Everyone knows the name Mark Wahlberg. The man with a checkered past who went on to become a good-natured, world famous actor. As the previous sentence stated, his success in Hollywood didn’t happen overnight. Actually, that’s not completely true, he did have success early on, but it wasn’t on the big screen. It was from stuff like…well, this:
Yeah, before his days of cursing up a storm in his Oscar nominated role in The Departed, Wahlberg was an underwear model for Calvin Klein. Are you wondering how the CK execs knew that Mark had the body for this type of work? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. No, we’re not going to be talking about Wahlberg’s bod, but about his history as an MC. Yes, you may not know it but at one point, Wahlberg was a musician. Not only that, he was actually a SUCCESSFUL musician. Well, as successful as he was going to be.
As weird as it sounds, ‘Ol Mark was actually an original member of New Kids on the Block alongside his older brother, Donnie. He soon realized that he couldn’t sing a lick and wanted to make it on his own so he left before the group hit it big. Shortly thereafter, Mark served a stint in prison for the infamous beating of a Vietnamese man which rendered the poor guy blind. When he was released, he vowed to change his destructive ways and make an impact in music in his own way, playing up his swagger to make moves in the game of hip-hop.
The very idea of Wahlberg being a rapper might sound silly in retrospect but keep in mind that there were quite few white rappers that broke through in the early 90s. There was of course, Vanilla Ice, who was able to get a smash hit despite bad hair and even worse flow and of course, there was Canada’s Snow, the dork from Toronto whose vocal mannerisms resembled that of a rastafarian. While both men achieved some pop success, neither were very well respected and had zero credibility to back their rhymes up. That what set Wahlberg apart from the others. He actually had the street cred that Ice lied about having. He grew up in a lower class neighborhood in Boston and was arrested numerous times on drug and assault charges. He also looked tough which is something Snow couldn’t say with his coke bottle glasses.
He eventually assembled a group of DJs and back-up dancers and rechristened himself as Marky Mark. With this moniker, Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch was born. The group’s first album was 1991’s Music for the People which included the number one hit, Good Vibrations. The song was characterized by Marky’s Boston drawl and sampling of the Loletta Holloway’s 1980s hit, Love Sensations. Holloway herself even provided vocals on the track and appeared in the music video. Speaking of the video, this clip was heaven for female everywhere as a shirtless Wahlberg paraded around showing off his six-pack. Yes, this was what got him his modeling work. It also showed off different landmark’s in his hometown of Boston, which my friends, who went to school there, appreciated. The record’s other single was Wildside, a much more dark and dingy tune about death and violence that sample’s Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. The music is actually the best part even if Marky ruins it. It actually charted almost as high as Good Vibrations. The record, which was produced by brother Donnie and his NKOTB cronie, Danny Wood, eventually went platinum.
At one point, the Funky Bunch were so popular that they even had their own video game. Yeah, really. Make My Video was released for the ill-fated Sega CD in 1992. It was a part of a three game series which also included INXS and Kris Kross. I stated in a previous article that Sega CD contained some pretty weird games in their library. Some ahead of its time and some just falling flat. In this one, players would recreate music videos featuring the music of Marky Mark. Sounds like a concept that would be popular years later but the game flopped and the console itself wound up tanking shortly after. Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, this was not.
1992 saw the release Funky Bunch’s second LP, You Gotta Believe, (whose title track sounds weirdly familiar). It also featured a track with Donnie called Loungin’ which to this date is the only music collaboration between the Wahlberg boys. The last notable track from the group was the romantic love song, I Want You. The Funky Bunch disbanded soon after and you wouldn’t think that would be the end of Wahlberg in music but you are sadly mistaken. He went on to release new music with reggae artist, Prince Ital Joe. The duo released an album in 1994 but didn’t make a peep on the U.S. charts (it was popular overseas, though).
It was at this time that Wahlberg started getting high-profile film roles. After a supporting role in 1994s’ Renaissance Man, he scored his first starring role in the thriller, Fear, in 1996. It wasn’t until a year later though when he showed off his johnson as Dirk Diggler in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights that he started gaining serious steam in acting. He realized his true passion and abandoned music altogether shortly thereafter.
Since his achievement as an actor worldwide, Wahlberg has more or less distanced himself from his musical past. There were times such as his appearance on Inside The Actor’s Studio in 2004 where he spit a brief rhyme for host James Lipton and when he joined brother Donnie onstage at a NKOTB show in 2014 that he was comfortable with acknowledging it. There was a famous exchange on MTV’s Total Request Live in 1999 where Wahlberg appeared alongside Eminem, who I’m sure was compared to Marky Mark quite often after the release of the Slim Shady LP. After Wahlberg was introduced, Em vaguely referenced his musical past which resulted Mark looking super uncomfortable. Sorry Mark, there is no way any of us can forget those abs.
Will Mark Wahlberg ever return to music again? Well, let’s just hope that if he does, he keeps himself fully clothed. Also, I had to endure hours of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s music to write this piece. That’s how much I love you guys!