Young MC has just delivered some devastating news.

"That's hard," he says as way of consolation. "That's a shame."

I've just told the 90s hip-hop hero that New Zealand is fairly unique when it comes to his discography. Around the globe his biggest hit is Bust A Move, a frantic, funny and ultra-funky joint about "looking for love in all the wrong places".

With his entertaining wordplay and smooth delivery ("Your best friend Harry, has a brother Larry, in five days from now he's gonna marry") and it's groovy bassline courtesy of Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the song was a global smash, going platinum in the States, No. 1 in Australia and winning a Grammy. Here, it peaked at No.25.

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Instead, it was his follow-up single, the piano-driven Principal's Office, that broke him here.

The song, an amusing shaggy-dog story about everything going wrong for the rapper one day at school, rocketed up our charts, hitting No.5 and staying there for five months. It was huge. It was everywhere. He will not play it this Saturday night.

"I don't perform Principal's Office anymore. I hate to say that. But I've just turned 50 years old. I was old for that song when I made it," he says. "I haven't performed Principal's Office in about 20 years."

Young MC, say it ain't so!

"That's the truth," he laughs. "I couldn't be there in my 30s even. Let alone my 40s or 50-years-old trying to perform that song convincingly. Just to be totally honest with you."

It's devastating. But you have to respect the stance.

Unlike some of the other acts on the nostalgic I Love the 90s tour playing Auckland and Christchurch this weekend, Young MC, aka Marvin Young, is still in the game. He may have dropped off the radar but he never stopped putting out albums.

"The good thing is that I'll be able to perform a lot of stuff that people never heard me do. Some of the stuff is 10 years old but it's the best stuff that I do performing on stage. I know when I do Bust A Move people get into it so I get a kick out of seeing people react to something that they haven't heard before. I see them say, 'wow, this is good'."

It's hard to imagine but there was a time when a rap song on the charts was a peculiar thing, a novelty. Although he wasn't the first rapper to make the charts, he was one of the first to have huge commercial success on a global scale with his singles and his album, Stone Cold Rhymin'. How does he view his legacy?

"Bust A Move to a great extent, and Stone Cold Rhymin' to a smaller extent, were a lot of people's first girlfriend in terms of rap music," he says. "I know it holds a special place for a lot of people. I know that as a fact. I've been asked to come out and perform the whole album recently. It's not something I really had any interest in doing but it was interesting to me because I know how people look at other classic albums in hip-hop. I never looked at Stone Cold Rhymin' like that, but there are definitely people who do."

Rapper Young MC who had global hits with Bust A Move and Principal's Office back in the day
Rapper Young MC who had global hits with Bust A Move and Principal's Office back in the day

Count me as one of those. Stone Cold Rhymin' deserves to be called a classic and is integral to hip-hop's mainstream acceptance. Featuring production by the Dust Brothers and Quincy Jones, among others, the album is inventive and catchy, filled with solid old-school beats and stellar sampling.

And although he may be family friendly, Young MC's skills on the mic are unarguable. Check album cuts like I Come Off, Stone Cold Buggin' and My Name Is Young to hear his dexterous wordplay skills and easy flow. Boy was legit.

"I grew up in New York City and learned to rhyme in New York but I went to USC [University of Southern California] in Los Angeles to go to college," he explains. "I learnt how to rap in New York going to parties because I wasn't old enough to go to clubs. I was 10 or 11 when I started. So going to house parties and block parties with DJs and MCs, I really learnt a lot in terms of rhyming.

"By the time I got to LA I was old enough to go to clubs and the music scene was very accepting of me. In New York I had had to stay in line. There were a lot of guys who were older than me, who were waiting their turn to get their record deals because that's how they did it in New York. In LA they just went for what was the hot thing at the time and what they felt would move the whole movement of West Coast hip-hop forward. I was able to benefit from that greatly. My records came out on the West Coast but my talent or my skill, my rhyme experience, had come from the East Coast."

The other rap crossover artist that year was the gruff, raspy-voiced Tone Loc, who is also on the bill this weekend. His more adult-orientated songs were even bigger than Young MC's, hitting No.1 here with Wild Thing and No.3 with Funky Cold Medina. What a lot of people don't know is that Young MC penned those hits as well.

"Wild Thing went triple platinum and then Funky Cold Medina went double platinum and I'm sitting there with Bust A Move and Bust A Move was slower, so I was concerned," he says. "People were saying, 'why didn't you use Wild Thing for yourself? Why didn't you keep Funky Cold Medina for yourself?'. But those were Tone's records. I wrote for his cadence. The beauty of those records is his voice. His voice is so low that he's beneath the guitars.

"Bust A Move was my cadence and my voice and my approach. So I was just hoping, knowing how different the songs were, I was just hoping that I'd get even a portion of the success that Tone had with his records."

He laughs when he describes the pair's modest ambitions for their records.

"Tone and I didn't know what to expect," he says. "We just hoped to make enough money for me to pay off my student loans and for him to get a car. You know, just really simple stuff."

As rap got heavier and more explicit, Young MC refused to change his PG-rated, storytelling approach even as it fell out of fashion.

"I came up in the old-school style where you wanted to get on the radio so you didn't curse on your records," he explains. "There was no reason for me to change my whole style just because my next record didn't blow up as big as Bust A Move.

He pauses for a moment then says, "There're not many records that blow up as big as Bust A Move. The longer time has gone on it's made me realise that."

LOWDOWN
WHO: Legendary old school rapper Young MC
WHAT: Playing the I Love the 90s concert with Tone Loc, Salt-N-Pepa, Coolio, Color Me Badd and Vanilla Ice.
WHEN: Saturday night at Trusts Arena, Henderson