June 16, 2017 Interview – Marvin Young AKA Young MC
There is an art to telling a story. There needs to be substance, purpose, but also tension. Growing up a lyricist, Marvin Young would soon become internationally known as Hip Hop artist Young M.C. following major success of 1989’s “Bust a Move” off his chart topping debut record Stone Cold Rhymin’. Lyrically intelligent while also smooth, Young has taken his knack for words to screenplay writing in recent years. Looking to master his craft as a writer/director, Young’s debut feature film Justice Served is out now, promising to offer thrill seekers plenty to wrap their brain around. Recently we caught up with the successful performer to talk his career in music, the ups and downs of the music industry, his passion for film, plans for the future, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in entertainment since a young age as a musician and now diving into film. First, tell us, what inspired you to get involved in the arts?
Marvin Young – From the music angle I have been rapping and into music since I literally started rapping when I was 10 or 11 years old. What first inspired me were my dad’s record collections, then after that was the opportunities that I could do in my neighborhood. I grew up in Hollis, Queens – I wasn’t an athlete, I wasn’t into graffiti, or the running around like a lot of the guys were doing. I saw people at a block party and heard MC’ing for the first time, not even on the radio, it was just out in the street, and I thought that would be a good way for me to show my individuality. So I got into it at that young age, preteen, and went on from there.
As far as film goes, having done music for such a long time, I know what it’s like to sell art as commerce, so that is a big deal for me. I have a certain work ethic because some people think, “oh! its music, it’s fun, it’s no problem,” and a lot of people bring that same thing to the film aspect, they just think it’s fun and think once they get passed the shooting aspect of it it’s done. So I found a lot of the work ethic that I put into finishing a record, I put all of that into finishing my film.
CrypticRock.com – That is great that you are able to work in both film and music. As stated many know of your work as Young MC responsible for some killer tunes dating back to your 1989 debut album Stone Cold Rhymin’. Lyrically you have always been clever, yet always conveying a positive message. What has served as your inspiration as a songwriter?
Marvin Young – As a songwriter I kind of took it upon myself. When I was starting rap wasn’t on radio yet so a lot of the rappers wanted to stay clean so they had the opportunity to be on radio. As I got signed, and went through my career, it became more normal to be on radio and then rappers felt they could pretty much say whatever they wanted, also the labels told the rappers to say whatever they wanted. So it became more R-rated/ X-rated and I just chose to stay how it was when I was a kid coming up. For the simple fact that I kept expanding my vocabulary by finding clever things to do with my lyrics. And also I would meet parents of young kids and they would say, “you are the only rapper I will let my kids listen to.” Or the kid would tell me, “your album is the first rap album my parents let me have.”
That kind of stuck with me because I was thinking, if I haven’t sworn up to this point, 1, 2, 3 albums in, why should I start just because everyone else is doing it? I thought I should be able to express myself pretty well without having to do that. So that is what it was. The positivity, I try to be a positive person as much as I can, but I still tackle hard subject and the like, but I am not going to go out of my way to be shocking or vulgar or anything like that. I want to have an opportunity for the people that like me and listened to me before to listen to me and like me now.
CrypticRock.com – Understandable. A lot of your music is inspirational. Now you take your writing skills to the big screen with your writing and director debut in Justice Served. How did this concept arrive for you?
Marvin Young – The interesting thing I guess is my writing debut in terms of the first script that I have written that’s made it to screen, but it’s probably about the seventh script I have written. I have been writing since the ’90s, it was something that fascinated me. It kind of took the place of term papers when I left school (laughs). I liked the research aspect of it and being able to convey stuff and I read a lot so I always see things visually when I read. So the thought of writing something that would be on the screen always intrigued me.
Justice Served comes from a long lifetime of reading, and also I am here in Arizona so I watched two or three hundred movies with film critics they before the films come out. I also get to watch them with audiences as well. So you get to see audience reactions, hear audience reaction, talk to the critics in terms of what they thought of in the moment. It’s pretty fascinating to see the things that different people pull out of film, and also to see what interest people and what bores people.
So my thought process was, let me do something that was really appealing to an audience like that would be watching my films. On top of that I had a previous screenplay called Princess which I had done a lot of development on. I sent it to a script doctor essentially in Los Angeles and that particular draft he ripped the draft and basically said, “you need more tension in your screenplays.” He said “You need to have most, if not every scene, to have tension in it so that people can feel a real involvement in the scene if you’re making a thriller.” So that really stuck with me and the idea of what would be the most tense scene to put someone in and that is where at least the birth of Justice Room came from. I felt, let me create one scene of tension and then blow that out and make a whole entire film that is filled with tension.
CrypticRock.com – Very cool. The story of Justice Served certainly has a very compelling concept. This is much the tale of a three act film with a lot of answers being unveiled in the final act. Was it your intent to build this sort of tension?
Marvin Young – Absolutely! To be honest, to take it back to the music, I try to write my songs as three verse stories. My third versus always have something different from the first and the second, there is always a little left turn or a little twist, instrumentally and lyrically. Not with “Bust a Move,” not necessarily because I have four verses in that, but the last five or six albums that I have written I have always worked it in the three verse structure, kind of like the three act structure to give people a twist. With Justice Served, I had the concept of the Justice rooms and concept of that tension and I wanted to get people into that tension as quickly as I could. We enter the justice rooms within twelve minutes of the beginning of the film. To see how that unravels and then wraps up the story, having multiple justice rooms. My thing is, I hope that people pay attention, I told people at screenings, the more you pay attention the more you are going to you get out of it.
CrypticRock.com – You also worked with a really great cast. What was it like working with this group of individuals?
Marvin Young – Oh, it was amazing! I have to point out Lance Henriksen in particular, when he saw that role, and responded to that role, that really greased the skids for a lot of things to happen for this film. I wrote it with the Troy role for myself, assuming I would get no other famous people to be in this film. I really thought that I would come up with money to get it shot, and I will use local actors or small actors and I will be the most well-known name in there, so let me give myself a character that affects the story and is on screen enough, so people are seeing faces that they recognize. That was my big concern; I really wasn’t assuming that I would get a big name like Lance.
I essentially got three, four, five big names because Denyce Lawton has her own following, Chase Coleman was in a big TV show. We would have some shoots on certain days, the airport scene, where he was outside there were people waiting there to get his autograph! It shocked me! I know he was on TV, but they found out he was shooting my film there, and they were fans of his waiting around! I thought, wow, this is a pretty serious cast, now that I know about Lance, and I know about Gail O’Grady, I know about Lochlyn Munro and I knew about Denyce. I knew some of Chase’s work, but just to see his fan base come out to see what was going on was very cool.
CrypticRock.com – Yes and you worked with a great list of seasoned actors and actresses. As you said you have written screenplays in the past, but this is your directorial debut, what was it like for you to be the one in charge of the film?
Marvin Young – The cool thing for me was that I knew what it was like to be on the other side of the camera, or to be “talent” if you will. Also, I knew what it was like to have success in art already. I was not sitting there saying this film has to display every positive quality that I could ever mention about myself. Like I have to put everything into this first film, and I don’t care if an actor wants to change a line or I don’t care if someone has a better idea, it’s my idea, it’s my thing I am going to stick to it. Dot every I and cross every T. There are a lot of first time directors that go into things like that, and the actors hate them essentially. They will go through it and make their check but they won’t do the press they won’t be supportive, they won’t say nice things or when other actors ask about the director they say Oh he was a tyrant, that kind of thing.
I was consciously going in thinking about being an actor’s director. Also, I really felt I had the opportunity to cheat in term of my acting. I went through the script and did “Marvin’s” last Troy polish. So that anything that didn’t sound natural, anything that Troy said didn’t sound natural coming out of “Marvin’s” mouth got changed. So it literally took one or two days so that everything that came out of my characters mouth sounded like something natural coming out of “Marvin’s” mouth. I felt that if I had that opportunity that I would give the actors that opportunity to make the characters their own. There would be some stuff that would go off script a little bit, but I told my script supervisor to let it go and see where we go.
There were a couple things that some less experienced actors went way out of bounds and we had to cut that stuff, but the vast majority of the people, especially the more experienced actors, the stuff they came up with was great because they got me from my A – Z, but they were able to put their own little twist on it. For instance, Lance’s character, Henry Callas – I wrote that entire character having a verbal tick that said “you know.” I had it five or six times in the body of the screenplay that led up to a pivotal line at the end, where I needed the character to say “you know” to trigger something that the other character would say. Lance did not say “you know” one time, up until the one time I needed it. I said this man is brilliant right here, and that really made me feel good because Lance was looking out for me. He wanted to have the character be the character that he saw in his eyes, but he also wanted me to get what I needed as well. He was obviously the most experienced actor on set and the whole nine yards, but seeing him do that and be so meticulous and helpful to me was amazing!
The pivotal stuff with Lance and Christina Rose, with Henry Callas and Astrid Page, were the most dramatic thing in the film basically, were the second and third day I had ever shot anything in my life. I am not a big run around and film birds in the backyard, let me take pictures of stuff, I am not that guy. The directing thing bore itself from me wanting to tell the story and also me making sure the finances were tight on it. I thought that I would be able to bring it home best with my experience in the entertainment business. So going through something that dramatic the second and third day I ever shot anything was a real, I wouldn’t say trial by fire. Although the climactic scene in that justice room, there were women on set that had the script and knew what was going on, they knew the lines, they watched the scene, they cried at the end of the scene. So to me that was a huge thing! I thought, “is it supposed to feel like this?” (laughs). Experiencing that gave me a lot of confidence going into the rest of the film.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was great experience, and it sounds like you created a really comfortable work environment, so that is also very positive. You have to have trust in your cast.
Marvin Young – Absolutely, and the thing is, I have so many people here in Arizona. I want to keep filming in Arizona, and we just got some semblance of a film office back, there are no tax credits here from what I understand. So my involvement with Arizona State University is what allowed me to get such a big cast and be able to save a lot of money in terms of what I would spend on normal production expenses, to be able to get the film shot and done. Working here is important because I see people I met locally working on Justice Served that I cannot wait to work with again.
I have this quality, that if I am working on project 1, I am going to see that all the way through until its making some money back before I move onto project 2. I know a lot of directors that will jump into a project and they will work on it, and they will say ok it’s done, it’s in the can, the distributor has it and whatever happens, happens let me work on the next thing. Two things – number one I have my music career, that’s taking up a lot of time, I am touring like crazy. Two – I have my money into this, so if I am going to turn around next time and ask a guy to put money into my film project, they going to ask me about my fund. What am I going to tell them, oh we’ll see? No, I am going to tell them, this is what it is, this is what happening and this is how it goes. I may be a little bit quicker from the second to the third, but from the first to the second I just really felt that I had to see it all the way through because that’s what I did with my music career.
CrypticRock.com – That is a very smart way to conduct things. Now that you have the bug for this, do you have any more directorial projects in the future?
Marvin Young – Yeah, yes I will. The touring has been crazy since I did about one-hundred ten shows last year. Mostly with the, I Love The 90’s Tour, and we probably have another eighty to one-hundred this year. We are going to Europe and Australia and probably about fifteen dates in Canada. We are talking about stuff in 2018, but depending on how Justice Served does there may be a clamor, either from the public or the distributors, or my working partners, for me to step up and do something in 2018. I am going to hopefully get a chance to write and create something that I want to shoot and then I’ll know what’s going to happen but I’m definitely going to make another film probably multiple other films.
CrypticRock.com – Great! Do you know if it will be in the Thriller genre again or do you want to expand into other genres?
Marvin Young – I like the Thriller genre very much, but you have to choose. You have Action, Horror, and Comedy. You can have Thrillers fall into subgenres of a couple of those. A lot of times, it’s not the easiest thing to sell a Thriller. You have a great concept with Justice Served so if I could have something similar to that I might go that route. Basically what I can do with a reasonable budget, having shot something, having put it in a can, seeing what things cost, what they don’t cost, and seeing the resources I have access to, that is really going to dictate what I am going to do. It is not that I am going to write something cheap and low budget, but it’s more writing something where I can be efficient with the budget. I have never been a guy to write something with fifteen explosions in it. I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 recently and there are probably two or three minutes of that film that cost more than my whole film.
I have to be realistic in terms of what I make, but also seeing how Justice Served performs, and where my strengths are, in terms of how I can sell a film to the public, that is going to dictate what I do. If they like the Thriller aspect, if I get good buzz from the Horror sites, although it’s not really a Horror movie, but it has tension that could lead to the Horror end. I could have been a ton more gratuitous if I wanted to, but I chose not to. If those are the things that I am successful with commercially, then I have to pay attention to that when I make my next film. I have been like that with music, people like me for a certain thing, why change it? Or people like a certain aspect of what I do then I should emphasize that aspect.
CrypticRock.com – Makes a ton of sense. Justice Served leaves a little to the imagination. That is something that is a little lost now days, a lot of the films are in your face and they do not really leave much to the imagination.
Marvin Young – Well it is gratuitous, it’s the stuff that’s unseen. I think a basic fact about psychology is the unknown is worse than the known; your mind can make up a worse scenario than any reality you can see. I honestly think that. If you present someone with a situation where you make them think, different people will think different things and you want to be able to play on that. If you gratuitously show whatever image or just give everything away and people don’t have a chance to think, then you are really robbing the audience of their opportunity to be creative or to take your story to another level.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed. Back to the music, your debut record did phenomenally, the second record in 1991, Brainstorm, was not as successful in the charts, but is really an amazing record. Anyone who loves Hip Hop know the record is really good. Can you tell me a little bit about that record?
Marvin Young – It’s interesting, it’s a double-edged sword, because I wanted to have the same success obviously on my second record as I did on my first record. Having said that, I knew that I had an audience that was listening, and I knew that I had an impressionable audience and an audience that was a custom to the Hip Hop that was out and I felt that I had a platform that I could talk about different subject matters and take a few chances, because it wasn’t like I was going to be thrown on the street the next day. That is a big thing, once you have the comfort; it’s like an athlete, they get the contract, you know you’re wanted, so you can take a few more chances with your career, you don’t have to be looking over your shoulder and have that tension of things going away tomorrow.
I took chances on that record and I really stepped up in terms of my production. It was the most production I had ever done on anything up to that point I was growing as a producer. I was growing as a musician , I was growing as a songwriter. I was very proud of that record and there were a lot of political things that went on with it. Not only with the label I was on, the way that Hip Hop was changing, Hip Hop was going gangster. Brianstorm was a much cleaner record than what people were used to out there. It was a record that I am definitely proud of and a record I can see myself re-mixing some of the tracks and putting them out even now.
CrypticRock.com – That would be exciting to hear. Speaking of hip hop changing, but even then it had a message. It seems like mainstream Hip Hop lacks a message nowadays. What do you think of today’s Hip Hop?
Marvin Young – It’s just fragmented. When I first came out, as I said before, when I was a kid I was concerned about getting on the radio like all the Rap artists I knew they wanted to get on the radio. As my career blew up, I was concerned about Rap sticking around as a genre to make sure that we still had it as the Grammy’s, to make sure that it would be regarded as the same as Country and other genres. Now, it’s a mainstream backbone genre of American music, matter of fact, of world music. So having said that, it’s the same thing as getting that big time contract, people feel comfortable. I can say what I want, do what I want, talk about stupid stuff because I am not worried about the genre going away, and I am not worried about my career going away because it’s different in terms of how music is shopped, how music is consumed, and how music is presented to the public. All of those things play a role.
I can’t just sit there and say, it’s the songs, it’s the artist. If labels weren’t asking for it and if that wasn’t what people thought was desirable in terms of record releases, then it wouldn’t happen! You hear this crazy stuff on the radio, but,a record label had to approve a demo, they had to pay for a budget, they had to decide that that was a single, they had send it to the radio promo people. Those people had to go along with it. Then they sent it to the radio groups, those people had to go along with it, then they had to send it to the radio stations and those people had to go along with it. So there can’t be all those people going along with it and just be some random thing. That is what the industry is!
People would say thing the same thing about me doing an up tempo song with girls singing in it in 1988-1989. That was different and that was new. I heard from a lot of artists that were dragged into the A&R office saying you have to have a record that sounds like, “bust a move” now, you have to have a record that sounds like “Wild Thing,” or you got to have a record that has some Rock in it, or some dance, or some up tempo, we can’t just have the mid-tempo stuff you have done, it’s not going to be successful. That’s not fair to the artist but the industry is dictating what the artist is doing. At least in those days the label moved so slow that people were panicking saying, “we are going to wait 8-12 months to get this whole thing out and it may not be pertinent in this climate in terms of what the record business is.”
CrypticRock.com – Those are some very thought provoking points you raise. You are right, this is what the industry is dictating. It is just quite amazing because in today’s day in age, there is a lot to speak about socially and politically.
Marvin Young – In all fairness, people in the ’60s or even the ’70s people had more of a desire to get information from their music, or to be intellectually stimulated by the music, than the 2000s and the teens, if you will. Now you have kids listening to the music and their into listening to music but they want to hear a good beat, or they want to hear a good hook or something to sing along with, or a clever line. Not something political or something social or something that would actually change people, they are more interested in just being entertained in that moment. I think the industry responds to that and the artist responds to that. Put it like this, if you had a conscious Hip Hop artist come out independently and sell two million records because people felt their conscious message was pertinent, and it wasn’t being represented by the majors, every major would sign a conscious rapper to jump on that train. The fanbase hasn’t dictated that yet, so there is no reason for them to do it.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true. In regards to your music, you have not released a full-length record in some time. Is it a possibility or are you going to concentrate on film for a while?
Marvin Young – I am concentrating on film, even “Nocturnal” is a remix of a song that I did years ago, but I knew it would fit really well with the movie, so I re-released the remix. I could potentially see myself doing a full-length record in conjunction with a film, or doing a full-length record that was a compilation of a bunch different music I put in different media. But the idea of creating a full-length record to try and release and compete on radio in this climate, it would be counterproductive. I literally did one hundred and ten shows last year without a release. Over 2016, 2017, and 2018 I would probably have somewhere around two-hundred fifty shows that aren’t really focused on anything but my legacy music.
I can still do new stuff in my show and I can still be in front of a whole bunch of people but, I don’t have to go out there fighting that fight, trying to get an ad in a radio station or trying to get some clicks up against artists that don’t have the opportunity to tour like I do, plus I have the film stuff. When you have been doing the music so long it’s good to get into another arena. Completing a film gives me the little buzz to go in and make some new music. I feel like I can put this music in my film and I feel good about it, but if I was just to make an album, for the sake of making an album I have no idea where it’s going. That gets frustrating after awhile, especially when your first record was so big, and then every other record was seen as not as good as your first record, even though you know you wrote artistically, you know you have grown; it’s not the easiest thing to just keep banging your head up against that wall, when you see what the numbers are.
I think if these numbers are correct, I want to say 2012 or 2013 there were two-hundred thousand records released and of that two-hundred thousand only six-thousand sold over one-thousand copies. That is physical and downloads of albums. That is daunting! That is 97% of the records did not even sell one-thousand copies, that is a daunting percentage. To think that that is the landscape you’re going to jump into, it’s tough and the one good thing about film, you have a lot of different chances to make money. If you get a theatrical there is money there, also with on demand, pay cable, or premium cable, basic cable, then you have your streaming. It’s an ongoing, it’s not like they are going to say we’re going to pull it. If your movie is making money on streaming services they are going to keep it. Then you have DVD’s and all that other stuff, and you have a lot more shelf space for DVD’s than you do for CD’s these days. So for me, I see a lot more opportunity with the film industry being like the music used to be.
CrypticRock.com – Yes. Very starling in regards to music. Lives shows are where it is at. People just do not buy records anymore.
Marvin Young – I think the music business made their own bed in terms of creating the CD, and CD’s cost fifteen cents or less to make, then only putting one good single on there and selling it for $19.99. And if a kid gets an allowance of twenty bucks, which is a really good allowance, so let’s say they get an allowance of ten bucks. They are going to save up for two weeks work of allowance, find some money for tax, to buy an album that has one song than they like on it, because they like the artist. That is not a sustainable business model, but that’s what happened.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely right. Since CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorite Horror/Sci-Fi films?
Marvin Young – The Cabin in the Woods (2011) for sure was a really surprising film. You go through the ending, and there was a lot more depth to that film than you would think going in. Unfriended (2015), I sat in the screening room and people were terrified in that film. It was amazing that it was basically found footage and webcams, but people were really scared about what was happening, and it was fascinating to see what was going on in that. Then, The Conjuring (2013)! The first one especially!
In terms of Sci-Fi, it’s hard because that is a really wide genre. There was more stuff I was into when I was younger, in terms of the Sci-Fi genre. Horror I have gotten more into that lately, so I have more of those titles closer to the front of my mind With The Cabin in the Woods you didn’t expect what was happening going in. I am hoping that people get that from my film, that they walk in thinking something but they get something a little different film than what they were expecting.