Listen to the Tale of Young M.C., Def Rapper with An Econ Degree

updated 02/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

In the swaggering, in-Yo!-face world of rap music, Marvin "Young M.C." Young is a true eccentric. The 22-year-old rhymer is soft-spoken, polite and even frugal. He eschews gold chains, partly because he's chary of the possibility of helping the South African economy, and partly because the singer, a 1988 University of Southern California economics grad, considers the metal a poor investment. Neither a borrower nor a lender, Young doesn't drink or smoke or even party much.

About the only thing that he has in common with his precocious peers is a flair for language and a love of the big beat. Though understated by nature, Young can boast with the best on record. But even then, he feels compelled to leaven the hype with humor. "If every rapper were Hawaiian," he brags in one lyric, "I'd be Don Ho."

Young can afford to be cheeky. He has already proved, by co-authoring Tone-L?c's monster rap hit "Wild Thing," that the genre can take a joke. With a Grammy nomination for his own hit single "Bust a Move" and a platinum LP, Stone Cold Rhymin, Young is rap's next great hope to broaden the music's commercial appeal. "His lyrics don't reflect a hard, street kind of vibe," says Michael Ross, the Delicious Vinyl Records co-owner who signed Young after hearing him rap over the phone in 1987. "He has a funny, exuberant personality. On the phone, he had me rolling over in laughter."

Born in London to Jamaican parents who moved to New York in 1970 (his father is now a telephone company executive; his mother a nurse), Young grew up in Hollis, Queens, home of rap stars Run-D.M.C. and L.L. Cool J. He discovered his gift for rhymed gab 10 years ago during a hospital stay when he entertained nurses with a poem that ended: "He's fully recovered; he's come right back/ Then he saw the bill and had a heart attack."

Young honed his rapping skills throughout his teens but never banked on making a living in music. Instead, he enrolled at USC to ensure that he would "have a good job and make decent money." Even after being signed by Ross, Young wasn't looking for fast bucks. Record royalties, he says, are "money in the bank for the future."

Despite the "high six to low seven" figures Young estimates his music will bring him by the time he turns 25, he lives in a spartan Hollywood studio apartment. "Too busy" for a steady girlfriend—although he does manage to squeeze in Robert Ludlum novels and daily soap operas—he investigates the club scene just enough to stay current and spends much of his time working out beats on a synthesizer or composing lyrics. "My mother said, 'You can do this record thing as long as you're self-sufficient,' " explains the pragmatic rapper. "She doesn't want me living with her when I'm 35."

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