Perhaps in another reality, Marvin Young a.k.a. Young MC might be a hotshot banker or financial planner. But in this one, the London-born, New York-raised, and Los Angeles-affiliated emcee is the guy involved in some of rap music’s most commercially recognizable and successful tracks. After co-writing both “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina” for Tone Lōc, he penned and recorded the song that would define his musical career, the megahit “Bust a Move.” For nearly 30 years, the song his been omnipresent in popular media.
Young, along with artists like Tone Lōc, Mellow Man Ace, and Def Jef, were the first artists signed to Delicious Vinyl Records. Created by Michael Ross and the late Matthew Dike, the Los Angeles-based label was created three decades ago. At first the label operated independently, eventually signing a distribution deal with Island Records. The label recently commemorated its 30th Anniversary and this Friday, July 20th, Craft Recordings is re-releasing a handful of Delicious Vinyl’s biggest successes, including, of course, Young MC’s debut album Stone Cold Rhymin’ (1989).
Young MC’s biggest album of his career, Stone Cold Rhymin’ was certified double platinum and, in addition to “Bust a Move,” features memorable singles like “Principal’s Office,” “I Come Off,” and “Know How.” Though he is best known for “Bust a Move,” Young MC recorded and released music for nearly 20 years. His second album Brainstorm (1991) went gold, and he released his most recent album, Relentless, ten years ago in 2008. And after appearing in the film Up In the Air in 2009, he made the connections that allowed him to write, produce, and direct Justice Served in 2015.
These days, however, chances are you’ll find Young MC on the road, performing live. Young has been part of the “I Love the ’90s” tour for the past two-and-a-half years, performing every weekend with the likes of Tone Loc, Coolio, Salt-N-Pepa, Color Me Badd, Vanilla Ice, Rob Base, All 4 One, and Freedom Williams of C + C Music Factory. Factoring in other live shows he performs on his own, he figures he’ll do 70 to 80 gigs this year alone. That may sound like a grind, but Young still enjoys getting out on stage. “You experience all kinds of stuff on the road, but it's a great existence,” he says. “I'm happy to be doing it.”
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Young about signing with Delicious Vinyl, winning a Grammy, making a living on the road, and the best usages of “Bust a Move” in popular culture, among other topics. He even revealed who exactly was getting married in the song’s final verse.
Jesse Ducker: So what do you think about Craft Recordings re-issuing Stone Cold Rhymin’ nearly 30 years after it dropped? What are your thoughts on the album now?
Young MC: I am honored and flattered and happy to be a part of it. When you’re close to it, when you make the music, it’s one thing. Like “Bust a Move” I wrote in 90 minutes, and those 90 minutes pretty much changed my life.
JD: When you first wrote it, did you have your deal with Delicious Vinyl?
Young MC: It was with Delicious. They gave me the track. I wrote the verses. I called it “Make that Move” and then they changed it to “Bust a Move,” and that was pretty much it. Other than that, the body of the verses pretty much stayed the same. It was all like a stream of consciousness kind of thing. There were four verses and the song is four minutes and 20 seconds long, with a break. There’s no way to be able to make a song that long today.
JD: Everything is under three minutes these days.
Young MC: With two verses, if you’re lucky. No breaks. No bridges. No nothing. It’s just so cookie cutter. A lot of things that I did in writing that song, I wouldn’t be able to do today. A lot of the things we did in terms of making the record, you wouldn’t be able to do today, ‘cause it’s so micro-managed now. And it’s funny for me because even I co-wrote “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina,” you had no idea how big those songs were gonna be. And then writing “Bust a Move,” I’d seen how big “Wild Thing” was and even in that, I was just trying to do the best I could with the track and I really didn’t have the pressure of like, “Okay. If you get this right, this could generate millions of dollars.”
You’re just not thinking like that. You’re thinking like, “Okay, let’s see if we can make a cool record.” Because it’s very different, it wasn’t really the hip-hop speed. At the time, I think the bassline was on it, but I’m not sure if the hook was on it yet, so I’m pretty sure that I was writing the lyrics without knowing the “You want it, you got it” line. Just do the 16 bars and then let it fill in the space. And I know the speed and I’m just making sure it’s something I can rap comfortably to. That’s all I’m thinking at the time.
JD: Did you have the same freedom putting together the other songs on the album that you did with “Bust a Move?”
Young MC: A lot of rap during that time was just saying how great of a rapper you were. A lot of the songs were just me saying how great I was for 16 bars, and then saying a title, and then that was it. I’m establishing myself as an artist at that point, so I’m not really thinking of song structure. I’m being introduced to songwriting as I’m being introduced to the world as an artist. I became a better songwriter as time went on, but in that case a lot of it was making 16 bars to fill in the spots. But in all fairness, that’s what a lot of hip-hop was at the time.
JD: So how did you first hook up with Delicious Vinyl?
Young MC: As a child DJ and aspiring record collector, I shopped at a record store at 35th Street and 7th Avenue (in New York City) called Rock and Soul. There was a guy named Eric that worked at that store. He and I were friends and we talked about trying to make a record. We went in and after my sophomore year in college, during the summer of ’87, I went in and recorded a couple things. I didn’t know anything about making beats, so the tracks weren’t the greatest, but it was something where we were gonna try and hook up with a record company in New York.
That never materialized. I don’t even know if the record company even really existed. It was a guy saying he had something and then didn’t, but Eric knew the guys at Delicious Vinyl.
So I was coming back out to California for college in August of ‘87 and he either gave me the number for Delicious or he gave them my number. All I know, a phone call happened and Mike Ross and Matt Dike were on the phone. I simply read lyrics from my collection, so about three verses that ended up being some of “I Let ‘Em Know” and some of “My Name is Young.” I said about three verses over the phone and within a week of that phone call, they sent me a contract in the mail. No attorney. I’m a college kid. I’m actually going to school, and I was in the student senate at the time, at USC, and I took my contract to the law school representative of the student senate and asked him to look at it.
JD: What did he say?
Young MC: He’s like, “Oh, man. This might be beyond me.” I’m like, “Dude, just anything you can see?” So he looked at it and then I went from there.
JD: What were you studying at USC at the time?
Young MC: I have a Bachelor’s degree in economics and a minor in what we call “Data Processing.” That was Basic, Fortran, COBOL, those languages. Beginnings of computers in 1987 or 1988. That far back. I did graduate.
JD: Do you ever wonder what would have happened if you’d pursued a job using your economics degree?
Young MC: I was planning either to get some kind of job with some financial firm, or Wall Street, or something like that. That was the plan. My parents had given me the summer, ‘cause I graduated in May of ‘89. “Bust a Move” literally came out the week of finals of senior year, and my parents had given me the summer. They said, “Okay, get this rap thing out of your system by the fall. You either need a real job, or we’ll find a way and send you to grad school.” And the record took off.
JD: What’s a song on Stone Cold Rhymin’ that you feel is underappreciated and has flown under the radar all these years?
Young MC: My knee-jerk would be “Know How,” but then “Know How” has been getting a lot of light the last couple of years. By the way, with DJs, that’s a bigger record than “Bust a Move.” Overseas in a lot of places, it’s a bigger record than “Bust a Move.” That’s a record that if people don’t know it, they should listen to it. That’s a better indication of who I was as an artist at the time. That was the culmination of my braggadocio rapping and my lyricism, even more so than “Bust a Move.”
JD: You worked a lot with label-head/producer Matt Dike on Stone Cold Rhymin’. He recently passed. What was it like working with him?
Young MC: He was a good guy. Tone Lōc and I were joking about Matt’s record collection. He had it on the second floor of his apartment and the record collection was so heavy that it bowed the floor. His landlord was telling him that he had to move the records somewhere, spread them out somewhere, because it was messing with the integrity of the house. Matt had every record that you could ever imagine, and ones that you didn’t know existed.
JD: Are you still on friendly terms with Michael Ross?
Young MC: I mean, we’re cool. There was a lawsuit involved with the label that obviously I can’t talk about, and that puts a strain on a portion of our relationship. But we’re cordial. I went back for a 20th or 25th anniversary. There was a party there and I remember getting up and performing.
JD: What was it like to be one of the cornerstones of the Delicious Vinyl label back then?
Young MC: The thing is, is that when you’re going through it you’re just like, “Okay, we’re on this label. We’re trying to make some stuff happen.” It was the little office behind the restaurant and we go in and “Okay. We gotta do this little club over here. We’re doing La Casa, we’re doing Skateland, we’re doing World On Wheels, KDAY is playing it.” I remember doing the remix to “I Let ‘Em Know” and driving up the hill on Alvarado to KDAY. Dropping it off. Literally as Orlando and I were driving down the hill, they were playing the remix. That we just dropped off. Those are the kind of memories you won’t get back.
JD: What was the first moment that you realized, “Wow. This is huge right now?”
Young MC: I don’t mean to evade your question, but there are so many different little moments that had indications of it. I guess the Grammy was it. Or the American Music Awards. But the thing is, we’re talking about a time when mobile phones were like briefcases, the internet was not what it is today, obviously, and not everybody had cable. Only rich people had cable. Even getting the play on MTV…I had somewhat of an idea, but there was no real way to track the record nationally. You could look at Billboard, you could look at R&R.
The interesting thing about at least “Bust a Move” was that we got video play, then we got record sales, then we got radio play. We didn’t really get all of them at the same time. The record topped out at number seven, but stayed on the chart for 40 weeks. It never even got to the top five ‘cause this is pre-Soundscan. All you gotta do is have a mediocre weekend and you could be number one in Soundscan. It didn’t really happen that way.
My thing was being on the tour bus and getting into a city. I get on stage or go to a radio station and I’m like, “Wow. They know the record here.” Then I go to another place, “Wow, they know the record here.” This is over months and a year’s worth of time. There’s no way for me to know what’s going on everywhere at the same time like you would be able to today.
It never really hit me all at once until the awards started coming and I’m like, “Wow, everybody knows it.” Family members and friends would tell me anecdotal things about where they heard the record, or people talking about it. I’m like, “Wow, it’s pretty big.” But I never had a chance to really sit back and look at it from 30,000 feet ‘cause you just didn’t have that type of infrastructure to really track the record then.
JD: You were the first rapper to receive a Grammy during the TV broadcast. And that was the show where Flavor Flav charged on stage while you were receiving the award. What were you thinking when that happened? Did you see him coming or did he just jump on stage?
Young MC: I felt him tackle me, and then tried to make the best of it and light of it and the like, then kind of went on. I was a fan of Public Enemy. For me, I was blown away by my own success and my notoriety. It was part of the journey. Me and Flav are friends at this point, and he told me he did take a lot of flak for that happening. That’s just par for the course.
JD: You have any other memories from that time period?
Young MC: One of the memories is I remember the day after the Grammys, I go downstairs and there’s some other press and there’s a British reporter that wanted to talk to me about my career. She sees me and says, “I’m surprised that you don’t have the Grammy around your neck on a chain.” Mind you, I’m a college graduate at this point. Along with being a Grammy winner, but that’s how I was addressed.
JD: People wouldn’t ask Garth Brooks that type of thing.
Young MC: That’s the thing, too. One thing I have to tell you is that I’m going through that time period with the weight of the genre on my shoulders, because every other interview was like, “Do you think rap is gonna stay around? Do you think it’s gonna go the way of disco and go the way of these other genres that came and went?” I never had the foundation and the stability that the artists have now, that regardless of what they do in their records, rap is just as solid as country or pop or rock. It’s pretty much tripled for R&B, in subsequent years. I didn’t have that comfort. I was always reminded of the fragility of it and the fact that it could go away.
Especially coming from the west coast too, ‘cause a lot of stuff was being established, especially on the pop side. The gangsta stuff was always gonna be there. The street stuff was always gonna be there. I knew a lot of that from the KDAY days. But as soon as those records crossed over, we were hitting parts of the country that never really felt that they were spoken for. I wanted to do my best to keep the genre around. Not only so I could keep doing it, but so that everybody else could keep doing it as well.
JD: Do you listen to the stuff that’s out these days?
Young MC: Somewhat. I don’t follow it as much as I did as when my records were hot and I’m following my peers and seeing where the music’s going and that kind of thing. I’m trying not to be the old man, “Get off my lawn! Why are the songs like this? It’s so different from what we did in my day.” There’s definitely some stuff out there I like.
JD: What’s the last new thing that you heard and liked?
Young MC: Ironically, I like to get SiriusXM when I rent cars. These last two shows that I did, I had to rent a car and I drove from Del Ray Beach to Clearwater. That’s about a four-and-a-half hour drive and a lot of times I’m basically listening to BackSpin, but then they changed BackSpin to Rock The Bells Radio, so I’m bouncing all over. I turned on Hip-Hop Nation and they played a bunch of tracks from Drake’s record, some of which were new to me that I liked. I heard some stuff by Post Malone, which I liked. There’s a record called “Fed Up” by Derez DeShon that’s just breaking in that’s really interesting.
I kind of take the music for what it is, as opposed to trying to put myself into it. I listen to it as a fan and then the whole Young MC view, in terms of how I make my music, I still make sure that I stick to what I like, or stick to what sounds good to me, as opposed to, “Oh, this is the sound that’s out right now. This is what you need to do.” I was getting that even after my first record. “Oh, you know, these are the new hot rappers. You need to sound like them. Let’s get this producer, let’s get this person.”
I’m not gonna start doing gangsta music, I’m not gonna start swearing in my music. That was never how I was; I wasn’t raised like that and I didn’t get into the music for that. Anybody listening would know that that wasn’t me. Along with changing my name or anything like that, I wasn’t into the gimmickry of it. I take my stuff really seriously, so when I’m listening to other people’s stuff, I’m listening to it through the ear of a fan, as opposed to trying to compete with it.
JD: Are you still recording music?
Young MC: Once in a blue moon. I haven’t recorded in a couple of years, largely because I’ve been touring. In 2016, I did over 100 shows. I was physically out of my house more than I was in it. When I get back, the last thing I want to do is try and do some music, especially trying to do something original when I find myself doing the show repeatedly over and over again on the road. I just want to recover from it and whatever. It’s a great opportunity, being on tour so much.
JD: So touring is your bread and butter?
Young MC: Well, it’s turned itself into that, yes. Also because the royalty structure for everything is dried up. The thought of making records off of physical radio…physical sales, rather, and radio play, while it still exists, it’s a fraction of what it was before. Then the digital royalties haven’t even come close to replacing it, especially when you’re talking about a legacy record like mine, as opposed to a contemporary record. You have a hot record out, you may make a good check for a few months to a year, but then after that you’re pretty much done. It really dies off. There’s no longer the same kind of sustainable income the way that my record offered, or records did from the ‘80s and ‘90s, and even the early 2000s.
JD: How is balancing home life and touring?
Young MC: I live with my girlfriend and I have a bunch of good friends here that I haven’t seen as much as I need to. Got a lot of family back east, but I think I live a pretty reasonable existence. I do my own shopping still and been running errands. I’m not caught up in being a famous guy; it’s just my job. I think that I’ve balanced my life pretty well.
JD: What’s it like spending so much time with Tone Lōc on the road, after knowing him for 30 years?
Young MC: It’s fun. There’s nothing more heartwarming to me than making Tone Lōc laugh. That’s the greatest thing. When I can make him laugh uncontrollably, that’s one of the most fun experiences of my existence.
JD: You’re best known for Stone Cold Rhymin’, but you’ve recorded nine albums over about 20 years. How do you feel that you grew as an artist over that time?
Young MC: I think I grew from my Enzyme album, on. But even the Ain’t Going Out Like That record, too, because those were the records that were truly independent. Where I was like, “Okay. I have my career in my hands. Let’s go at this.” I was making records as if it was the last record I was ever going to make. I wanted to ensure quality and if anybody even heard an album cut, that it would be a good reflection of where I was as an artist. I never was in a place where I’m walking in the studio saying, “Okay, this is your filler. This is just to fill up around the singles.” I didn’t really know a lot about what the singles were when I was going and recording them because I wasn’t being guided by a record company. I was just making the best music I could and trying to make a balanced record.
I was able to think more, put more of the business aspect into my head, along with making the music. Not just blindly making the music and leaving it up to chance. Even the Relentless record to a certain extent, because that was the time when the license opportunities started to change. Every other record up until then, I had made probably double or triple what the album cost in licenses, let alone what I had done with the music on stage.
When Relentless came out in 2008, that’s when for some reason, the licensing opportunities for newer music for a person in my position really started to change. That was a record that I had made to focus on that market, because that’s where I knew if I wasn’t gonna get a lot of radio play and I wasn’t gonna able to get into the biggest movie or something like that, that I could get a TV show here, a video game there, commercial, that kind of thing.
When those opportunities started changing, that’s when I started seeing things shift to being more single-driven. Then the show opportunities started coming up in different places. Ironically, “Bust a Move” would just keep going and going and going. It would be licensed every year. So then I got to the thought process where I was like, “Okay. If I have all these people that know who I am and know what I’m doing, do I need to be putting out albums all the time just to tell people I’m putting out albums all the time?”
“Know How” was in Baby Driver last year. That was pretty big. Then H&M used it in a commercial with Winona Rider. Then “Bust a Move” obviously was in IT last year. Walmart used it in a big commercial. This is all in the last 12 months. So I’m thinking, “If I’m getting all these opportunities with music that I’ve already done, unless there’s something where someone says, “Okay, I want a specific, original Young MC record for this opportunity,” then I don’t really see the need for me to run out there and keep recording stuff.
JD: Over the years, “Bust a Move” has been used in a lot of movies and commercials. What are your personal favorite usages of it?
Young MC: One of my favorite traditional uses would be in The Blind Side, when the football player and the kid go back and forth with the lyrics. Unfortunately, it was right before the car accident, but when I saw it the first time I’m like, “That’s really cool. It’s generational. It’s cross-racial.” It was just a really heartwarming moment. I think my favorite commercial was when William Shatner did it spoken word. I think Lisa Loeb and Ben Folds were in the band when he did his Priceline commercial. That was very cool. That moved me.
Then another one was an anecdote in an article that my financial advisor at the time had sent to me. Before 9/11, the first year or two of the George W. Bush administration, Ari Fleischer had performed “Bust a Move” in karaoke, basically, at the retreat in Texas. That made it in financial papers, the business papers, the political papers and the like. He did a perfect performance of “Bust a Move.” Never met the man, don’t even necessarily share his politics, but I thought that that was fascinating.
JD: You also performed it in Up In the Air during a scene at a corporate event. Was that scene realistic? Had you done something like that back then?
Young MC: I mean, I had done corporates before, but that was something that, from what I heard, Jason Reitman had that vision when he wrote it. They called me up and they’re like, “Oh, do you want to do this movie with George Clooney?” I’m like, “Yeah, sure…a movie with George Clooney.” I said yes, thinking that it wouldn’t come to fruition, ‘cause you hear stuff all the time. Then they came up and they had a date for shooting. I had to move a show, I had to fly down to, I believe it was Florida. It came out and did really well. Ironically, that performance introduced me to people down the line that would help me to get my movie started, and to get my own stuff going. That was definitely an interesting thing, ‘cause normally I would not want to go into movies and play myself rapping on stage ‘cause where’s the growth in that? That’s not really acting, but it was definitely fun.
JD: So, have you heard the debate about the final verse of “Bust a Move,” and whether it’s Harry or Larry’s wedding? And why the person in the song is the Best Man?
Young MC: I mean, literally it’s me saying, “Harry and Larry rhymes with marry,” and then to show how much of a stream of consciousness it was, when I wrote “This here’s a jam for all the fellas,” I had no idea that I would be talking about a wedding. It was only when Harry and Larry rhymed with marry that I said, “Okay. This last verse is gonna be about a wedding.”
I’ve seen some of the stuff, I’ve seen some of the questions. I guess I should put a little bit more into an answer before I give a drawn-out, specific answer about it. But it literally comes from a stream of consciousness. I thought it was pretty straightforward, but go ahead and explain it to me as you’d see the controversy.
JD: Just trying to find the right answer as to whether it was Harry or Larry’s wedding.
Young MC: The best friend Harry has a brother Larry, right? In five days from now, he’s gonna marry. So Larry is the one that’s getting married. Larry’s the one that’s getting married and I would say because probably he doesn’t want Harry to be his best man, Harry may drink. They may have had some stuff in the past. Maybe Larry’s prospective bride doesn’t like Harry. “You” seem like you’re the cool person; you’re Switzerland and all of this, so they choose the best man so that Larry can have his wedding and Harry can go get drunk, and nobody gets in trouble.
JD: I’m sure you’re sick of people asking you about that.
Young MC: No! No! I think it’s hilarious, actually.
JD: Okay, one thing we always ask during interviews for Albumism is what are your five favorite albums?
Young MC: Let me think. Can I do greatest hits?
Young MC: Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits, for sure. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the 36 Chambers. Originoo Gun Clappaz a.k.a. OGC’s Da Storm. That whole clique (Boot Camp Clik) is so underrated, it’s ridiculous. What’s something obscure that I really like? Give me a second as I think…Oh! Train’s Save Me, San Francisco. There’s about eight tracks in a row from the beginning that are basically single quality. “Hey Soul Sister” is the one that people know, but there’s a ballad on there which is amazing. There’s a song called “You Already Know,” which is just incredible.
JD: Anything else you want to add?
Young MC: I’m happy to have something that people like 30 years later. That someone would want to reissue and want to talk to me about. It’s great. I used to be concerned about making a record bigger than “Bust a Move” or that people would like more than “Bust a Move,” but then I realized I had “Bust a Move.” It’s like, how much pressure am I gonna put on myself to outdo my previous work? That’s not necessarily my issue.