YOU CERTAINLY CAN'T ACCUSE "MARKY Mark" Wahlberg of any cover-up. Right now the younger brother of Donnie Wahlberg, heartthrob singer with New Kids on the Block, is lounging on a couch in a Boston recording studio, wearing nothing but sneakers, baggy shorts and a cap. He's also confessing to past misdeeds as freely as any born-again convert. Ever been arrested? "Oh, yeah," he says, pausing to tally the incidents on his fingers. "I guess it was five or six times. But only two of those were as an adult, and they were later dismissed."

Wahlberg, 20, can afford such candor, since he's not exactly looking for work these days. His debut rap single, "Good Vibrations," hit No. 11 on Billboard's Hot 100 last week, pushing his debut LP, Music for the People, to No. 39. And if his gritty songs of urban street life are lifting Wahlberg from rap sheets to rap stardom, no one is more responsible than brother Donnie, 22, who funded the project, cowrote and produced the LP and even sang some backup vocals.

The record's genesis occurred two years ago, when Donnie called home during a New Kids road tour. "I was writing songs for all these other people just for fun," he recalls. "I said, 'Mark, I'm going to do one for you.' " Donnie quickly forgot the throwaway remark, but Mark didn't. "Every time I called home," says Donnie, "Mark would say, 'Where's that song you were gonna do for me?' That's when I realized he was serious. So I got serious about it too."

Back in Boston, Donnie began writing music in his spare time, then rousing Mark from bed for 4 A.M. practice sessions when late-night inspiration hit. The two collaborated on the lyrics, and when it came time to record, "I paid for it all out of my pocket, and we sent out a [demo] tape just like everyone else," says Donnie. Interscope Records took the bait and two months ago released the album featuring Marky Mark (Wahlberg's nom du disc) on vocals. In concert and on video he is backed by five dancers and a deejay—known collectively as the Funky Bunch.

"We just wanted to do an album together, just us," says Donnie. "Any Top 10 success is just icing on the cake." In fact, adds Mark, the big payback has already come, no matter how high the album goes. Proclaims Wahlberg the Younger: "This record has brought us back together."

Back in their early days, it was never easy keeping them apart. The youngest of nine children, the brothers had been constant playmates and occasional wrestling opponents while growing up together in the working-class Dorchester section of Boston. "We had nicknames during our fights," recounts Mark. "I was always the Crusher and he was Ling Choy, the karate expert."

When their parents divorced about 10 years ago, Donnie and Mark stayed with their mother, Alma, at the family's home in Dorchester. At 13, Mark was enlisted as a singer when New Kids on the Block was forming, but quit after just six months. "Hey, it just wasn't me. I didn't fit," he says of the band's clean-teen image. Two years of high school followed, but spotty attendance got him through only his freshman year before he dropped out. "It wasn't that I was dumb," says Wahl-berg. "I just felt there was better stuff on the streets."

While Donnie began touring with New Kids, his brother stuck to the streets, scamming for change and committing petty crimes. Two adult arrests—for assault and battery involving fights—followed, but those charges were dismissed. With Donnie gone, "We really grew apart," says Mark. And with more serious run-ins with the law apparently in his future, "I was on the verge of ruining my life."

Now that they've reunited, the two plan on touring together beginning Oct. 30. While Donnie calls his work as a producer "the start of a whole new career" and says he may do a solo album, he denies reports that he's thinking of leaving New Kids. "I've got no reason to bite the hand that feeds me," he says.

Nor, for now, is either brother planning to move out of the three-bedroom Braintree, Mass., home—complete with swimming pool and Jacuzzi—that Donnie bought for their mother and stepfather, Mark Conroy, two years ago. Mark has begun studying for a high school equivalency diploma at a neighborhood center in Dorchester and has been working out at a local gym since January. With a hit single and a diploma on the way, he says he now has new challenges in mind as well. Chief among them: finding a girlfriend. "I need one bad," he says. "Donnie still gets all the girls."

CHARLES E. COHEN
S. AVERY BROWN in Boston

  • Contributors:
  • S. Avery Brown.