There are still at least some 30% of the general population who earnestly believe that the title of this song is ‘I Like Big Butts’. Regardless of how well you know your mid-90s party rap catalogue (and here at One A Day, it’s something we take very seriously) Sir Mix-A-Lot’s ode to derrières is perhaps one of the few jams that transcends both time and place, simultaneously dorky, retro cool and classic all in a few augmented heavy breaths. The longevity of this particular piece of crossover rap history, which contains by far the greatest amount of aural and lyrical faux pas still allowed on stereos at clubs, intrigues me. Partially because I think the man formerly known as Anthony Ray wasn’t joking when he went against the entire conventional understanding of beauty in 1992, but also because so many other kids lapped it up at the same time. It’s not just a case of what’s old is new again, as we’re seeing with every man and his dog trying to be a grunge band but without the attitude in the last ten months. Somewhere in those five bass notes that are all only a step away from the root there is the whole of disgruntled Americana on a plate. It’s like the ‘Closing Time’ anthem for booty, as bar men turn off their taps and the drunks ramble on about cabooses. Butts perhaps haven’t had this much loving since the heyday of disco and spandex, and certainly I haven’t seen anything outside of D’Angelo’s obsession with ghetto booty since. But let’s be clear, this isn’t a song about ass. It’s a song about all of us.
Once, I rapped the whole of this song while playing drums. This is not an important fact itself insomuch as it is a testament to one of the greatest strengths of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s brief moment in the sun; any white kid can sing along. As D pointed out with his analysis of Yeezy and Jigga’s French sojourn, memorable catchphrases or ‘quotable lines’ are a big part of ensuring your song goes beyond critical reception and reaches critical mass. ‘Baby Got Back’ is teeming with them, from the opening gossiping girl sample ‘Oh my God, Becky, look at her butt’ through to the crystal clear enunciation of ‘My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns hun.’ As hip-hop has moved from an underground phenomenon to a pop chart heavy hitter, the necessity to invent new slang, or patois, to carve out exclusive, inwardly-referenced meanings has locked out or bemused a generation of kids who think they know what ‘shiznit’ and ‘steez’ mean but in actuality haven’t been in sync since they figured out what Puff Daddy was getting at when he said it was all about the Benjamins. African American Mix-A-Lot may be, ghetto booty its apparent focus, but thanks to its open-arms lyricism, it’s really a song for whites. Allusions to Mercedes Benzes by their actual name rather than their model, the sizing measurements of an average woman and Cosmopolitan magazine certainly help this case, as does that insistent bass line, augmented every so often by those totally naff brass-synth stabs that you hear in every old-school hip-hop tune to offset the deep fret-slaps. Also, have you noticed that the hi-hats are processed to run in like, double time? And the snares sound like the whole of 1980-1989 compressed into a single trigger? Take out the rap and this could be a goddamn Wham! song.
Not even joking, Sir Mix-A-Lot won a Grammy for this in 1993. And given what I have been discussing up until this point, I can completely understand why. It also partially explains why the music director for Charlie’s Angels decided to use a potentially misinterpreted rap song about butts as one of the focal points of their film about three white women, well, kicking butt. ‘Baby Got Back’ exists in that rare spectrum of male-driven sex jams which manage to compliment females so convincingly that they are forgiven for then spending the rest of time being particularly vulgar about their intentions (R. Kelly springs to mind.) More than that, however, the song has an empowerment message that you could only get away with when backed up by such extraordinarily kitsch musical accompaniment. I applaud Anthony Ray for peaking so early and disappearing into obscurity. We need more artists who make one phenomenal song that outlasts their entire careers. You don’t realise, but Katy Perry did it with ‘Firework’ and now she’s just releasing different versions of it. This came out the same year (in Australia) as ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and I think that’s wonderful. So wonderful, that I promised our Facebook posse I’d sing the whole thing in the pool if we cracked 500 fans. I obviously underestimated the power of this song, or people willing to watch me make a dick of myself. Either way, like Sir Mix-A-Lot, I’m a man of my word. So you can do side bends or sit-ups, but please don’t lose that butt.
Sir Mix-A-Lot – ‘Baby Got Back’