Marvin “Young MC” Young might best be known for his 1989 megahit “Bust a Move” and his writing credits on Tone Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina” and “Wild Thing” but he continues to create new material—both as a recording artist and now as a film director. His first feature film, Justice Served, starring genre favorite Lance Henriksen premiered in May and is available now on DVD and on demand. (You can check out the trailer HERE.) Young is also currently on tour with “I Love The 90s” and his new song “Know How” is featured prominently on the soundtrack to Baby Driver, starring Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm. He sat down with Robert Irvine Magazine to talk about his career evolution, what inspires him, and the state of hip-hop today.
BY MATT TUTHILL
RI Mag: Justice Served tells the story of victims of crimes who get to re-try the perpetrators who escaped justice. Where did that idea come from?
Marvin Young: It’s the seventh screenplay that I’ve written. I was getting coverage on one of my previous screenplays that I’d put a lot of time and work into, and the main criticism that I got on that previous screenplay was that there wasn’t enough tension; that there should be tension in every scene. I really took that to heart and wanted to see if there was a way that I could create something that had tension in every scene. That’s where the idea of the justice room was born, and having people in a confined location, but with circumstances bringing them together that increase the tension in that scene, and thus the film.
RI: Is there anything personal in it for you in terms of where the idea of a justice room came from?
MY: No, not really. It was literally me thinking of a scene that would be the most tense for anybody; not just me, but for anybody. There are three different justice rooms going, so there’s six characters in those justice rooms—three plaintiffs and three defendants, and I made sure that I made the characters varied enough that anybody watching should be able to relate to one or more of those characters and say to yourself, “What would I do if I was in that situation?” And when I was making the film I had no idea I was going to get a bunch of famous actors to be in it. So if it was just my face and a bunch of unknown faces in there, that the story would be enough to hold the audience. That was a big thing for me.
RI: That leads to my next question: Lance Henriksen is one of the great genre film actors, brings a ton of cache for people who love sci-fi and horror. How did you get him on board?
MY: He read the script and he loved the character. That was it. We went out to a good amount of actors for several of the roles and did the two ensemble piece, but he was the first, and really the biggest actor to come back. He had a really strong reaction to the Callas character. From getting him and him buying in and him willing to work with me as a first-time director, that really grew suspense for a lot of the other actors to come in and for a lot of good things to happen with the making of the film.
RI: Are you eyeing a followup?
MY: I am eyeing a followup, but the problem is, I can’t detach my left brain from my right brain. I’ve been like this with the music too. I can’t get into the second project until I see the first project all the way through. The promotion has been done, the money is coming in, whatever, so I’ve got notes, but I’ve got other things happening. But I really need to see how Justice Served performs, where it performs well, where I get the best and most enthusiastic response, and that’s going to dictate my next project.
I’m 50 years old now, so I’m not at the point where I’m so interested in just communicating some personal idea as I am trying to craft a career and make a smart second film as opposed to just a convenient second film or an indulgent second film. That’s kind of where my head’s at.
RI: Your song “Know How” is on the Baby Driver soundtrack. Can you tell me what it means to you to have a song in a big movie that’s getting a ton of heat right now?
MY: The fact that someone appreciated it and would put it in such an eclectic and interesting soundtrack, was amazing. I mean, I saw the film, I saw the press screening a week ago, and the use is great! I mean, I was just happy to be a part of it.
A lot of times you have your song in a movie and it’s cool for what it is. But people will be talking about the use of music in Baby Driver for decades. For me to say that I was part of that … There will be artists that will be envious of me, that I was able to have a song in Baby Driver. I honestly think it’s going to have that amount of impact in terms of when people talk about music and film, that is going to be one of the baseline movies that people refer to.
RI: What directors do you look up to?
MY: I went to college with Bryan Singer [Usual Suspects, X-Men]. I went to college with him and John Singleton [Boyz N The Hood], so those guys. I like Quentin Tarantino and the chances that he takes. I like Zack Snyder’s stuff. There’s a bunch of people but I don’t really look at other people’s styles, I look at more of the storytelling ability. If it’s got a great story I gravitate toward that.
RI: Favorite movies of all-time?
MY: Oh boy. King of New York. It’s an interesting film because I liked its time-period and it was very influential to me. Now I’m going to name two films, and I honestly think they’re related and this is why they’re two of my favorites. Seeing a relation of these two films is part of what made me want to be a director: Searching for Bobby Fischer, and the original Jaws.
If you suspend your disbelief and you say the kid is the center of the film in Searching for Bobby Fischer, and the shark is the center of the film for Jaws, they’re the same movie; same mother character, same father character, same teacher who went to school, teacher who went to the street. It’s the same. So, the character interaction, they’re the same film. The moment that I had that realization I’m like, “I think I should make a movie.” Because I’ve never heard anybody come back to me with it.
RI: Television right now is a place where directors can really stretch themselves creatively and do a lot of different things. Are you watching anything current and would you ever want to make TV?
MY: I think I’d want to do some more features first; at least one more feature before I’d feel comfortable getting on an established television show or getting on a television show to direct, because it is a different approach. The two things that I really like right now are Ray Donovan, and Hap and Leonard. Hap and Leonard, I think, is such an underrated show. A lot of people still don’t know about it, but the people that look at it are really moved by it.
RI: You’re on the I Love The 90s Tour. If I were to go, what kind of experience should I expect?
MY: It’s almost like an iPod shuffle of your favorite hits. That’s really what it is. It’s interesting, because it appeals to an older demographic, but it takes into account the fact that people have less of an attention span than they did years ago. So instead of us doing 30 to 45-minute sets, we’re doing 15 to 20-minute sets other than the headliners, other than Salt & Peppa and Vanilla Ice, the other five to six acts on the show are doing literally 15 to 20-minute sets. It’s good because, for me, it gives an opportunity, like, I do Bust A Move in the set, obviously, I do Know How in the set, but I’m still able to do some new material that people may not be as familiar with. I do Nocturnal, which is the song that I did at the end credits for Justice Served. I performed that with the trailer of the film behind me.
RI: You won a Grammy for Bust A Move, you also wrote some other 90s hits that are extremely well-remembered. For a lot of guys with that kind of resume, they can wear it around their necks like a stone sometimes. People aren’t always so kind if you evolve, if you move on, if you try to do other things, and yet, you’ve done that. Was it hard for you to do that? Because I imagine people want to keep you in that box, “Oh, Young MC, that’s the Bust A Move guy. Why is he trying to direct a movie now?”
MY: People say that it’s hard being a one-hit wonder even though Know How was a big record, Principal’s Office was a big record, other records in my catalog, but most people would know me from Bust A Move. The one good thing about that is, a lot of people, if you ask them, “What’s your favorite Young MC song?” They’re pretty much going to have the same answer. Whereas, if you take some other artist and you ask them what your favorite song is from them, you get 10 different answers. I think the fact that, with people having more stuff to do, the fact that they focus on your name and a song is a good thing.
In terms of it being difficult for me to branch out, I see Marvin Young the songwriter and Young MC the artist as almost two different entities. So I helped write Tone Loc’s Wild Thing, and helped write Tone Loc’s Funky Cold Medina, and some other songs before Bust A Move, and then after Bust A Move. But the biggest song that I helped write that I actually had a bigger part of than Bust A Move, is a song called Not That Kind by an artist named Anastacia. She was huge overseas. The song didn’t really get any traction here in the states with Sony, but overseas she literally sold like 8 million records. I have a bigger piece of that songwriting than I do with Bust A Move, Wild Thing, or anything else.
Having said that, I’ve felt a good modicum of respect, even after Bust A Move had come and had its heyday and then had its resurgence, I’ve done other things.
So me being a screenwriter, which I’ve been writing screenplays since the early 90s, and now making my first film, it just felt like an extension of that. It didn’t feel like I went away. I may have gone away for the people that only heard Bust A Move and they looked at blurb every once in a blue moon and they don’t hear from me, or they don’t think they hear from me or look for me, it may seem like I’ve gone away and not done anything, but I feel like I’ve been active this whole time. I haven’t had to get a regular job. I’ve been able to put “Musician/Songwriter” on my tax return for 25 years. It’s not a bad place to be. So me directing my first film, it just felt like a natural progression from that, and it’s something that I’ve wanted to do.
RI: What are your thoughts on rap now? There’s a viral video of Snoop Dogg making fun of how so many rappers today sound the same; a lot of them use auto tune or they use the same exact cadence. Do you have a similar view of modern rap?
MY: I think that there are a lot of copy cats, and I don’t blame the artists, I blame the labels, the production companies, and the distribution companies. Because people behind desks get really scared if their artist sounds different than what’s out there. They get scared that the audience is not going to gravitate to something new. Then you have somebody groundbreaking like Kanye, groundbreaking like Kendrick, groundbreaking like J. Cole. You know what I mean? You have those guys. For me, I’m still proud of Kendrick coming from the west coast. It warms my heart to see his success. Now, you have those artists that’ll go and break ground, or those artists that’ll get some shine and have their cadences and the way they go, and then you’ll have 10 other artists with the same flow coming behind them because that flow worked for those big artists. The copy-cat aspect I have a problem with. I can agree with what Snoop said, but I can definitely give respect to the guys that went out and established those cadences and those flows and their success in their careers.
It’s been an ongoing story, because people have said the same about me when my record came out, or when I was having my success, and peers of my day. You know what I mean? So I kind of take that into consideration, that I don’t want to be standing on the sidelines criticizing everybody. I definitely think that there’s room for criticism though, because there’s definitely a lack of originality in terms of people wanting to take chances with their music.
Follow Marvin Young on Twitter: @officialyoungmc
To buy or rent Justice Served on Amazon, click HERE.