You know you’re hot when you can take your little brother and turn him into a star-and there were very few people hotter in the early Nineties than Donnie Wahlberg. His group, New Kids on the Block, was a pop phenomenon, starting with their first Top 10 hit, “Please Don’t Go Girl”, in the fall of 1988 and peaking with the simultaneous number one success of the “Step by Step” single and album in 1990. Donnie’s younger brother, Mark, was getting into trouble back home in Boston, serving time for a couple of questionable (and possibly racially motivated times), so Donnie, like a dutiful brother, took Mark (who had been a member of an earlier incarnation of NKOTB) and helped him become Marky Mark, tough-boy rapper. The elder Wahlberg wrote and produced much of Mark’s debut album, 1991’s Music for the People, including the peppy single “Good Vibrations”, which landed at #1 on the pop charts in the summer of 1991-only the second rap single to top Billboard’s Hot 100.
I kinda dug “Good Vibrations”. Granted, as a kid living in the middle of Brooklyn, there was much more substantial hip-hop to be consumed, but it was a fun enough song. So I picked up a copy of Music for the People (in addition to another album which I now completely forget) at The Wiz on Fulton Street in the summer of 1991. Popping the album into the stereo as I got home, I went through the uptempo title track, “Good Vibrations”, which I was already familiar with, and as the third track playing, recognized what I knew then as the beat from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?”. Of course, there was no way in hell my 15 year-old self was gonna know about Lou Reed (I don’t imagine many fifteen year olds do). Mark’s voice had slowed down to a more conversational tone, and for an agonizing six minutes, he mumble-rapped through the song. It was a morality tale of sorts; each verse told the story of some unfortunate person who “took a trip on the wild side” (including several stories ripped straight from the headlines) and suffered consequences for their actions.
There were all sorts of things wrong with this song-the absurd length, Mark’s narcoleptic-sounding rhyming, the preachy moralizing, and yet, the song became a hit! It landed at #10 on Billboard’s pop charts in the beginning of 1992. Granted, there was a more uptempo remix of the song that got played on radio (which was even more awkward, because who wants to have dance to THAT song?), but still…I’m absolutely puzzled as to how that song became a hit, except for the obvious reason-the Lou Reed sample. It followed the MC Hammer tradition of obvious beat-jacking, so it managed to appeal to older folks who remembered the Reed song (which peaked at #6 fondly) as well as their kids, who thought Marky was oh-so-cool (or most likely, sexy…I can’t really imagine anyone figuring Mark for cool).
Mark never scored a Top 40 hit after “Wildside”, but last I heard, he wasn’t doing too bad for himself.