The first successful rapper to come out of the Pacific Northwest, Sir Mix-A-Lot is often credited for putting Seattle, Washington, on the rap map. Part comedian, part storyteller, and part social satirist, Sir Mix-A-Lot is unique among hip-hop artists. By filling the void between pop rappers such as Hammer and the Fresh Prince and hard-core rappers like 2 Live Crew and Public Enemy, Mix created his own genre of rap and found multiplatinum success by blending hip-hop, humor, and social commentary.
With two platinum albums, one gold album, a Grammy Award, and an American Music Award under his belt, Sir Mix-A-Lot is one of the few rap artists to become an across-the-board success, appealing to both pop and hard-core rap fans. Mix believes his popularity lies in the fact that he thinks and feels the same things his fans do. “I’m not trying to be Malcolm X or Ice Cube,” he explained in the Detroit Free Press. “I call myself a blue-collar rapper. I talk about what people are really thinking. They’re not thinking about overthrowing the government or shooting [the president]. A lot of problem rap artists have had in the last two or three years is that they’re either all gangster, all black activist or all goofy or pop. That’s not me. I’m not all serious, and I’m not all funny. I’m a little of everything. I think that’s what most people are like, too.”
The son of a sheet metal worker, Sir Mix-A-Lot, whose real name is Anthony Ray, grew up in Seattle’s Central District. He began rapping because he didn’t like what most rappers were talking about in the early 1980s. “Nobody was talking back then about what was real,” Mix told Dennis Hunt in the Los Angeles Times. “I was into funk back then, the Parliament/Funkadelic stuff. But rap seemed to have possibilities. I said to myself I can do better than this. So I tried.”
Sir Mix-A-Lot formed Nastymix Records with Seattle businessman Ed Locke and deejay “Nasty” Nes Rodriguez, and he released his first single, “Square Dance Rap,” in 1985. This comical tune that mixed Kraftwerk-inspired electronic bass-driven hip-hop rhythms with the hoe-down twang of a square dance caller caused some critics to dismiss Mix as a novelty act. But the fans didn’t feel the same way. The single went on to become the number one song across the country.
Encouraged by the success of “Square Dance Rap,” Sir Mix-A-Lot recorded and released his debut album, Swass, in 1987. The album, which featured everything from a rap/metal remake of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” (backed by Seattle metal band Metal Church) to the gold-selling single “Posse on Broadway” (about the hilarious antics of Mix’s band cruising Seattle’s South
Born Anthony Ray in Seattle, WA; son of a sheet metal worker.
Formed Nastymix Records with Ed Locke and Nes Rodriguez and released first single, “Square Dance Rap,” in 1985; released debut album, Swass, Nastymix, 1987; left Nastymix to form own label, Rhyme Cartel, in association with Rick Rubin’s Def American Recordings, 1991; released major label debut, Mack Daddy, Rhyme Cartel/Def American, 1992; released Seattle rap compilation Seattle … The Dark Side, 1993.
Awards: American Music Award for favorite artist rap/hip hop, 1993; Grammy Award for best rap solo performance for “Baby Got Back,” 1993.
Addresses: Record company —American Recordings, 3500 West Olive Ave., Suite 1550, Burbank, CA 91505.
End district), was an immediate hit. With virtually no radio exposure, Swass achieved platinum status and spent over a year on both Billboard’s Black Music and Pop Album charts. Mix achieved similar success with his second Nastymix release, 1989’s Seminar, which went gold, selling over 700,000 copies.
Legal battles with Nastymix over royalties and copyright infringements kept Sir Mix-A-Lot out of the rap scene for nearly two years. Finally, in 1991, Mix left Nastymix records after a dispute over creative control and formed his own label, Rhyme Cartel. “My main reason for leaving Nastymix was to get creative control over my product,” he explained in Spin. “I have a difference of opinion with how most labels promote rap. People don’t take it seriously. What’s happening with rap is it’s being all lumped together, and that’s scary. Rap is more informative than any music ever was. So, the way these companies are going about promoting it is an injustice. You can’t expect people to buy it because they show an African medallion or a profanity sticker.”
Sir Mix-A-Lot signed a distribution deal with Rick Rubin’s Def American Recordings and released his major label debut, Mack Daddy, in February of 1992. Mix recorded the album, with Rubin producing, in his home studio in Auburn, Washington, just outside Seattle. Like his previous albums, Mack Daddy burned up the charts. It went gold in May and platinum in June. Also like his previous albums, Mack Daddy featured songs with witty, innuendo-laden lyrics rife with social commentary bordering on parody. The first single from the album, “One Time’s Got No Case,” was a sarcastic tale of suspicious police officers harassing him because he drove an expensive car. In a unique twist, rather than gunning the officers down, which Mix admitted most hard-core rappers would suggest, he gets his revenge in court.
Although Sir Mix-A-Lot had previously released two very successful albums, he was still a virtual unknown when Mack Daddy was released. The song that brought Mix out of the rap underground and into the pop spotlight was the second, and most controversial, single released from Mack Daddy, “Baby Got Back.” A rollicking homage to plump female behinds, “Baby Got Back” went platinum, reigning at Number One on the Billboard Pop Singles chart for five consecutive weeks, and the accompanying video came in at Number One on MTV’s Top 20 Video Countdown. Although “Baby Got Back” made Sir Mix-A-Lot the top-selling rap artist at the time, not everyone saw the humor in the song. Some complained the song was sexist, and because the record focused on black women, labeled Mix a racist. In the wake of the outcry, MTV pulled the video for “Baby Got Back” from regular rotation and would only show it after 9:00 p.m.
Sir Mix-A-Lot was surprised by the negative response to the song and countered by explaining the song was written to challenge the unattainable standard of the lean, “Barbie-doll” woman promoted by glamour magazines like Cosmopolitan. “The people who are complaining are missing my real message,” Mix declared in the Los Angeles Times. “I’m on the side of the average woman who doesn’t look like one of the bean-pole women in those magazines. I’m saying it’s fine to have a big round rear end. That doesn’t make you any less of a woman because you don’t fit that stupid standard.” Despite the controversy, or maybe because of it, “Baby Got Back” went on to become 1992’s Number Two single, with over 2.5 million copies sold. Then, it earned Mix the 1993 American Music Award for favorite rap/hip-hop artist and the 1993 Grammy Award for best rap solo act.
Riding high on his newfound fame, Sir Mix-A-Lot set out to help other Seattle rap artists break into the mainstream. In 1993 he produced and released Seattle… the Dark Side, which featured performances by local Seattle rappers, including Kid Sensation and Jazz Lee Aston. Explaining his reasons behind the album, Mix told Jody Benjamin of the Seattle Times, “My dream is to create 10 black millionaires right here in Seattle.”
Sir Mix-A-Lot returned to the studio in 1994 to record and release his fourth album, Chief Boot Knocka’. In true Mix style, the album featured his trademark witty lyrics and quirky bass-driven electronic beats. Asked if he was concerned if the album would be as big a success as Mack Daddy, Mix replied in an American Recordings press release, “Once you start worrying about equaling your past success, the music gets weak.” Eric Berman in Spin applauded Chief Boot Knocka ’for its inspiration from dance music of the late 1970s and early 1980s and remarked, “Never the conformist, Mix continues to pioneer his eclectic Pacific Northwest sound.”
Also in the mid-1990s, Sir Mix-A-Lot expanded his career to include television acting. He starred in a pop suspense anthology series set in Las Vegas called The Watcher, which premiered in January of 1995 on the United Paramount Network. Mike Duffy of the Detroit Free Press called his character, the Watcher, a “jive-talking host of sorts, portrayed with funkified energy.”
Although some critics and rappers see Sir Mix-A-Lot as a novelty act because of his humorous approach to rap, Mix-A-Lot feels he is an important rap innovator because his lyrical style combats what is wrong with the genre. “It’s too depressing,” he told Stephanie Reader in the Tacoma, Washington News Tribune. “It’s the same… story every day. You know, boy meets girl, boy beats girl, boy calls girl bitch. Or someone goes looking for respect and ends up spilling blood. Rap’s been called the CNN [Cable News Network] of the streets, but it needs to find some new stories. If all the slaves did was sing about picking cotton, there would have been a lot of suicides.”
“Square Dance Rap” (single), Nastymix, 1985.
Swass, Nastymix, 1987.
Seminar, Nastymix, 1989.
Mack Daddy, Rhyme Cartel/Def American, 1992.
Seattle… The Dark Side, Rhyme Cartel/Def American, 1993.
Chief Boot Knocka’, Rhyme Cartel/American, 1994.
Billboard, March 2, 1991; February 6, 1992; May 28, 1994.
Detroit Free Press, November 6, 1992; January 17, 1995.
Entertainment Weekly, March 13, 1992; July 29, 1994.
Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1992.
News Tribune (Tacoma, WA), July 19, 1994.
People, July 18, 1994.
Playboy, March 1991; June 1992; February 1994.
Rolling Stone, October 14, 1993.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 23, 1990; February 6, 1992; November 27, 1993.
Seattle Times, August 1, 1993.
Source, August 1994.
Spin, May 11, 1991; September 1992; August 1994.
Vibe, fall 1992.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from American Recordings publicity materials, 1994.
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