In 1989, an aspiring rapper attending USC scored a monster smash. Marvin Young was a Queens transplant studying economics when he broke big as Young MC via an infectious, bass-heavy hit called "Bust A Move." Decades later, the tune is one of pop-rap's most indelible, a timeless bop that captures the spandex-clad energy of late 80s radio rap.
Young MC almost fell into a successful career.
Growing up in Queens, Young saw as Hip-Hop made superstars out of local talents like Run-D.M.C. and LL COOL J. "When I was growing up in Hollis, there were a lot of things going on, some good things but a lot of bad things," he told The Washington Post in 1990. "So I saw rap as being one of the good things, and I gave it a shot. I didn't get the hang of it right at first. I was using variations on other people's lyrics, but I found out quickly you have to write your own. And I found out I was good at it."
He started attending USC in 1986 and it was while he was in school that he connected with fledging label Delicious Vinyl via a friend.
"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," Young said to Albumism in 2017. "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."
Producers Mike King and John Simpson had a Hip-Hop radio show that caught the attention of a local L.A. artist named Tone-Loc, who was newly-signed to Delicious Vinyl. The label asked the duo to help with production and engineering and that subsequently led to work on both Loc's album and this single by Young MC. It was on "Bust A Move" that the duo decided to coin the name "the Dust Brothers."
"King and Simpson are pretty common names," Simpson explained to Sound On Sound. "And we decided that we'd better come up with a cool name. At the time we were bringing back music that no-one was listening to any more, so we wanted the name to be an anachronistic reference to things of the past. While we were working for Delicious Vinyl, many people had been describing our music as 'dusted,' and that's where we took the name from. The state of Hip-Hop was pretty minimal at the time, and we were doing these very textural, tripped-out, almost hallucinogenic remixes of things. Angel dust was just an additional whacked-out reference that also fitted with what we were doing."
When he caught the ear of Delicious Vinyl and the Dust Brothers, they immediately asked him to write rhymes for Tone Loc.
“I’d never written for anyone before Loc,” Young told The L.A. Times back in 1989. Young would pen two tracks for Loc, both of which became monster hits for the rapper.
"Matt Dike and Michael Ross [of Delicious Vinyl] came to me with a title and an instrumental track and said write a song called ‘Wild Thing.’ I’m not lying--I wrote it in 35 minutes. ‘Funky Cold Medina’ took a little over an hour.”
On the heels of Loc reaching the Top Ten with "Wild Thing" and "Funky Cold Medina," Young dropped "Bust A Move." Both of those Tone Loc singles had been platinum-sellers, and "Bust A Move" followed suit, going all the way to No. 1 by summer 1989.
That summer was an interesting time for crossover success in Hip-Hop. N.W.A. had hit majorly in 1988 with Straight Outta Compton, and Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back was one of the most acclaimed albums of that year. With serious, angry rap records earning accolades and Hip-Hop's creative credibility more tied to socio-political commentary than ever, poppy acts like Young MC were suddenly primed for criticism.
"As soon as me and Loc blew up, I knew that there was a backlash."
"Now it’s come full circle," Young MC told Rolling Stone in 2019. "The whole idea of 'Bust A Move' crossing over being a bad thing, well it’s a good thing again now, because everybody’s seeing money fly out the door going, 'Oh my God, where’s this big check I’m supposed to get being a rapper?' Flo Rida, and those records crossing over is actually helping — which is what we did in the first place!"
At the same time that Delicious Vinyl was launching, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were just beginning to break through in 1989. The SoCal funk-rockers had developed a tremendous indie following but was reeling from the loss of founder/guitarist Hillel Slovak, who'd died of a heroin overdose in 1988. Recruiting John Frusciante as lead guitarist, the Chili Peppers would see their commercial breakthrough in 1989, with the success of their fourth album Mother's Milk and singles like "Knock Me Down" and a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" receiving tremendous MTV airplay. Bass player Flea was recruited to lay down the groove on "Bust A Move." He wasn't a household name yet, but his distinctive style drives the song.
In 1996, Flea reflected on the success of "Bust A Move" in an interview with Bass Player while lamenting that he didn't receive any writing credit for the hit track.
“The bass line I wrote ended up being a major melody of the tune," Flea said. "And I felt I deserved song-writing credit and money because it was a No. 1 hit. They sold millions of records, and I got $200! It was ridiculous, but I learned from it.”
“People looked at rap and hard rock as the type of music that you slam your door after you argue with your parents, and bang your head in defiance,” Young said to Rolling Stone.
The success of "Bust A Move" pushed Young MC's debut Stone Cold Rhymin' to No. 9 on the Pop Albums charts, and the hit song's video became an MTV staple throughout 1989. In the video, Flea makes a famous appearance wearing his distinctive stuffed-animal pants.
“Someone stole them," Flea said in 2008 of his iconic trousers. "It’s so funny because for years I always lived in crappy little apartments but right when we got the money from signing with Warner Brothers I got to buy a house. I bought a nice house in Los Feliz that I was real excited about. I drove home and the first night at that house, someone broke into my car and stole my bass, my leather jacket and those stuffed animal pants out of my trunk. And I had lived in crappy neighborhoods for so long and never got robbed. As soon as I stepped up, someone took my stuff. I commissioned the girl who made them to make me another pair and I never saw the money or the pants again.”
In the more than 30 years since "Bust A Move" topped the charts, it's found it's way into commercials and movies, it's become an enduring staple and holds up perfectly as a catchy slice of radio rap perfection. Young MC has dropped more albums and done more tours since "Bust A Move," but he appreciates the power of his biggest hit.
“My record wasn’t necessarily rebellious," Young MC said in 2019. "But it was clever enough to grab in a decent segment of people that didn’t listen to rap music.”