But 28-year-old Oakland resident Young Busco is ready to embrace his fame once he gets out.
"What are those?!" is undeniably the meme of summer 2015. The short clip of a man inquiring about a cop's offensively drab footwear has been reenacted, remixed, and remix-reenacted past the point of ubiquity. The funniest and most SMDH-inducing version is probably this Vine (46 million loops and counting) which syncs the catchphrase to the the Jurassic Park theme song as dinosaurs wearing Yeezy Boosts walk by. No one is better at beating, pulverizing, and incinerating a dead horse than the internet. Just when it looked like its 15 seconds of fame were up, a ballsy kid reignited the commotion by blindsiding Michael Jordan with the infamous question, leaving the most notable shoe-shiller of all time completely bewildered.
"That's really crazy," says Young Busco (real name Brandon Moore), a 28-year-old father of five from Oakland, California. "I got the whole world making fun of people's shoes." Busco was reveling in his meme glory until he was arrested on the evening of July 17, 2015—a month after he dropped his now-famous video—for a narcotics charge as well as a probation violation.
Busco (pronounced BOOSE-co) is currently in detention at Santa Rita jail in Dublin, California, a Bay Area suburb located 20 miles southeast of his hometown. According to Alameda County records, Busco faces felony charges for transportation for sale of a controlled substance and for violating the terms of his probation. Speaking with me from Santa Rita via collect phone calls, Busco tells me that the situation is a result of a "miscommunication" between him and his parole officer, and jokes about moving next door to her, presumably so she can better keep an eye on him. His hearing is set for September 11. He tells me he expects to be released.
Though Busco says he's been behind bars in the past, he's never experienced a 180 like this before, in which he was in the center of a meme firestorm one day, only to find himself completely cut off from the internet the next.
The inciting "What are those?!" incident occurred just outside the Ashby BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station in the city of Berkeley, California. Busco says he was hanging with his friend Myesha at the nearby Berkeley Flea Market when the BART police wrote Myesha up for drinking in public. The situation quickly escalated, and Myesha ended up getting arrested. After the officers put her in the back of the squad car, Busco—who had been documenting the incident on his phone—popped the most important question of his life. "What are those?!" was a phrase he and his friends "grew up saying to each other." He had no idea "What are those?!" would blow up like it did.
(It's worth mentioning that scenes of Busco's own arrest were captured on his Instagram as well.)
Busco got his fill of "What Are Those?!" before his arrest and tweeted that he was over the whole saga. "To be honest," he says, "I'm sick of that shit." Before going inside he was already coming up with fresh ideas. "I'm thinking of new good shit every day that's gonna be better than 'What are those?!' It's gotta be organic. It can't be premeditated."
When I ask Busco how he feels about the meme's popularity in light of the fact that many don't know who its creator is, he says, "It's not at all frustrating. It's actually cool in a sense. Everything I do, I do for the people anyway. That's where my fulfillment comes from. That's how I got my payment."
Busco has already had a taste of celebrity in jail. One day out in the prison yard, he and a friend were hanging out and noticed a couple of inmates eyeing them and talking amongst themselves. On alert and anticipating something serious, Busco and his friend went over to confront them. It turns out the pair were just trying to figure out whether or not that really was the Young Busco of "What are those?!" fame. "They couldn't believe it was me!" he laughs.
Busco's girlfriend tells me the meme has paid off in the form a contract with Best Vines, a popular Youtube channel that makes Vine compilations. However, Busco's aim is not to get rich off a meme. "I'm like woah, woah. Everybody's telling me I gotta copyright this," he says. Instead, he encourage the proliferation of the joke. "I made a public statement saying, 'I want you to copy and remix [What are those?!] a million times.'"
The fast food giant Burger King exploited the phrase on Twitter without crediting him. One company, he says, reached out to him seeking to buy the rights to the catchphrase wholesale.
For the time Busco is staying calm and collected despite his inability to seize upon this golden opportunity. He credits the many visits and calls he's received from family, friends, and fans to helping him weather the perils of being locked up "I don't know how I would be if I didn't have that support system. The support from my fans helps a whole lot."
At the end of our last phone collect call I ask Busco if he's got anything else he'd like to say, to which he responds "I'm bigger than 'What are those?!' Stay tuned."
If you'd like to contact Young Busco, you can write to:
BFI-915 Unit 32
5325 Border Blvd
Dublin, CA 94568
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