‘Bust A Move”s Recipe for Success
May 23, 2018
For a time in 1989, Marvin Young was responsible for some of the biggest commercial hip-hop hits of the day. A college senior, Young penned the lyrics for Tone Loc’s most famous songs and, under his performing alias Young MC, had a massive hit of his own with “Bust a Move.” To this day, no ‘80s hip-hop compilation is complete without his wise, yet self-deprecating lyrics, his smooth but speedy flow and a mix of samples that would make any crate-digger proud.
What are the components of a smash? This particular hip-hop stew had more than a dash of this and a pinch of that; it was a blend of whimsy, creative production and timing that helped Young MC reach the masses. Let’s break it down …
He Was a Master Lyricist
Before anyone was aware of Young MC (or Marvin Young, for that matter), they were aware of his work; he was the writer of “Wild Thing” (1988) and “Funky Cold Medina” (1989), both Top 10 singles for Tone Loc, which, combined, sold over three million copies. Amazingly, Young wrote both songs in his dorm room at the University of Southern California, in about two hours.
“I’d never written for anyone before Loc,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “[Producers] Matt Dike and Michael Ross 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.”
He Was on a Hot New Record Label
Dike and Ross had started the record label Delicious Vinyl and, like so many other hip-hop upstarts, they were young, hungry and unyieldingly creative. “We’re just guys who like rap who saw other small companies starting up,” said Ross. “We figured we could do it too.”
Dike and Ross were in the orbit of another hot record-making duo, The Dust Brothers (Michael Simpson and John King), who produced two tracks on Young MC’s debut LP, Stone Cold Rhymin’. The duo had made a name for themselves when they collaborated with Dike on making beats for the Beastie Boys’ instant classic, Paul’s Boutique, using his studio and his record collection, which the Los Angeles Times estimated contained 40,000 pieces of vinyl. Within three years after “Bust a Move,” Dike left the label and the recording industry, becoming what one friend called “the Howard Hughes of hip-hop” before his untimely death in early 2018.
Flea Played Bass
The thumping, melodic bass work in “Bust a Move” came courtesy of none other than Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist, Flea. “[H]e was known as one of the hottest bass players in LA,” Young told Hidden Remote, “and I believe Matt Dike, one of the producers, knew him, and hired him to come in and play the bass line.”
Flea, however, does not recall the experience very fondly. “I have a bitter taste in my mouth about that, though,” he told Bass Player, “because I feel as though I got ripped off. The bass line I wrote ended up being a major melody of the tune, and I felt I deserved songwriting credit and money because it was a No.1 hit. They sold millions of records, and I got $200!”
On Rhythm Guitar … Ballin’ Jack
The syncopated rhythm guitar figure on “Bust a Move” was a sample from “Found a Child,” a 1970 album cut from the debut record of the Seattle-based rock band, Ballin’ Jack. The band never made much of a dent on the music scene (though Billy Joel opened for them once, in 1972), but their tracks have been sampled by such hip-hop acts as Gang Starr, the Beastie Boys, and Double X Posse. Their records aren’t the easiest to find, but, of course, Matt Dike had one in his massive collection.
“He was one of those guys that had record collections that took up entire rooms,” Young said of Dike in an interview with WNYC, “and he had [Ballin’ Jack].”
On the Drums … RoyalCash
The main beat of “Bust a Move” comes courtesy of RoyalCash’s 1983 track “Radio Activity.” The song was also sampled on M.C. Fosty & Lovin’ C “Radioactivity Rap,” which last.fm notes was “one of the first commercially successful old school west coast hip-hop and rap songs.”
On the Breakdown Beat … Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band
The composite drum track on “Bust a Move” also features a sample of a song called “Scorpio,” by former Motown “Funk Brother”/studio guitarist Dennis Coffey. During the “Bust a Move” breakdown, all other instrumentation clears the lane, allowing the “Scorpio” sample to drive and shine on its own.
“Scorpio” was a hit in its own right in 1971, which earned Coffey the privilege of appearing with his Detroit Guitar Band on Soul Train — the first white artist to do so. “The song was already a major hit,” he told Downbeat. “And when the kids found out we were gonna be on, the show’s producers jammed in about 25 percent more people than the studio could handle. I did American Bandstand and The Mike Douglas Show, too, but Soul Train was one of the best.”
On Sexy Background Vocal … Bette Midler
The breakdown also featured breathy sighs from a female voice, which happened to be that of pop chanteuse, movie star and Broadway diva Bette Midler. Dike and Ross sampled “Daytime Hustler,” from Midler’s debut record The Divine Miss M., a track that has also made its way into mixes for De La Soul (“The Magic Number”) and the Chemical Brothers (“Dissolve”). In fact, Midler has been sampled by a number of artists, from Kanye West to Capone-N-Noreaga, and most recently by Eminem, who made the piano hook from Midler’s 1979 hit “The Rose” a prominent part of his 2017 track “Arose.”
Bette Midler’s sample appears at the 2:44 mark!
Kanye West sampled “Mr. Rockefeller” on his song “Last Call”
On the Vocal Hook … Crystal Blake
The “you want it, you got it” vocal hook on “Bust a Move” is one of the most recognizable aspects of the song; according to Young, it was the final element Dike and Ross added to the song.
“[I] got a ride from my college dorm to go to the studio and just drop lyrics over the top of [the track],” Young told WNYC, “and then they had a girl Crystal [Blake] sing the hook and the rest is history.”
Blake went on to do a bit of acting (as Crystal Michelle Blake), appearing in the classic thriller Léon: The Professional and an episode of Beverly Hills: 90210.
In the Video … The Stop Sign Girl
Among the many people in the video dancing and having a good time is one young lady wearing a leather jacket and black hot pants with two stop signs placed strategically on her derriere. Of course, Stop Sign Girl has a real name — she’s Cindyana Santangelo, and she was one of the “It” girls of the early ‘90s, playing small roles on such programs as Married … With Children, CSI: Miami and ER. She’s also the first voice you hear on Jane’s Addiction’s 1991 masterpiece Ritual de lo Habitual.
Dancing Around in the Video … Flea and His Stuffed-Animal Pants
While Flea might not be immediately recognizable on the recording of “Bust a Move,” there’s no mistaking his presence in the video. He’s the guy playing bass (naturally) and dancing in a pair of pants that appear to be made of stuffed animals.
While Flea went on to fame and fortune, his stuffed-animal pants did not meet so grand a fate. “Someone stole them,” he told Feel Numb. “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.”
Flea paid the designer of the pants to make him another pair, to no avail. “I never saw the money or the pants again,” he said.