Sir Mix-A-Lot admired Public Enemy and N.W.A. He respected them. He even loved them. But he knew he’d never be them.
Sir Mix-A-Lot loved politics, but he didn’t think he could add anything to the debate. He knew he was funny, and he wanted to be funny in his rapping. So he didn’t take long to figure out his place in pop music: He wrote songs like “Baby Got Back.” That song wasn’t his first success, like many think, but it made his career. It also created a few frustrating years that followed. He will play the Moxi Theater’s one-year anniversary party Saturday.
“Let me have some fun and be done with it,” he said in an interview. “You know that term keep it real? That term is not only overused but distorted. Keeping it real doesn’t have to mean you are all political or gangsta. When you think you should be something else, that’s actually fake. That’s NOT keeping it real. I was exactly who I was.”
Ironically, Mix-A-Lot thought “Baby Got Back,” perhaps the biggest song of 1992, was going to be more of a serious commentary on how black women shouldn’t have to change who they are to be beautiful. He was inspired to write it after seeing yet another beer ad with skinny white girls in bikinis.
“You didn’t see a lot of African-American women on TV who were beautiful,” he said. “You just saw the overweight maid. If you did, she had to assimilate herself into the white culture. I’ve always disagreed with that. I asked friends who were white if they would rather have a woman with curves or someone who looked like a heroin addict. They always chose the curves. So what was the disconnect? I wrote that song so black women didn’t have to be ashamed of those natural curves.”
People assumed Sir Mix-A-Lot’s album with Rick Rubin’s label was his first, but he’d made two platinum records on his own while living in Seattle. Seattle was much more known for the grunge music that came out at the same time his album, “Mack Daddy,” hit the stores. Regardless, rap did have a place in Seattle, and it was a significant place. He admits he was the one lucky enough to break out of the scene.
“Grunge didn’t affect what I did one way or another,” he said. “Back then, hip-hop and rap were completely different things. It wasn’t until much later when those two began to cross over.”
After a disagreement with the founding partner of his label, he was looking for a home when Rubin and his Def American label came calling. He had some success with his earlier records. The difference, he said, was the way “Mack Daddy” blew up after “Baby Got Back” was released. He was on a promotional tour that drew barely 3,000 a show. Just six weeks later, he had to interrupt the tour for a spot on Arsenio Hall’s late-night show, and when he did perform, he had to add extra shows.
He liked the song but didn’t think it was the best one on the album. He didn’t even want to release it as a single. Rubin saw it differently. Rubin also suggested that Sir Mix-a-Lot emphasize the pimp character you saw in his videos or on stage. Sir Mix-A-Lot said the character wasn’t much different from his own personality. It was more like an exaggerated extension of it. He wondered many times if it was the best thing for his career, especially after MTV shifted the “Baby Got Back” video to its late-night rotation.
“I thought my career was over at that point,” he said. “But it was the best thing that happened. It became the forbidden fruit. It’s weird how that works.”
The song became a problem later, when he got a big advance for his next album and tried to live up to the expectations that came with it. The first single from that, “Put Em On The Glass,” tried too hard to be like his last hit, he said.
“Every song I made before ‘Baby Got Back’ didn’t sound like anything I’d done before,” he said. “But I found myself going against what I believe in. It didn’t work out at all. It never does. ‘Put Em On The Glass’ was ‘Baby Got Back’ with no point.”
He has no regrets or frustrations about the song today. He’s in the middle of a small Colorado tour, and he still plays dozens of gigs a year that probably wouldn’t be possible without “Baby Got Back.” It’s made him a lot of money and got him a Grammy and a place in the world of pop music. He produces acts, including three who are all doing well, though they’re still more successful in Seattle than nationwide. He also writes and records.
“I have an album ready,” he said. “I just don’t know how I want to release it. I don’t want people to say it’s a desperate attempt to remain relevant or any of that crap. I have to figure out a way to do it so it’s fun.”
You get the idea he will figure it out.
Every song I made before ‘Baby Got Back’ didn’t sound like anything I’d done before. But I found myself going against what I believe in. It didn’t work out at all.