC’s. Far ahead of the lazy, droning, craptastic mainstream hip-hop today.

I spent all of May getting back to basics, illustrating my days away. When MCA passed, I put a few projects aside to embark upon a ‘floating head’ portrait of a man I considered to be a personal hero. Likenesses were never really my forté, but I thought this would be a great way to tackle the unfamiliar, while also serving as some sort of therapy.

I didn’t find any great hi-res images of MCA to reference, so I compiled several lower resolution files together, printed them out after a little retouching, and began several sketches by hand. Afterwards, when I had worked out the head angle and details I scanned a refined sketch and began tracing in Adobe Illustrator. Many hours later, this was the result. It’s 100% vector, no messing around.

I made a few key decisions along the way, like rendering the eyes without a lot of detail. I noticed that in almost every photo of MCA I came across from the 90’s, his eyes were so dark that there wasn’t any differentiation between the pupil and the iris. It could’ve been due to the high contrast photographic style prevalent back then, but it served to give him a unique look. I went with it.

Stylistically, this was an exercise in successfully transporting hand drawn line and ink work into the digital realm. It’s my first legitimate attempt at capturing a likeness digitally and what I learned here will undoubtedly aid me in future projects. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the results, but this style is very much a work in progress.

MCA color variants