Seattle rapper Anthony Ray, a.k.a. Sir Mix-A-Lot, was branded a one-hit wonder following the massive success of "Baby Got Back," but by the time he released his ode to female posteriors, he'd already scored gold- and platinum-selling albums. One of the first rappers to manage huge sales outside California and New York, Mix-A-Lot was also one of the first West Coast hip-hop figures to offer a lighthearted alternative to the nihilistic gangsta rap coming from California. A rapper and producer with a chilly electro-funk sound, Mix-A-Lot made his debut with 1988's platinum-selling Swass, which spawned a minor hit with "Posse On Broadway." Swass also featured a collaboration with Metal Church that presaged future pairings with Mudhoney (on "Freak Momma," a highlight of the Judgment Night soundtrack) and The Presidents Of The United States Of America (as Seattle supergroup Subset). Swass' follow-up, 1989's Seminar, failed to match its predecessor's success, but Mix-A-Lot rebounded with 1991's Mack Daddy, his first album on legendary producer and Def Jam cofounder Rick Rubin's Def American label. Powered by the runaway success of "Baby Got Back," Mack Daddy became a massive hit, even scoring a Grammy. Mix-A-Lot returned to the female-anatomy well once too often with his follow-up single, "Put 'Em On The Glass," a lascivious ode to breasts that failed to repeat his breakthrough single's success. Chief Boot Knocka (1994) and Return Of The Bumpasaurus (1996) failed to improve Mix-A-Lot's declining commercial fortunes, and he took a break from recording amid a conflict over the promotion of the latter release. But Mix-A-Lot is returning to the hip-hop scene with the forthcoming Daddy's Home, his first album in seven years. The Onion A.V. Club recently spoke with the affable rap veteran about hip-hop, politics, his unlikely stint as TV's eyes of God, and, of course, his famous love of plus-sized rear ends.
The Onion: On your first album, you did a song with Metal Church. How did people in Seattle respond to that?
Sir Mix-A-Lot: Well, they didn't like it. [Laughs.] In retrospect, I really don't like that song, and I'm very honest about why: It was an obvious attempt at trying to capitalize on what Run DMC was doing. When things are that obvious, they're kind of cheesy, and I wish I hadn't done it. But you learn from it. I love rock, though. Now, more so than then. I'm going to do a rock album, but it won't be that kind of shit. It'll be a rock-remix album.
O: That was one of the first rap-rock songs after "Walk This Way," wasn't it?
SM: It was. "King Of Rock" was a big deal, but I wanted to do something harder, metal stuff. I love heavy metal, hard shit. I'm the guy you see at Ozzfest. I wanted to do something a lot harder, but at that time, I think it was a little disrespectful to hip-hop, and a little disrespectful to rock. Run DMC could do it, but I don't think anybody else at that time should have been doing it.
O: How did you hook up with Def American?
SM: That's a funny one. I was coming to the end of the road with NastyMix. We were in a nasty lawsuit. I felt like I had nowhere to go. I thought it was over, actually. Then we get a call from someone who worked for Rick Rubin. He was like, "Rick's very interested in signing you. Would you like to come down and meet him?" I'm like, "Rick Rubin!" He was a legend to me. I got on a plane and went down to L.A. to meet with him. I was a little concerned, because I had heard rumors about him being a control freak, which is not true. He's not a control freak, but when he doesn't like something, he'll tell you about it. I met with him and he saw things in Mix-A-Lot that I never saw. I'll give you one example. He showed me silhouettes of different rappers. He pulls out the first one, and it's a cat with a sideways hat and a big clock on it. I say, "That's Flavor Flav." He pulls out another one of a guy with a forward baseball cap and a fist in the air. I say, "That's Chuck D." He pulls out another one and another one, and I go, "That's Eazy-E. That's N.W.A." But then, when he pulled out one of me, I didn't know who it was. So he's like, "Dude, you know what your problem is? You don't have an image yet. You don't have something that's you." So we looked back at all my old videos, and we watched one I had done called "My Hooptie." He was like, "This is you, the mack-daddy hat. You need to quit dumbing down the pimp thing." That's how I used to dress back when I was in the game. He was like, "Use it. Use the hats. Use the furs. Be obnoxious with it." He helped me find myself. Even though we totally disagree about where I'm going musically right now... He wants me to keep doing booty songs, and I'm trying to move on, but he is the reason I ended up being what I was.
O: What did you do between Return of The Bumpasaurus and the new album?
SM: After Return Of The Bumpasaurus in '96, I just got away from music for, like, a year. Literally, I think I produced two songs in a year. I was totally kicking it, running around. I remember watching TV one day, watching this Missy Elliott video, "Rain." I'm like, "This is cool," because it wasn't about "motherfucker, bitch, ho, suck my dick," or corny-ass redos of '70s R&B songs. It wasn't about that. It was something fresh. Even though she did redo an old song, there was something fresh about it. Plus, there was Timbaland's programming stuff, and I started listening to The Neptunes. All these new styles: Busta Rhymes was doing all this weird, animated stuff, and then Ludacris is my favorite rapper right now. I started hearing that, and I felt a love again. It got interesting. It was like guys weren't afraid to do something different. It made me want to do it again.
O: You were doing something with The Presidents Of The United States Of America. What happened with that?
SM: That was a cool project. As a matter of fact, I might release that independently. That would be a lot of fun, because both of us were at the same point in our careers. They were kind of burned-out and tired of the business. I was the same way, and we did a song called "Addicted To The Fame," which was pretty much about that. I did a concert here in Seattle, and then the Presidents came out at the end of the set and we played that song together. The crowd went fucking nuts, and I thought, "You know what? The audience has changed." The hip-hop audience and the heavy-metal audience now are one and the same. You can go to a guy's car right now, and he'll have Limp Bizkit sitting next to Jay-Z. That's what it is now. Look at me, I've got Godsmack records and I'm listening to Tech N9ne. We realized that, so we thought, "Let's do some more songs." It was never about putting a record out–that was what was cool about it. It was always just about "Let's make some noise and then go on tour." So we paid for a bus and did a tour. We didn't make a dime. We just did it to see if it would work, and it did. Then, obviously, here comes business, and that's when things started to change. I wanted to do harder, chunkier kind of stuff, and some of those guys didn't, and I wanted to do some songs with a drum machine, and obviously the drummer didn't want to do that. Then things started to change, but there was never any animosity. I think we're still going to release the record.
O: As a Seattle musician, what did you think of the grunge thing?
SM: Oh, I loved it, man. The thing that strikes me as odd about it is how the actual guys who were in the movement are anti-grunge. It's like, "Why are you guys ashamed of being part of something so great?" Have you ever noticed how ashamed a lot of artists are of their hit records? It's like, "What did you record it for, then?" I'm not ashamed of "Baby Got Back." I always thought it was weird that guys who were part of this grunge thing got mad when you called it grunge. In my opinion, you can just put it like this: "We're proud of grunge, we did it, and now we're doing something different." Don't just dis it, because when they did that, they totally took away all the credibility of the Seattle music scene. Think about it. Since all these groups started bad-mouthing grunge, what's happened with Seattle rock? Nothing. If you're going to say that everything you create is going to be shit four years later, why should anyone take you seriously? I thought the grunge scene was cool. This is going to sound weird, but I remember doing a concert at a tavern in the mid-'80s with Nirvana. Go figure that shit. They opened for me, if you can believe that. What I liked about grunge was the realness. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't glamorous. You have to remember that before grunge rock was tight pants, long hair, loud screaming, and a lot of loud, shitty E chords with a bunch of guitar solos. Grunge brought it back home. They're wearing flannel shirts, they haven't shaved in a week. I thought that was cool.
O: Before you recorded Mack Daddy, did you realize it'd be bigger than anything you'd ever done?
SM: Yes, I did, but not because of the material. It was really because of Rick Rubin. I wasn't stupid. I was like, "I got Rick Rubin. If I could sell a million units independently, then what could I do on a major?" There were some concerns about my career at the time, because Swass had done a million, a million and a half units, and then Seminar only did about 700,000. You know, in the record business, if the numbers fall, it's over. But Rick believed in me and thought that was bullshit. Did I think it was going to be as big as it was? Hell, no! I never envisioned being number one for five weeks, knocking Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men off the charts. That's the scariest thing and the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Scary in that I thought, "Shit, I'm number one, and there is no number zero. There's nowhere to go from here but down." As soon as you hit number two, people start talking shit.
O: Why do you think "Baby Got Back" was so popular?
SM: When I did "Baby Got Back," I did it to be unpopular. Really, I did it to piss people off. You had these Spuds MacKenzie girls, little skinny chicks looking like stop signs, with big hair and skinny bodies. I did it as a knee-jerk response to that kind of stuff. I didn't think it would ever be popular, but there were a lot of chicks out there with the J. Lo body, and they wore sweaters around their waists because they were told that they had fat asses–in a negative way, not in a good way. There were more of those girls than there were little waif heroin-looking chicks. I think that had a lot to do with it. A lot of women were saying, "It's about time!" I think the more the establishment fought the song, the more the "liberal males" who thought they knew what women wanted to hear... The more they hated the song, the more women liked it, and the more guys like me liked it. That was the coolest thing about "Baby Got Back." The establishment didn't embrace the song, which is what kept me from being the next pop guy to fizzle out and get laughed at, get dissed on TV. That helped save me. The fact that MTV banned the record made the record, in a weird way.
O: What was their reason for banning it?
SM: Keep in mind that when they banned it, it was number one. If you're going to get banned, you might as well get banned while you're on top. But they said that as many requests as they were getting for the record, they were getting just as many complaints. Now, go figure that. And they made me edit all the girls with the really big asses out of the video anyway! If you look at the video, you go, "Those girls' asses aren't that big."
O: You were one of the first popular entertainers to talk about asses in a sexual way, whereas that happens all the time now. Do you feel validated by the current focus on asses?
SM: Sometimes I feel validated, and sometimes I think, "Oh, shit, did I open Pandora's box?" I don't really try to take credit for it. I just think it's about time. I had somebody tell me today that J. Lo owes me royalties. I thought that was great, because I always thought that curvy women are beautiful. It's weird how America would say that these asses are terrible. Marilyn Monroe had one! She was considered America's darling, and she had one. It's kind of weird.
O: The song can be perceived in a feminist way–as attacking retrograde, restrictive beauty standards that obviously not a lot of women can relate to.
SM: I remember I had some women picketing me before a show at a college. So I thought, instead of doing what a typical guy would do, flipping them off from a window or something, I would debate them. So we sat down and debated. We talked about the record, and they explained what they didn't like about it. They said, "You reduce a woman to a body part." I said, "First of all, I'm not one of these self-important rappers who thinks that everything I say should be the gospel. But I just got tired of women being told that they have to starve themselves to be beautiful." And actually, other women started to clap and agree with what I said. This was way after "Baby Got Back," in '94 or '95.
O: When you hear a song like "Back That Azz Up" or "Shake Ya Ass," do you think, "This is something I helped create?"
SM: In a way. But I have to be honest and give more credit for that style to [2 Live Crew's] Luke Skyywalker. Let's be honest: He was doing it way before me, but he was a little more abrasive. He was like, [affects Luke screech] "Bitch, suck my dick!" He was doing it long before I did. I got the idea to do "Baby Got Back" while I was on tour with Luke, and I saw these girls with beautiful bodies, and I saw how it was accepted in the South. Not just accepted, but almost expected. Then, when you come back to the West Coast, you have to be a heroin addict and look like Uma Thurman to be considered beautiful. Uma Thurman has a beautiful face, but she looks sick. Then, combine that with all the advertisements going on at the time, where you had all these waif-thin chicks. I remember Calvin Klein had an ad where the girls looked they were 13 years old.
O: What inspired you to write a song about the Iran-Contra scandal?
SM: It was kind of where we were at the time. I'm not really a Democrat or a Republican, but I don't like rhetoric. I didn't like when George W. Bush got on TV and said "Axis Of Evil." I knew that was going to create problems, that kind of arrogant shit. What I was trying to say with "National Anthem" was that before we go and brag and say "God Bless America"–I hate that term, because it insinuates that God blesses no place else but us–before we say that, let's get our own house in order. That's always been a problem with America. I didn't realize until I went to Europe how people perceive us as bullies. They look at us as someone who's always up in somebody else's business. The more you look at it, the more you realize it's true. That's kind of what "National Anthem" is about. I follow politics in a big way, and always have since I was a kid. I've got opinions, but they're opinions on both sides–not just anti-Republican, which is a real popular thing for a rap artist to do. If you dis Republicans, nobody will get mad. I think the two-party system sucks. It's absolutely ignorant. If a guy like Colin Powell wants to run for president, black people aren't going to vote for him because he's a Republican. Republicans aren't going to vote for him because he's pro-choice. The whole two-party system is "Follow what we think, or you're not part of it." That's ignorant and backwards.
O: To change the tone a little, why was "Put 'Em On The Glass" the first single you released after "Baby Got Back"?
SM: "Put 'Em On The Glass" was on the next album, Chief Boot Knocka. I never really intended it to do what it did. There was a channel then called Video Jukebox, which I used to think was the coolest thing since sliced bread, because people could call in and play what they wanted to see. What was interesting about that was how different Video Jukebox's top 10 was from MTV's top 10. We knew we weren't going to get MTV play right after they banned "Baby Got Back," so we intentionally shot a video with Video Jukebox in mind, and it worked. The problem was, we didn't know it would work like it did, and we released it two months before the album came out. Bad move. The video went to number one, and we didn't have anything to sell. No, "Put 'Em On The Glass" was a fun song. But it was a follow-up to "Baby Got Back," which was stupid. I never should have done that. I mean, if you're going to do it, don't do it as your next record. Take your time and play with it a little bit. It looked too obvious what I was doing. In retrospect, would I have done it again? No way.
O: What inspired you to write that song?
SM: "Baby Got Back." There's no sense in lying about it. It was like, "Asses, what's next? Titties!" I mean, it really was a stupid move. I shouldn't have done it. But shoulda, coulda, woulda.
O: After you released that song, did you have a lot of women coming up to your car and putting 'em on the glass?
SM: Oh, yes. I still have that. Man, we do shows and have bras and panties flying everywhere. I tell you what, you go up on my web site and see it. I've got a web site that gets a lot of hits because I don't charge for anything. It's all free. Every week, we put footage from shows up on the site. I tell you, you look at this footage and go, "Goddamn." Girls are pulling off things you wouldn't believe. There are women with their asses out, but they're having fun. It's all in fun.
O: Does the one-hit-wonder label bother you?
SM: Yeah, it does, but not like it bothers everybody else. It bothers me in that it leads people to believe that other than "Baby Got Back," I've never done anything. If you look at Mack Daddy, I had a Lamborghini on the cover, and that was when I hadn't gotten paid for "Baby Got Back" yet. It reduces your respectability in the market if–and this is a big if–they believe what MTV or VH1 says. Here's why I did the one-hit-wonder show on MTV: I thought, "If I can get these guys here, and don't say anything that leads them to believe I'm crying about it, or that I'm ashamed of it, and I constantly talk about what else I do, some of that has to make it in." And it did, so it actually worked out pretty well for me.
O: You also starred in a television show called The Watcher. Were you interested in acting before then?
SM: No. This is really weird. I remember we shot a video for "Sleepin' Wit My Fonk" back in '94, when me and my girl at the time were headed back home from the video. I got a call from my manager, who said, "Look, I've got this guy Chris Crowe who is going to call you." I said, "Who the hell is Chris Crowe?" I thought it was a fake name, like some rapper or something changed his name. He said, "No, he wants you to do a TV show." So I started laughing, and Chris Crowe calls me and says, "I got this idea. We're going to shoot in Vegas." So I already liked that. He says, "What you're going to be is God's eyes." I was like, "God's eyes? What the hell are you talking about, dude?" He's like, "You're going to be God's watcher. You're going to pay attention to what's going on and report back to Him on the regular." I'm thinking, "Dude, do you know who you're talking to? I'm not the clean guy, you know what I mean?" He said something to me that I'll never forget. He said, "I'll tell you something, my friend. I never met a preacher I could trust until I met a preacher who once had gonorrhea." I said, "You know what? I'll do this." Because it meant that if you'd seen shit in your life, you can probably talk about it and have some sincerity about it. That's literally how it happened. I never expected to do it, to be honest with you.
O: Was it fun working on that show?
SM: It turned into fun eventually, but TV acting is way more work than I thought it would be. They make it sound all nice when you get the job, but you can't even run across the street and get something to eat without someone saying, "You're on insurance, stay here." It's a little intimidating, I thought.
O: What do you remember about producing Rebecca from The Real World?
SM: [Laughs.] Well, I didn't really produce her. What happened was, they were shooting The Real World here in Seattle, and this Rebecca girl had written a song, and she wanted to sing, but they didn't have anywhere to record it. So I didn't really produce anything. They called me and I said, "What do you guys need?" They said, "We need a guitar player." So I called a friend of mine named Michael, who came over with a guitar, and she came over and started singing, and we recorded it. I remember thinking, "This girl's got great lyrics, but not a great voice." She didn't really give a shit. At the time, she had so many things going on in her life. She had options that I used to dream of having as a kid. She was like, "Should I go to Harvard? Should I travel to Europe?" She was pretty spoiled, which is a good thing. I'm just a little jealous. When I was a kid, it was like, "Rap, or work at McDonald's?"