Young M.C.’s ‘Flavor’ favors old, new styles

TO BE SURE, 1989 was a very good year for rapper Young M.C., a k a Marvin Young.

It was the year the single, “Bust a Move,” burst onto the rap scene. That followed stirrings by “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina,” two Young-composed raps made large by Tone Loc — causing his Delicious Vinyl debut album, “Stone Cold Rhymin,’ ” to go double-platinum. Following this success, Young M.C. was awarded a Grammy for best rap artist.

Then came the downside. First a legal battle ensued over his switch to Capitol Records, then came a major sales slump with his second Capitol release, “Brainstorm,” which shot for a pop audience and missed by miles.

So with his third album, “What’s the Flavor,” ready for retail Tuesday, the 26-year-old rapper says he’s taking a completely different approach.

“I’m acting like I’m brand new,” he says, a statement that might also apply to his new sleek physique, the result of an intensive body-building campaign. “I didn’t take into account what I’ve done before; I just kind of took into account where the industry was and where I thought I fit in.” The result is a disc that’s rhythmically bold and combines the best elements of the old and new schools of rap. It also draws from the blues tradition as well as classic be-bop.

And, to Young’s credit, the disc maintains its strong street sensibility without once relying on profanities. In fact, Young is one of the few rappers whose albums don’t need warning stickers. “I have to draw the line from a personal/moral standpoint,” he says. “And if that’s gonna cost me some sales, fine.”

Though Young wrote all the cuts on this album, he worked closely with Ali, a member of rap group A Tribe Called Quest, who produced “All Can Do This,””Foulin ,””Bob Your Head” and “Open Up the Door.”

L.A. SEEN: Neo-lounge singer Joey Cheezhee has recently taken over Tuesday nights at Los Feliz supper club Pedro’s, which is transformed into a gratuitously sleazy, cheerfully campy mini-Vegas. Cheezhee, gliding around on his trademark gold sparkle roller blades, belts out lounge versions of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,””Jesus Christ Superstar,” and a medley that takes its cue from arena rock and bad television, “Whole Lotta Loveboat.”

Cheezhee’s band (incorporating local L.A. swing combo Jump With Joey) also includes Eddie Vegas, “The Komodo Dragon of Lounge,” an aging, toupee’d dude in a scary leisure suit with a mob-boss visage; and keyboardist Korla Pandit, who, though in his 60s, looks curiously young and spry in his turban and sparkling white Nehru jacket.

Pandit was a cult hero in the ’50s, hosting a travel show and making a series of exotica albums, the covers of which featured him smiling enigmatically, seated behind his organ.

Written up everywhere from Newsweek to USA Today for his singlehanded efforts in bringing back lounge as an art form, Cheezhee is now simultaneously working on a film and a Fox Television special simultaneously. The film will be part documentary, part lounge fantasy, and most of the shows at Pedro’s are being taped.

Cheezhee will begin a new series of weekend shows in July at West L.A.’s tacky Hawaiian paradise, Kelbo’s.

IN THE MERCURY Records conference room, X singer/songwriter/bassist John Doe spoke earlier this month with the weary, bemused demeanor of one who’s done press days way too many times before: “The record is going to be released in two weeks, we’ve already sold 10 million copies, and we entered at No. 2.”

Well, not quite. But X’s double-entendre titled disc on Big Life/Mercury, “Hey Zeus!,” is the critically acclaimed band’s first album in four years.

X, fronted by the ex-husband-and-wife team of Doe and singer Exene Cervenka, released seven albums between 1980 and 1988, including “Los Angeles,””More Fun in the New World” and “Wild Gift.” The band then took a “sabbatical” but continued on separate solo routes: among other work, Doe released an album on Geffen, Cervenka recorded two albums for Rhino, and drummer DJ Bonebrake played with Phranc, Michael Penn and Trotsky Icepick.

Now, with the tenor of the music business embracing what was once considered “underground music,” X is back with an album that has the passion, intelligence, political saavy and punk feel of the group’s initial albums.

“We questioned that we had relevance — of course,” Doe said of X. “Honest and good doesn’t make any difference in music. It does to me, of course, but as far as an audience, it doesn’t always make a difference. Too many people in music have really twisted motives.”

Not this cynical yet hopeful bunch, though they certainly wouldn’t mind if X music paid the mortgages and fed the kids. “A friend of mine, after he listened to the record, said, “Hey,this sounds like X,” Doe said, “which, to me, was a great compliment, because we tried to do things differently to broaden our scope. We succeeded in some ways, but in other ways you can’t break free from what your creative abilities are, ever. You’re destined to repeat yourself in some ways.”

IT’S BEEN A STRANGE four years since New Order released its 1989 million-selling “Technique” album. The band managed to survive band member solo ventures that threatened to crumble the hugely successful Brit pop/dance foursome, only to have their longtime British label Factory Records fold while the band was recording its latest effort, “Republic.” The album debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard 200 a few weeks ago.

“They failed because we were the only big act on the label,” said drummer Stephen Morris, who is joined by guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, and keyboardist Gillian Gilbert. The label was reportedly facing mounting debts and cashflow problems, yet spent more than $ 1 million to build new offices. “We were in the studio reading all this stuff about the company and never quite got the whole story until it was way too late.”

The band, which has had a deal with Qwest/Sire Records in the U.S. since 1985 , has now hooked up with London Records in Britain, giving the label a chance to reap impressive rewards with “Republic” should it follow the path set by earlier releases: New Order’s 1983 12-inch “Blue Monday” sold more than 10 million units worldwide; the 1987 album “Substance” sold two million, and its follow-up was the million-plus “Technique.”

New Order’s crossover success can be attributed to singer/guitarist Bernard Sumner’s knack for writing atypical dance songs with catchy pop structures, complex lyrics and irresistible hooks.

Like fellow Brits Depeche Mode, New Order has outlasted many similar techno-based bands who started with them in the early ’80s. They also played a significant role in developing the Manchester sound that’s given birth to other dance pop successes like Jesus Jones, EMF, The Happy Mondays and the Soup Dragons.

“Our staying power has a lot to do with the way we’ve done it and part of that is we’ve been allowed to do it outside the mainstream,” Morris said. “After the success of ‘Blue Monday,’ we didn’t have a label that was screaming for another ‘Blue Monday.’ The fact that we were allowed to go away and just do completely different stuff helped us keep going.”

Tour plans for the states, which initially appeared sketchy with the Factory demise, are falling into place for July.