‘This is Beautiful. Period': Sir Mix-A-Lot on ‘Baby Got Back”s Secret Depth
Sir-Mix-a-Lot premiered his new show, House Remix, on DIY Network earlier this month. He sat down with Rolling Stone for a revealing interview, in which he discussed a key aspect of his monumental hit song, "Baby Got Back": it isn't exactly about butts.
Sure, he goes into detail about what kind of buns his anaconda wants, but at its core, the song is a cultural statement about the beauty of black women, who've historically been slighted by blonde-haired, blue-eyed, skinny European beauty standards. Of course, this isn't exactly groundbreaking news, most black women understood the sentiment behind the seemingly playful song back then.
"It wasn’t about putting down anybody else," he explained. "It was just, I was lifting people up as that’s what it was really about. And the people that didn’t get it thought, 'Oh, this is just a butt song.' I remember when we put the song out, [the track’s producer] Rick Rubin said to me before it even came out, 'By the time they realize what this song is actually about, they’ve already bought it.' And that’s exactly how it worked."
In the decades that have passed since the song has been released, there's been discussion about its impact and significance at the time. Remember the white women in the beginning of the video who were baffled and disgusted by the black woman's body?
"Oh my God, Becky. Look at her butt..."
Not only was "Baby Got Back" arguably the birthplace of the phrase "Becky" as a reference to white women benefitting from white privilege (Beyoncé helped re-introduce it into mainstream vernacular on Lemonade's "Sorry" when she put "Becky with the good hair" on blast), it defied beauty standards and mainstream expectations for what was presented as desirable.
"I'm tired of magazines / Sayin' flat butts are the thing / Take the average black man and ask him that / She gotta pack much back..."
Mix acknowledges that although the song would be a "comedy song now because now that version of beauty is beautiful and not only is it accepted, it’s almost expected," back in 1992, it was groundbreaking.
Keep in mind, this was long before Rihanna's Fenty Beauty rocked the industry, redefining beauty standards while raking in big bucks by servicing women of different skin hues, the Dora Milaje reclaimed sexy in Black Panther and Beyoncé put thick black girls everywhere in formation.
"You can have them bimbos / I'll keep my women like Flo Jo / A word to the thick soul sista, I wanna get wit ya / I won't cuss or hit ya...."
"Before 'Baby Got Back,' beauty was defined one way: six foot, blonde, blue eyes," Mix said. "That was it. That was the mainstream way of looking at it and I didn’t agree at all. I didn’t want the song to sound like an alternative to what people think beautiful is. I wanted to say: 'This is beautiful. Period.' Because what you saw on TV before 'Baby Got Back,' other than [The Cosby Show’s] Claire Huxtable, was that every African-American or Hispanic actress was either a prostitute or a fat maid that gave the white family good advice because they weren’t grounded enough. It was real stereotypical stuff."
He even remembers having to check the director, whom he said was ignorant about perpetuating stereotypes about black women's sexuality.
"So, Cosmo says you're fat / Well I ain't down with that..."
"The one thing that offended me the most – keep in mind this is a different era so that version of beautiful didn’t exist yet. I come in and the main girl that’s on the pedestal was wearing black and white, tiger print shorts, a big fake gold chain, a nasty looking weave and looking like a prostitute," he said. "And I realized that came from [the director’s] ignorance. It was because every time he saw a girl like that, that’s what she was on television. So I realized that this permeates every level here because he didn’t think he did anything wrong."
"To the beanpole dames in the magazines / You ain't it, Miss Thing / Give me a sista, I can't resist her / Red beans and rice didn't miss her..."
Much of the imagery that you saw in the now iconic video, which MTV once famously banned, was very deliberate.
"I wanted to make sure that when she was on that pedestal, she always looked elevated and I wanted the two white chicks dissing her to look like they were looking up, not down. It’s a lot of little subtle stuff I put in the video that some people think is stupid, but in that era, most women did not think that was stupid. I wanted her to be elevated," Mix said. "Some people would say I was sexist as an artist, especially in that era, right? So I intentionally never got to her level. I never looked at her on that pedestal as an equal and I always looked up. To some people, it was, 'That’s the guy that did the ass song.' To other people it was, 'Thank you, about time.' It wasn’t meant to diss white folks at all. It was just to say, hey, there’s another beauty out here, y’all."
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