“Just Turn Up the Box for the Mix-a-Lot Slice”
His hip hop career reached its pinnacle more than a decade before the advent of iTunes or Spotify. Yet in a genre where fame fades faster than fallen leaves in fall, the words, “Who’s he?” have never been associated with Sir Mix-A-Lot.
The above headline contains lyrics from his song, “Buttermilk Biscuits,” and back when boom boxes were the rave, the Seattle-born hip hop artist was the biggest reason West Coast Rap was never confined solely to California. His 1992 Billboard Chart-topping hit, “Baby Got Back,” has nearly 200 million streams on Spotify, ranks 64th on Rolling Stone magazine’s top 100 hip hop songs of all time and earned him a Grammy Award—an accolade that has eluded the Supremes, ABBA, Bob Marley, Queen and the Beach Boys.
And he still packs them in: Sir Mix-A-Lot is the main music attraction for United Way of King County’s Eat, Drink & Be Generous event on June 1 at the Paramount Theatre that features food from nine of the area’s most popular restaurants. Event proceeds go toward ensuring everyone has a safe place to call home, enough to eat and a job that pays a livable wage.
Sir Mix-A-Lot (whose real name is Anthony Ray), who still lives in King County, said he relished the opportunity to join us in such a worthwhile event. We sat down with him recently to chat about growing up in Seattle, fame, music and other topics.
United Way of King County: What does it mean to be part of an event like this?
Sir Mix-A-Lot: It’s really interesting because as soon as they said United Way, I said, “Yes.” And my manager said, “Do you want me to tell you what it’s about?” But I don’t play as many shows as I used to; I still do shows, just to keep up on what I’m doing and what fans see, what they like and they don’t like. It’s an algorithm that you see when you’re out on the road. But this is something that, whether it was two people or two million people, I would have done it. As a matter of fact, I almost lost another show because of it.
United Way of King County: What happened?
Sir Mix-A-Lot: The radius clause [a stipulation in an artist’s contract that prohibits performances within a certain radius or time of another scheduled event]. There’s a thing I’m doing at the Bite of Seattle [June 21-23], and we thought there would be an issue. But the [Bite of Seattle officials] said the same thing: “It’s for United Way? Fine.” They knew that it’s totally different. That’s not just a show. It’s beautiful.
What United Way is doing for these incredible businesses is really cool.
United Way of King County: And a lot of the work we’ve been doing has been to address the issues the city of Seattle and King County are facing. For someone who grew up in this area, what does it mean here right now as we grapple with these issues of homelessness, hunger, income disparity and racial inequality?
Sir Mix-A-Lot: I’m at that age where I was living in the Central Area before it was gentrified. We up getting an area in this thing, and then it reversed. I grew up during busing, so my perspective was different than it was prior to busing. Busing started for me around seventh grade. I was bused to Eckstein Middle School in the north end and then to Roosevelt High School. Initially, I hated it because you’re getting up two hours earlier than somebody that’s walking to Garfield.
Sir Mix-A-Lot (continued): That being said, there was something beneficial about being bused. I learned to understand cultures and the differences and where those differences come from. And I realized it wasn’t the kids. Seattle was a very, very different place then. There were things about Seattle that I really loved. The culture was deep, like, [once predominantly Black] D.C. deep.
United Way of King County: How long did you stay in that area of town?
Sir Mix-a-Lot: I stayed there for a long time and then we moved to the south end, just cheaper rent. I didn’t realize how much my mom was struggling until I started paying my bills. She was scared to move when I finally got her a house. She was like, “I’m not moving in there; I don’t know if you can keep that.” I said, “Mom, don’t worry, I can keep it for you.”
“Posse on Broadway” came out in 1988, “Swass” came out in 1987. So, I started out making some money. I still got it on video: the first Christmas we had in that house. And you could see how happy she was.
United Way of King County: At what point did you realize, as an artist, that you were onto something with your craft?
Sir Mix-A-Lot: I realized it twice. When “Posse’ on Broadway” came out, I thought, “This is it.” It went platinum, with an independent label out of Seattle. But I wasn’t reaping the benefits; it’s not that money meant anything, but I wasn’t seeing any of the things that I saw other people with fewer sales had. Then I realized that I had my own studio [and he was not utilizing it.]
But then when I realized something was big was my first tour under Rick Rubin [co-founder of Def Jam Recordings]. We started the tour and we played in front of 40 people and later signed autographs for eight people. I’m serious. Next city, same thing. Then I get a call from Rick’s publicist that said “Baby Got Back” is going on the radio next week. Then we were in Corpus Christi, and we get a call from a promoter asking for a second show. I said, “What’s wrong with the first show?”
We get to the next arena, and there are helicopters all over the place and the place was full. And I say, “Who’s here? Am I opening up for LL Cool J now?” And they said, “No, you’re here.” The song was growing. I couldn’t believe it. We keep moving, and we get to Houston, and it’s even bigger.
United Way of King County: The song eventually went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
Sir Mix-A-Lot: It went No. 1 the day before our tour went to a club in Panama City, FL. I didn’t even know it. And there’s 40-story hotel next to the club with people on the balcony, and I’m thinking something must be wrong. It’s 6 p.m. and we’re not going on until 10 p.m. And somebody said, “Today, guess who’s going to play? The man whose song just went No. 1. I said, “Yeah, right.”
We had no idea. And we got onstage and I heard the noise, and it wasn’t the biggest show but the best. It was so loud that you couldn’t even hear yourself talking. It was surreal. And I don’t smoke weed, I don’t drink, I’ve never been high. But that was the closest thing to a high that I will ever feel. It wasn’t my ego, but it was just all that work that culminated. Even if that had never happened, I still would have been happy. That was crazy. I took all the week off, and all the crew off and we went hang gliding.
United Way of King County: How did you come up with the name, Sir Mix-a-Lot?
Sir Mix-A-Lot: I was in the early days of hip hop; the DJ was the star. There was Jam Master Jay, Grand Master Flash, Jazzy Jeff, and so forth. I started out as a DJ, and that’s how I came up with the Sir Mix-A-Lot tag.