March 20, 1989 12:00 PM

One day last March Tony Smith stepped into the closet of his co-producer’s Hollywood apartment and started talking dirty. Four minutes later, when he emerged from the makeshift recording booth, Smith, 22, slapped Matt Dike’s palm in satisfaction with the lascivious little rap he’d just laid down. What neither Smith (who goes by Tone-Loc, short for his home-boy handle Tony Loco) nor Dike, 27, imagined was that they had just produced a pop music phenomenon.

The song is “Wild Thing,” and since its fall release it has sold more copies faster—3 million in three months—than any rap on record. Besides being the highest-charting (No. 2) rap song ever on Billboards pop chart, “Wild Thing” is the most successful single of any genre since “We Are the World” in 1985.

The unexpected popularity of “Wild Thing” might be traced to its video—a savvy send-up of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” that was produced for $419.77. Smith and Dike, however, aren’t so certain. “Tony’s got a great voice and he’s funny,” says Dike. “But we didn’t think he’d do this.”

Even Smith’s mother, Margaret, is shocked. A retirement-home manager whose husband, James, died in 1972, she spent years yelling at the youngest of her four sons to turn down the stereo. “I’m still the only rapper she can listen to,” he says. “And only for one song.”

Now that one song has been followed by the success of a second, the fast-rising “Funky Cold Medina,” Smith plans to buy a condo for Margaret and to move from his one-bedroom Venice apartment back into the house he grew up in. “Tony’s just an overgrown kid,” says girlfriend Aletha Loftfield, 18. “I’m having fun,” Smith explains. “I’m a natural celebrator. I can celebrate anything—any day, anytime.”

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