One of the most memorable hip hop tunes of the 1980s for me (and I’m sure many others) was Bust A Move by Young MC. In the late 80s that tune was hotter-than-hot and could be heard all over radio stations and the TV, including my favourite episode of Doogie Howser M.D!
Although Young MC grew up in Hollis, Queens, the rapper was actually born in Neasden, north west London, and moved to the US with his family as a three-year-old.
Bust A Move (1989) was the debut single from his first album Stone Cold Rhymin’ (1989) and was responsible for landing him the second ever Best Rap Recording Grammy, back in 1990.
Initially signed to Delicious Vinyl (Brand New Heavies, The Pharcyde), the now 42-year-old was also responsible for penning fellow 80s hits Wild Thing and Funky Cold Medina for label mate Tone Loc.
Despite not releasing anything as big since Bust A Move, Young MC, born Marvin Young has continued in the industry, recording more albums over the years and writing for other artists, most notably Anastasia’s platinum worldwide hit Not That Kind.He also appeared on Celebrity Fit Club in 2006.
But he will always be best known for Bust A Move, which still has a special place in the heart of music fans. In 2008, it was ranked number 47 on VH1′s 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop, and number 60 on VH1′s 100 Greatest Songs of the 80′s. The song’s longevity has also been proven with the recent cover of the song in TV show of the moment; the Golden Globe Award-winning Glee.
‘The last few months have been great for me and Bust A Move,’ he says when I interviewed him recently. ‘It was used in Glee, the TV show. It was also used in a number one movie [the Golden Globe winning and Academy Award nominated], The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock. I also got to perform the track in a cameo appearance in [another Golden Globe nominated] movie Up In The Air (George Clooney). I’m very happy about all of it.
‘As a matter of fact,’ he adds, ‘in the week after Bust A Move was used in Glee, I got nearly 1000 new friends requests on my MySpace page. They were mostly young people, the demographic of the show’s audience.’
He also spoke about what he has been up to since he left the spotlight, his unusual background for a rapper, and his past success, in our exclusive interview, below. Enjoy!
Hey Young, tell me a bit about your childhood?
I was born in Neasden, London. My family left England when I was 3 and we came to New York. Initially we lived in an apartment in uptown Manhattan, but within two years we moved to a house in Queens near Hollis, the home of Run DMC. Those guys and Davey DMX were the legends in the area. Run gave Davey a shout-out in Sucker MC’s with the line ‘Dave cut the record down to the bone’.
When did you start rapping?
I started rapping at 10 years old in 1977. I wasn’t very interested in sports, and I didn’t want to run with my friends who were causing trouble. Jeff Taylor, aka Grand Master Key lived on the next block and he had turntables in his basement. I went down there in 1977 and saw guys rapping live for the first time. Even though I was a bookworm, I was hooked instantly. At first I was so young that I couldn’t remember my rhymes, so I had to read them. I carried around a bag of rhymes with me to parties. Then one night a shootout broke out at a block party and I had to run off without my bag. Even though I got it back the next day, I made the effort to memorize the rhymes I was going to perform. I will say though, that I do still read my rhymes in the studio today, and I honestly feel that my rhymes sound more confident when I do so.
Who were your early influences musically?
Early on, I was influenced by Chic, KC and The Sunshine Band, Parliament Funkadelic, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Marley, The Eagles, Kool & The Gang and many others. My Dad had a huge vinyl collection which had music from all genres. I was listening to music before I knew how to classify it, thus I didn’t put up walls between genres. Also, I was rapping to stuff like the original Aerosmith Walk This Way, Billy Squier’s Big Beat and other rock songs that had breaks in them. That experience as a kid allowed me to be comfortable with making accessible, crossover music once I got my deal.
You were studying an Economics degree before your deal… How did you make the leap?
I was attending college at University Southern Calfornia in Los Angeles. I had just completed my sophomore (second) year and I went back to New York for the summer. I recorded some demos with a friend there, but I couldn’t get a deal in New York. My friend knew one of the owners of Delicious Vinyl and got me in touch with him. Once I returned to University of Southern California in August, 1987, I rapped over the phone for Mike Ross and Matt Dike, the two owners of the label, and they sent me a recording contract a week later.
What role did you play on the two hit singles Wild Thing and Funky Cold Medina by fellow Delicious Vinyl artist Tone Loc?
During my last two years at USC, I helped write Wild Thing and Funky Cold Medina, and recorded I Let ‘Em Know, The Fastest Rhyme, My Name Is Young and Know How. I recorded the rest of my debut album Stone Cold Rhymin’, including Bust A Move, by the beginning of 1989. And my first video and album were released within a week of my graduation.
How did you end up writing those two big singles?
I was asked by Delicious to write Wild Thing and Funky Cold Medina. They felt my style of writing would be better suited for those tracks even though I wasn’t rapping on them. It was a new experience for me, especially because Tone has a completely different rap style from me, not to mention his voice. In hindsight, it was the smartest move of my early career because it allowed me to watch what Tone experienced and prepare myself for my own journey a year later.
Did you know that those records would be as big as they were when you wrote them? Wild Thing was the first top ten pop hit for a black rapper, how significant was that for you?
I remember a conversation that Tone and I had once it appeared that Wild Thing was getting traction at radio. We agreed that we hoped to sell 30,000-50,000 records if we were lucky. He said he wanted to get a car. I said that I wanted to pay off my college loans. In those days, pre-internet, there was no way we could grasp the scope of that record, especially when you’re travelling 24-7, promoting it. I had the same experience with Bust a Move I still hear stories today about how it influenced people’s lives and I still can’t believe it.
Over the years there has been speculation that Funky Cold Medina contains lyrics that refer to date rape, what are your thoughts on that, and what IS the song about?
Funky Cold Medina is a song about an aphrodisiac or love potion. I always described it as hip-hop’s answer to the classic tune Love Potion Number 9. As a matter of fact, the record label even put together bottles of grape juice with labels that read Funky Cold Medina. Those bottles were sent to the radio stations who were considering whether or not to play the song.
Did you or the record label ever worry that confusion of the meaning would affect the success of the song?
As far as Funky Cold Medina goes, I don’t think that the audience confusing the meaning had a negative impact on the song. If anything, it probably had a positive effect because some people probably heard multiple meanings and then bought the song to try and figure it out for themselves. It didn’t seem that confusing to me, but there are some people who like a good story or controversy.
How did Bust A Move come about?
Bust A Move was the last song I recorded for Stone Cold Rhymin’. Principal’s Office was going to be my first single, but after watching Tone’s success with Wild Thing and Funky Cold Medina, the label decided that it would be better to come with an uptempo dance song. I wrote all four verses in 90 minutes in my campus apartment at USC. The original title I had was Make That Move, and then it was changed to Bust A Move. Ironically, it only reached number seven on the Billboard pop charts, but I am most proud of the fact that it stayed on the Billboard singles charts for over 40 weeks. It outlasted my second single Principal’s Office (which was nearly a gold single in it’s own right) and my third single I Come Off.
How old were you when that song blew up?
I was 22 when Bust A Move took off. It was released right around my birthday in May of 1989 and was still moving up the charts in November and December. I was surprised at how many people knew about the record. You have to remember, there was no internet, a lot less media, and cell-phones were not very common, so the ability of a song to take off quickly was harder, and it was definitely harder to keep track of it if you were on the road.
You also won one of the first hip hop Grammys, how did you feel when they announced your name?
The American Music Awards was the first nomination I got. I respected everyone else in the category, and I think I was even competing against Tone in that one. When I won that, I was totally shocked because I had no idea that I even had a chance. The Grammys came after the American Music Awards and it was a great honour to win that. That award establishes you and solidifies your career. From February of 1990 forward, I was known as ‘Grammy Winner Young MC. Not bad for a kid from Hollis who ran around with a bag of rhymes.
Describe that period… You must have been on top of the world…
That period of my life was a whirlwind. I never drank or did drugs, but it was hard to absorb all the things that were happening. I enjoyed the time, but I felt bad if I met someone and lost their number. Remember, no cell-phone, no MySpace, Facebook or Twitter. I remember that I was tired a lot. I fell asleep on dates, I fell asleep in the studio, and I even remember falling asleep during a screening of Robin Williams’ movie The Fisher King that was specifically set up for me to possible write a song for the movie. Needless to say I didn’t get the gig.
Where do you keep your Grammy these days?
I keep my Grammy in my home but I don’t display it. If a repairman comes by, or if someone is in my house and they don’t know about my rap career, I’d rather have normal conversations with them than have to tell Grammy and platinum records stories all the time.
Why did you split from Delicious Vinyl in the early 90s?
There are limits on what I can say about leaving Delicious Vinyl. All I can say is that I sued them to get out of my deal, and they went to court to keep me from recording for anyone else. Then nearly a year and several hundred thousand dollars later, we reached an expensive settlement and I signed with Capitol Records where I made two albums before taking my career independent.
How did the split from Delicious affect your career, if at all?
The split from Delicious had a negative impact on both my career and the performance of the label. I had a gold record with my second album Brainstorm and Delicious had a gold record with The Pharcyde’s first album. That’s it in the nearly 20 years since I left. When I was there, we generated two multi-platinum albums, three multi-platinum singles, a Grammy, two American Music Awards, A Billboard Award, and an MTV Award, in under three years. If Delicious had stayed consistent, there would have been just Delicious, Ruthless and Death Row on the West Coast, and a lot of the East Coast labels would not have set up shop out west.
You released a few more albums after your debut, which didn’t do as well, was that frustrating?
It was frustrating to not sell as many records with my follow-up releases. I felt I was getting better as an artist (as I still feel today) But I just wasn’t new anymore. The good thing was that I didn’t take the praise too seriously, so I don’t take the criticism too seriously. I’ve gotten great response to my live shows with my later material and I’ve made a nice amount of money licensing titles that most fans would not be familiar with.
You change to a more serious direction in your latter stuff, why did you decide to switch pace?
My other albums were more serious because I saw the impact that my music had on people, especially children. The landscape of hip-hop was becoming darker and more gangster, and I wanted to distinguish myself from that. At the same time, I didn’t feel like having a party on every song. I tried to be a positive influence through my music. I’ve made eight albums and I have never had a ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker on any of them. That’s very important to me.
Is it true that you worked with singer Anastasia, writing one of her biggest hits?
I have never physically met Anastasia. That’s one of the weird occurrences that sometimes happens in this business. I am writing partners with Will Wheaton who was helping her with vocals and arrangements on some recording sessions in LA. We wrote Not That Kind and had a wonderful singer named Bobbette Jamison-Harrison record the demo. Anastasia heard Bobbette’s performance and loved the song. She used it in The Cut, the MTV show where she was discovered, and she made it the title track to her first album. I still wonder how big she could have been in the U.S. if they had released Not That Kind as a single instead of I’m Outta Love. I felt Not That Kind was a better song for over here.
Are there any other artists you have written for?
I haven’t written anything noteworthy for other signed artists lately. It’s virtually impossible these days for an independent writer like myself to get access to those acts without having to give up most of your rights in order to get in the door. I did collaborate on an album called The Vigilant by KNOXX. He’s on MySpace, and that’s a project I was very proud to be a part of.
Do you still get royalties from your past hits?
I still make money from Bust A Move, Know How, Wild Thing, Funky Cold Medina, etc. It’s not enough to pay all my bills, but it helps me make a nice living as a writer-performer. I still do shows, and the licensing of my newer material chips in a bit as well.
A lot of artists have stories of being ripped off due to bad contracts, what’s was your experience like?
Discussing the quality of my first contract goes back to the lawsuit and settlement which I can’t say much about. But my reaction to the way I was treated during my first contract resulted in me filing a lawsuit, so you can figure it out.
What are you up to nowadays?
Today I am still writing, producing and performing. My latest album Relentless is available online and has several really fun songs which I have enjoyed peforming over the last few months. My myspace page – www.myspace.com/youngmc has snippets of several tracks from the album.
I’m also working on multiple dance remixes of a song I released many years ago called Babe. I’ve put a great deal of time and resources into these mixes, and they should be available online in January 2010. I’m going to focus on the overseas dance market first, since I feel that these remixes will be perfect for Europe, Australia and Asia.
What do you think of the current hip hop scene?
I think hip-hop today is a bit stalled and stagnant because of the industry as a whole. There are only a few producers who have access to the major promotion to make a hit record. The record companies want their artists to sound like the last similar artist that had a big hit, and they often hire the same producer to make sure of it. Thus the music sounds very much the same. The new innovative producers have such big hurdles to overcome to access major promotion, that they rarely get heard. The internet helps expose new talent, but the limits on who gets major exposure will have to change in order for the hip-hop industry to improve.
When I first hit the music scene in the 80′s, things were totally different. There were many different artists with many different sounds who were able to blow up at the same time. Artists as varied as Young MC, Tone Loc, Hammer, Rob Base, Digital Underground, De La Soul, Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers, NWA, Geto Boys all able to sell gold or platinum within a 3-4 year period with very different sounds. Major labels, independents, it didn’t matter. If the music was good, people got a chance to hear it and it sold. That’s the thing that I miss the most about that era of hip-hop.
Who are you listening to these days?
Right now I like Kanye West a lot. He is very creative and his music is very different from most of hip-hop. He is a trend setter in my opinion. I also like Eminem, 50 Cent, Jay-Z and T.I. to name a few.
Do you keep up with what’s happening in the UK, music wise?
I try to look at the UK charts from time to time, and I have several DJ friends who let me hear a lot of hot UK music that I otherwise wouldn’t hear in the states. It seems like the UK is ahead of the U.S. in setting trends for music. It’s only been a year or two that the U.S. market has truly embraced dance as a popular music. Dance has been popular music in Europe and the UK for well over a decade if not longer.
Do you travel to the UK much?
I don’t get to travel to the UK very often. There have been tours proposed in the last few years, but they’ve fallen apart for one reason or another. But I’m always working to create that next hit song that would bring me back over.
Are you married? Do you have any kids?
I’m still single with no kids. I’m not opposed to the concept of marriage and a family, it’s just been very difficult for me to manifest it with someone in flesh and bone.
What is the proudest moment of your career, thus far?
Because of all that I’ve learned and how much I have grown over the years, I honestly feel that the proudest moment of my career is yet to come….