Sir Mix-a-Lot and more

What we whisper about when we whisper about butts

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ever since Macklemore proved that the lyrics “I wear your granddad’s clothes. I look incredible” and platinum-selling hit were not mutually exclusive, I have been known to lament the fact that Seattle’s hip-hop scene—which has its roots in social consciousness and political awareness—will forever be identified with songs about big butts and thrift shopping.

Of course, I speak in jest, and my statement lacks accuracy, as Macklemore has marriage-equality song “Same Love” to his Grammy-nominated credit. But it might surprise you to know that Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” the aforementioned paean to plentiful posteriors mentioned in the prior paragraph, was also envisioned as a barrier-breaking anthem of sorts.

To get you up to speed on the off chance you’re unclear who Sir Mix-a-Lot is or why you should care that “Baby Got Back” (little in the middle, though she might be), he’s a Seattle musician who dared to rap during the height of the grunge era—and scored a multiplatinum, Grammy-winning megahit with a song celebrating the “thick soul sisters” who “pack much back.” A shameless ode to ass, “Baby Got Back” introduced such gems as “I like big butts and I cannot lie” and “my anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns, hon,” to our lexicon and encouraged us to dial 1-900-MIXALOT, all to an infectious dance beat. A video soon followed, featuring a giant yellow ass made from airplane steel, dancers who twerked before that was a thing and a whole lot of campy entendre.

As you can imagine, the song, the sentiment it so unabashedly espoused and the man responsible for it all did not escape controversy. The video was deemed too hot for prime time and was relegated to late-night programming on MTV. Critics decried what they perceived as “Baby Got Back’s” objectifying themes and overt sexuality. Mix might like big butts enough to not want to lie about it, but plenty of people thought that was an opinion he’d be better off keeping to himself.

But as playful as the song sounded and cheesy though the video might be, simply celebrating a select part of the female form was never the sum total of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s intent with “Baby Got Back.” Instead, he wrote it to speak to a standard he saw within the entertainment industry, one in which the women—models, actresses, video extras, etc.—onscreen or on the page hewed to a stick-thin stereotype, while those with curves or “back,” as the case may be, were made to feel unattractive and unappreciated.

“I knew for a fact that many artists felt that if they didn’t use a skinny-model-type woman in their video, then mainstream America would reject the song,” the rapper told New York Magazine. “But I do not agree with that: If you look at Dolly Parton at her peak, a lot of white guys were like ‘daammn!’ At the same time, when I did casting calls for videos, curvy women wouldn’t show up. They thought they didn’t have a chance.”

A cry for social justice it isn’t, but the Seattle rapper’s call for equal objectification arose from a personal belief in body acceptance, and in that, he could be said to be ahead of his time. Either way, he gifted us with an indelible bit of pop culture and musical history—one catchy enough that many of us (myself included) can still sing along to every word.

“I still love ‘Baby Got Back,’” Mix said during that same interview. “I will perform it until I drop. It’s completely ignorant when an artist has a successful, iconic song that makes millions of dollars, but slaps his fans in the face when he says, ‘That song ain’t shit, I’m bigger than that.’ I appreciate the fact that people got behind that song back in the day, so I do a fuckin’ 10-minute-long version live.”

That supersized version of “Baby Got Back” will likely be the big payoff for those in the audience at the back-to-back Sir Mix-a-Lot shows taking place Jan.17-18 at the Wild Buffalo. However, if you weren’t one of the horde who bought their tickets early, you’re not likely to hear it, as both shows sold out almost as soon as tickets were made available.

Speaking of sold out, the Ying Yang Twins, who will follow hot on Mix’s heels with their own show Jan. 27 at the Buff, also caused enough of a run on tickets that a second show was added, the next day, Jan. 28. Tickets for that show are still available, but I do not suggest waiting to pull the trigger.

Unlike Sir Mix-a-Lot’s big breakout hit, I cannot find one socially redeeming idea or theme in the track the Ying Yang Twins are probably most (in)famous for, the unapologetically dirty “Wait,” better known as “The Whisper Song.” I’d quote some of its lyrics to help jog your memory, but it’s impossible to string together more than two lines of the song without violating some standard of print decency. Phrases from this song also exist in our lexicon, but they’re generally uttered between consenting adults and cannot be found along the radio dial.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The Atlanta-based crunk rappers have more to recommend them than highly suggestive sex-romp songs. They also traffic in party anthems such as “Salt Shaker,” “Shake,” and “Get Low” (with some help from Lil Jon), some of which just happen to be suggestive sex-romp songs.

It’s possible the genesis for the “Whisper Song” lies somewhere in the sentiment expressed in “Baby Got Back.” Good thing all parties pertinent to the issue will soon be on hand. I believe a field study might be in order.

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