Song 90: Young MC, “Bust a Move” (1989)


So many songs from 1989 lately! That wasn’t even by design; I had no idea these songs were from that year.

It’s safe to say that “Bust a Move” was the first hip-hop song I was aware of. I’m sure I’d heard other ones before it came along, but it’s the only one I listened to intently when it came on 94.5 (which, back then, was WZOU, featuring the Zoo Cat). “Principal’s Office” was another one, and it’s certainly the more age-appropriate Young MC song from that period, but the heart wants what the heart wants. Sometimes it wants a song about a man who cannot, despite his best efforts, bust a move.

According to the ever-dependable Wikipedia, “Bust a Move” is a story about “a young man and his frustration in several attempts to find (or seduce) a woman in various places and failing to be able to do so because he can’t dance; he isn’t able to ‘bust a move.'” I can’t argue with that, but I never thought of this song as having even that much of a narrative: to me, it’s almost a (filthy) nursery rhyme, but that’s probably more because it’s an early rap song.

I’ve been trying to think about why I like this song, and I can’t think of anything specific. I think Marvin “Young MC” Young is just a really good writer and rapper. This isn’t Shakespeare, but it’s not supposed to be, and lines like “every dark tunnel has a light of hope/so don’t hang yourself with a celibate rope” are pretty damn good for a kid who was only 22 when his debut (Stone Cold Rhymin’) came out. The track just holds together really well, and even though it’s obviously from rap’s early days, it’s also aged very well. It’s still got a great beat, and it’s always fun to rap along to.

One of the joys of doing this blog is learning so much about the songs. For example, “Bust a Move” features Flea on bass, and it includes a sample from the Bette Midler song “Daytime Hustler.” (Also: Bette Midler apparently had a song called “Daytime Hustler.”) And it’s always interesting to hear about parallel origin stories: just as Rick Rubin operated his first record label out of his dorm, Marvin “Young MC” Young auditioned over the phone to Delicious Vinyl while still in college, and the label delivered his record contract to his room.

Which is funny, because I also had a relationship with this song in college. But mine probably involved more beer.


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