Brandon Moore, better known to most as Young Busco, died on Sunday. He was 31 and the father of nine children. The cause of his death is not yet known.
You probably know Busco, even if you didn’t know his name was really Brandon Moore. He made internet history in 2015 when he posted a video of his friend Myesha’s arrest in Berkeley, California, to Instagram. The video went viral ― really viral ― in June of that year. And the “What are those?” meme was born.
You know it. I know it. Michael Jordan knows it. Moore’s original video has been recreated and imitated time and time again across the internet. In 2018, it even made its way into a joke in Marvel’s “Black Panther” movie. That’s when I came to know Busco, briefly, and he told me about the dismal realities of being a famously unfamous meme generator.
My interview with Busco turned out to be one of his last, and it’s been quoted in many of the obituaries filed this week. It’s because of these frequent citations that I want to clarify a few things about our conversation.
When I called Busco on the phone in March, he was nothing but nice. I didn’t know what to expect from the guy since his Instagram posts could be a little brash, involving a lot of strong language and pranks. But throughout our 15 minutes of conversation, he was thoughtful, humble, even reserved.
Overall, I had a good time chatting with him. You might not get that impression from the published transcript, though. Busco swore a lot during our talk, as The Washington Post pointed out. And the subject matter ― well, it got sad. He spent a lot of time lamenting not trademarking the phrase that’s in every obituary headline this week. He’d made “What are those?” famous ― so famous it was in a superhero movie ― but that didn’t really matter to him.
“When I saw [the scene], my girl was trying to record it. I slapped the phone out of her hand,” he told me, “because I was like, I don’t want to fucking be a part of this,” he said.
Something about the enthusiasm in his answer made me laugh, and he laughed too, before adding in a quieter, earnest tone, “For real. Every time I see that shit, I get depressed.” But then he perked up and said, “But I didn’t know no better.”
Mostly, Busco regretted not putting a watermark on the video, of not copyrighting it in some way. He also wondered if things would have worked out differently had he shown his face in the clip. No one associated the video with Brandon Moore because the face you really see is that of Sergeant Sean Fenner, the officer who told me he loved the “What are those?” reference in “Black Panther.”
“I would’ve copyrighted it. I would’ve done a whole lot of shit different,” Busco explained of the meme in retrospect. “But like I said, I didn’t expect for it to do all of that … It took off right underneath my feet. I didn’t know. And then like two weeks after I did it, I went to jail, so I really couldn’t do nothing, you know?”
The answer was honest. Busco didn’t blame anyone for his failure to trademark his phrase before it ended up on T-shirts, on other people’s Instagram accounts, in Marvel movies. In fact, he kept saying, “it is what it is,” adding, “I ain’t gonna cry about it.”
He said he felt embarrassed that he didn’t “handle” his business, and then quickly clarified that maybe the feeling wasn’t embarrassment, but just plan hurt.
“I didn’t do what I was supposed to do when everybody getting paid off this shit, and I’m not,” he said.
In truth, he probably couldn’t have cried about it even if he wanted to. He was too busy. In the same calm tone he had throughout most of the interview, he told me he was working on a comedy DVD, running a catering business and still constantly creating Instagram content. His last comedy post was apparently uploaded hours before his reported death, and though his newer stuff might never have reached “What are those” fame, he did go viral again, with different videos showing up on WorldStarHipHop.
Still, Busco was no celebrity. Childhood friends, people in his neighborhood ― some of them thought he’d “made it” when his videos showed up everywhere online. But he didn’t think he had. “I didn’t make shit … it got fake after a while, motherfuckers laughing at my jokes even if it ain’t funny.”
When we ended the conversation, I asked Busco if it’d be OK to reach out again if I had any follow-up questions, to which he responded, “It’s all good. Whatever you want to do, man. Just let me know.”
But he never did respond. I sent emails and left voicemails because I did have lingering questions. But they went unanswered. After the interview published on HuffPost, some people misinterpreted his quotes. Commenters took them to mean he hated “Black Panther,” instead of the joke within that genuinely caused him personal pain.
Busco did not hate the movie “Black Panther.” After the article hit the internet, he posted on Instagram decrying those who said otherwise. He said he actually “loved” the creators of “Black Panther” for including his joke, but again he reiterated that he was upset with himself for not “doing what he was supposed to do” when he created it.
Though the comedian seemed a little down at times, he was still joking with self-awareness. “Man, the funny thing with me is the shit that I think is going viral and I put my watermark and my shit on there before I put it out [doesn’t go viral],” he said, but “the shit I don’t think is funny ― it go viral.”
The last paragraph of our interview is getting passed around a lot this week. I asked him if, at the end of the day, he enjoyed his meme at all. He responded thoughtfully, trying to come up with the right words.
“It’s a mixed feeling. Like, I feel good I created something that’ll be with the world forever, but then I feel bad because I didn’t handle my business part correctly. I don’t know nothing about no motherfucking trademarking. I’m a n***a from the streets. I don’t know the proper way to go about doing the shit right with that shit. I had to take it on the chin, man.”
He was right. He did create something that will be with the world forever.