Young MC – Bust a Move
The surprise international box office success of the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton has generated renewed interest in the early years of rap music, and in particular the rise of West Coast and gangsta rap. But truth be told, when the Straight Outta Compton album was released in 1988, rap music of any kind was only just beginning to make a dent on the upper reaches of the pop singles charts. Sure, there were some rap songs that were big chart hits prior to that year – Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang, Walk this Way by Run DMC, The Message and White Lines by Grandmaster Flash, (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party) by the Beastie Boys and, erm, Holiday Rap by MC Miker G and DJ Sven, but these were mainly outliers. On the pop singles charts, rap as a genre didn’t really begin its big breakthrough until 1989 and 1990, when a diverse platform of both good and bad rap artists – Tone Loc, Monie Love, Vanilla Ice, Salt-n-Pepa, and MC Hammer among many others – stormed radio and the pop sales charts on both sides of the Atlantic and began to establish rap as the consistent chart hit generator that it remains to this day.
Caught up in this sweeping ’89-90 wave of pop-rap was one Marvin Young, otherwise known as Young MC. Born in London and raised in Queens, New York, Young moved to LA in the late 80s to attend the University of Southern California where he earned a degree in economics. While a student at USC, Young was offered a record contract from the rap label Delicious Vinyl after rapping over the phone to label executives. There, he met the rapper Tone Loc, and collaborated with him on the songs Wild Thing and Funky Cold Medina, which became top 5 pop chart hits and million sellers in the US. This partnership set the stage for Young’s first album, Stone Cold Rhymin’, which was released in late 1989 and made the US Top 10.
The first single from Stone Cold Rhymin’ was the great Bust a Move. Ostensibly an ode to rejecting shyness and making one’s move with the lady of one’s choice, the song is a fantastic primer for everything that is wonderful about the pop-rap hits of this era. First, the song’s musical track – based mainly on a sample of the song Found a Child by the group Ballin’ Jack – is accessible and irresistible. The beats of the song – including samples from Scorpio by Dennis Coffey and Daytime Hustler by Bette Midler (!!!) – render it immediately dance-floor ready. But the track’s not-so-secret weapon? The hilarious and quotable lyrics, among the wittiest and silliest in rap music history. Delivered by Young in a cool “i-won’t-break-a-sweat” baritone, they elevate the song out of monotonous rap hell and into pop-rap heaven. Take this nugget from the middle verse (where the song’s hero is working his game in a movie theater): “Theater gets dark just to start the show / Then ya spot a fine woman sittin’ in your row / She’s dressed in yellow, she says “Hello / Come sit next to me you fine fellow” / You run over there without a second to lose, and what comes next? / Hey bust a move!” Stephen Sondheim eat your heart out, these are some classic turns of phrase, in a song chock full of them.
Initially derided as a shallow novelty hit, Bust a Move is now considered a pop-rap classic and a true party-starter. (Don’t believe me? Put it on at your next boring social event and watch what happens. You may have to hide your children and breakables, but you should be able to capture some superfly middle-aged dance moves on your iPhone).
Bust a Move topped the chart in Australia in late 1989 and reached number 7 in the US, where it also spent 39 weeks on the Hot 100, including 20 weeks in the Top 40. The song also earned Young the Grammy for Best Rap Performance. In the UK, however, it spent a mere 5 weeks on the chart, crawling to a subpar no.73. While Young only managed one more Top 40 hit in the US, he continues to record and has also achieved success on reality television and as an actor. Most importantly, his hit remains a reminder of that age when rap, in many different forms, moved straight outta the sidelines and straight into the pop mainstream.
Entered chart: 15/7/1989
Chart peak: 73
Weeks on chart: 5
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Given Young’s superbly dry delivery on the original, it’s hard to imagine who could cover this without sounding ridiculous. Maybe Justin Bieber could get Diplo and Skrillex to do a slowed down vocoder version with a dubstep break – that would certainly be interesting.