Sir Mix-A-Lot didn’t think he’d still be talking about his classic hit “Baby Got Back” decades after its release. Since the anthem impacted back in 1992, the 51-year old rapper has become the godfather of booty records, which have recently made a mainstream comeback thanks to records like Jennifer Lopez‘s “Booty” and Meghan Trainor‘s “All About That Bass.” But booty fever has remained a cultural constant throughout the years thanks to his smash single’s staying power, sung by characters on Friends and The Simpsons and soundtracking everything from children’s films (Shrek) to Oscar picks (The Wolf of Wall Street).
Most recently, “Baby Got Back” returned the charts by way of Nicki Minaj heavily sampling the track on her hit “Anaconda,” currently sitting at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. In honor of the single’s success, Sir Mix-A-Lot spoke with Billboard about how the “Anaconda” sample came about, the mainstream’s sudden focus on butts and why “Baby Got Back” has persevered for so long.
When did you learn that “Baby Got Back” was going to be sampled?
Nicki got my manager’s number through Universal, we both have deals with Universal, and she got on the phone with us one night. It was just old school vibing. She had this idea she was feeling pretty good about. We had already told her it was cool to use it [but] she called back saying she wanted to change something about the chorus. She ended up coming up with all the ideas. Next thing I know, the song was done. One thing I’ll say about her is she’s a beast in the studio. I think sometimes, people look at the sexy stuff and they think she shows up and does her vocal time and then leaves. No. That girl works hard. I was very impressed with her work ethic.
Did she send you drafts or did she just ask your permission to sample it?
I had just heard small little snippets of what was going on. After that, she didn’t send anything, which was understandable, because things get leaked and it takes the edge off the release. I understood why there were no copies.
When you first heard the record, what was your impression?
I really like it and it’s funny because some people tell me, ‘oh, that’s not the meaning of ‘Baby Got Back,’ because it’s not “Baby Got Back!” Don’t get me started on that. But, when I first heard it, I really liked it. I liked the change in feel. She did a lot of things, like at one point she really slowed the track down at half-speed and then went back to full speed. It was pretty fun. It was a cool song.
The song was a big deal, but the official music video took it to a whole new stratosphere. What was your first impression of the video?
I was like, “Damn!” I’m not exaggerating. I watched it probably 10 more times just to see who all these women were. But, I thought it was fun. What it said, on a more serious note, when I did “Baby Got Back,” women with curves were not accepted. But that’s a fact, they were not in the mainstream. We’ve come 180 degrees from that point. Not only is it accepted, but it’s also expected, which I thought was cool. To me, if nothing else proved it, that did. It was a sexy ass video. I tell people all the time, I’m Mix-A-Lot. I’m not a rocket scientist. I’m not stupid, but I believe in having fun with music, and that’s what I believe it was. It was fun. I had a ball with the song, I loved the song. What was really impressive, honestly, was the way she ramped up her social media efforts. Just being on the inside looking out… it was incredible to watch it ramping up and the fans retweeted her stuff.
What’s been this new generation’s reaction to discovering your song? I’m sure there are plenty of people who are just learning about “Baby Got Back.”
I haven’t run into those people yet. The people that I’ve been running into, they’re like, ‘it’s about time someone used it.’ These are kids. I’m talking about 17, 18-year old kids walking up, going, “I’ve been listening to that track since I was 12, about time somebody did it.’ But it’s really interesting that YouTube has become everybody’s music source, so people get to go backwards in time and listen to stuff.
Have you thought about or been asked to perform the sample part with Nicki Minaj at any point?
That was something that had been discussed but some things didn’t work out on my end, on my side, really. It was timing, I was on tour and other stuff, but you know, my thing is, I don’t want get in the way of the track. A lot of people say that we need to do something together, but in my opinion, this is Nicki’s creation, this is her thing and getting in the way of it is not cool. I think it should be done the way she wants it done. If she asks, great. If she doesn’t, it doesn’t offend me at all. It’s a beautiful thing. One thing you don’t want is some fart getting in the way of the track. That’s how I feel about it, and there are so many guys who have been where I’ve been and seem to resist the fact that the game is being pushed forward. But that’s natural, it goes where it’s supposed to go. So I love it, and I don’t want to get in the way of it at all. She doesn’t have to pay homage; she’s already done that by redoing the track.
You mentioned that it’s been such a 180 to focus on curvaceous women, and now, especially, there’s such a focus on butts. Why do you think booty has only recently gone mainstream?
A lot of people try to give me credit for it. When I did “Baby Got Back,” that was just a reflection of the African-American community. We’ve always liked curves, and a lot of people misunderstood it because let’s face it: 20 years prior to “Baby Got Back,” the only images you saw of a black woman on television were she was probably 300 pounds and cleaning the house with a rag on her head. Or, they were comfortable with the African-American female image that was basically an assimilation to what white America wanted.
There was always a desire in the community [for] the hourglass figure. We loved the curvaceous women, the little waist, the hips, the boobs… the equipment. “Baby Got Back” was already a reflection of what was going on. I didn’t see it as this gigantic political statement. When I designed that song, it was to just be an out for women, to tell them to stop wrapping these big sweaters around their waist [and] quit being ashamed. It’s like Serena Williams — she’s not fat. She’s in shape, and she happens to have a butt. She’s not ashamed of it, and I love that. So I don’t know if I did it, but I may be part of the reason that the masses kind of took a liking to it because it was an uphill battle. Let’s face it: that Cosmo line [“So Cosmo says you’re fat/ Well I ain’t down with that!”] didn’t go over well back then.
Stepping away from all this “Anaconda” talk, what are you working on musically?
I think the problem that I’m having is I want to do a record, but I want to release it in a way that doesn’t look like a desperate attempt at relevancy. I’m fine. I’m still making good money. I’m not working at Burger King. I know people want to hear the train wreck but the train wreck doesn’t exist in the Anthony Ray household.
A lot of people have said ‘people should see you work in the studio,’ because a lot of people don’t realize I’m an actual engineer. I don’t walk in and have some guy grab the board. I have my own studio and soldered every wire in the studio. I think that would allow people to see that this guy does it because he loves it. This is not about trying to remain relevant. I have no illusions of grandeur and I don’t think I’m going to put out a record that [hits] charts, because hip-hop won’t allow that. But, I am going to do some stuff with The Presidents [of the United States of America]. We had started doing this record [as a] group called Subset [which] we created a long time ago. We did this record and it was crazy [but] we never put it out. I’m thinking about recording that.
I have a single I’m going to put out in the next two or three weeks and [plan to] have some fun with that. I’m going to record something with [an] orchestra. That orchestra video I did that virally went nuts, we’re thinking about recording an actual number of songs with them. That would be really cool.
What was the motivation behind the collaboration?
It was kind of weird. I had met with Gabriel [Prokofiev], the guy that wrote the piece, two years before we did it. He said, ‘I’d love to do this. I’ll be in town two years from now.’ That’s an eternity, so I was like, ‘yeah sure! When you show up, we’ll do it.’ I’m thinking he’s not going to show up and he did. He gave me the piece, I studied the piece and we rehearsed the piece for only one day for 15 minutes. Thank god I didn’t forget my lyrics halfway through, but we knocked it out and it went viral.
Did you think a few decades ago you’d be still talking about “Baby Got Back”?
No way. You know what’s funny? I studied many acts before me, and I’m not talking about just hip-hop. I watched how many acts before me would have a big hit and make a boatload of money on the hit, and then they’d resent the fact that they were known for that hit. It is frustrating when people call me a one-hit wonder [because] “Posse on Broadway” was platinum prior to “Baby Got Back.” The Seminar album was gold prior to “Baby Got Back.” I’d already sold a couple million records. But, at the same time, you never see me running around dissing “Baby Got Back.” [It] is ridiculous [to] see people do that with their biggest hit.
Two, I would never get on stage and perform a medley in which “Baby Got Back” got a one-minute piece. That, to me, kills careers. I tried to make sure that I didn’t sabotage my own career by doing that.
I always tell people: Hard work is preparation for a lucky day. Honestly, that’s what happened. I really got lucky. Like I always said, I get out and support the song. I own my publishing and I use it. I’ve done commercials for Target and [Nestlé] Butterfinger. I’ve done all sorts of different ads and stuff. But why own the publishing if you don’t leverage it? It’s something you can make money on. I wish more artists would think of that when they get into this stuff. You have to understand that what you have is a business unto itself. Each song can be its own brand, but if you’re not going to leverage it, it’s just going to die.