It goes without saying that pop culture is obsessed with the female posterior. Entertainment news headlines and entire television shows have been devoted to the famous backsides of the Kardashian sisters, Jennifer Lopez, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, and the nightmares of botched butt injections. The topic has become a social norm. But this wasn’t the case a quarter-century ago, when Seattle rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot celebrated women with “big butts” on his Grammy-winning surprise hit, “Baby Got Back.”
Of course, Mix was not the first celebrity to use his platform to acknowledge the natural, curvaceous beauty of women, particularly women of color. He cites Parliament’s 1978 album Motor Booty Affair as one early example that caught his attention in his youth, as well as a 1979 Saturday Night Live skit, “Women’s Problems,” featuring cast member Garrett Morris proclaiming a fondness for ladies with a “big butt.” And three years before “Baby Got Back” dropped, LL Cool J reached No. 13 on the Hot Rap Singles chart with his own ode, “Big Ole Butt.”
However, “Baby Got Back” popularized the subject more than any song before or since: It sold more than 2 million copies and became one of the biggest records of 1992, second only to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” Sir Mix-a-Lot does believe that he’s partially responsible for the attention women’s behinds get today.
“I definitely do,” he tells Yahoo Music. “Now, do I think I deserve a royalty from every girl with a butt? No. But I do think that that song has something to do with mainstream’s acceptance of that figure, the ‘little in the middle, but got much back,’ and it getting accepted by society? I definitely do.”
However, the song wasn’t without its detractors; in ’92, “Baby Got Back” caught flak for allegedly objectifying women. Now, in the week of the song’s 25th anniversary, Mix reflects on the track’s backlash, as well as its influence on the public’s acceptance of curvy women and today’s body-positivity movement.
Criticism of “Baby Got Back” never made sense to Mix, because he says he wrote the song to honor women — especially women of color whose beauty was often ignored by the mainstream television, fashion, and film worlds. “I think it came at a time when, let’s be honest, other than Claire Huxtable [on The Cosby Show], the only black women you saw on TV were maids, hookers, or overweight black women who were almost like advisory boards for rebellious white children in the family,” he says.
It was important to Mix that the song’s music video put beautiful women of color on display, and he clarifies a few aspects of the clip that may have been misinterpreted, namely humorous rump-inspired imagery like the butt-shaped stage upon Mix-a-Lot and his backup dancers performed. “There was a sister who was on kind of like a turntable, she was above us in a lot of the video,” Mix recalls. “We’re looking up to her, and she’s looking down. We couldn’t quite get her. So me being the ‘sexist pig’ in the video and saying, ‘I want to hit it, I want to hit it, I want to hit it’ — but I never quite get it. I can’t get it, because she’s too much of a woman for me. That’s the whole idea. That’s why she was elevated in the video.”
Mix took extra measures to make sure the dancers’ wardrobe supported the statement he wanted to make. When he arrived on set, he says the dancers hated the stereotypical hip-hop video-vixen outfits they had been given. “The sister on the pedestal, they had her in a funny-looking weave, with tiger pants on and a big gold chain,” he says. “I was like, ‘All she needs was gold teeth.’” So Mix took the dancers to the mall to get different, more flattering clothing.
While “Baby Got Back” slammed Cosmo cover-model types who enhanced their bodies with plastic surgery, Mix is careful not to diss women who get butt injections today. “It doesn’t bother me,��� he shrugs. “I always jokingly say I need closer inspection. I don’t know. If it works, it works. If it makes them feel good, cool.” However, Mix appreciates natural beauty, and he identifies with a line in “Humble,” the new single by Kendrick Lamar. “I think that’s funny,” Mix says, referring to Kendrick’s lyric, “I’m so f***ing sick and tired of the Photoshop… Show me something natural like ass with some stretch marks.”
“I saw that the other day. I was kind of watching it. But I’m more looking at the visuals. Right in the middle, that line stuck out so much. I went back. I’m like, ‘Damn, young brother!’ That made me proud. I remember yelling, ‘Say it, brother!’ Because that’s what ‘Baby Got Back’ was saying: ‘Sisters, don’t be ashamed of who you are. Be you.’”
“Baby Got Back” was not Mix’s first hit — he earned his first platinum album with his 1988 debut Swass – but he didn’t think the single would do well. In fact, he thought it was one of the worst songs on his 1992 album, Mack Daddy. It was Def American Recordings (later American Recordings) label head Rick Rubin who recognized the track’s potential. “Rick Rubin heard it and immediately — I still have the notes — he wrote, ‘Love this song. Best song on the record. Turn the scratching up.’ My manager, Ricardo, he also said that.”
“Baby Got Back” has continued to permeate pop culture since its release 25 years ago. Jamie Foxx spoofed it as “Baby Got Snacks” for In Living Color; Cameron Diaz danced to it in a hilarious, memorable scene in Charlie’s Angels; and it was even performed by the stars of the animated film Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip. Actress Blake Lively also recently courted controversy when she quoted the song on Instagram when captioning a photo of her own ample derrière.
The song found its way back onto the top 40 charts in 2014, when Nicki Minaj sampled it for her bootylicious hit “Anaconda.” This time, Mix knew it would do well. “Nicki called us before it was finished,” he remembers. “She was already working on it. She changed the title of it to ‘Anaconda.’ She changed the chorus. And who am I to tell Nicki how to do a record? She’s got hit records, right? When I heard the iteration, I was like, ‘Ooh wee. This is gonna blow up.’”
Sir Mix-a-Lot may never again record a song as zeitgeist-capturing as “Baby Got Back,” but he continues to make music today. And he’ll soon be back on basic cable, just a few stations up the dial from Keeping Up With the Kardashians and the rump-shaking videos on MTV and BET, when his house-flipping reality show debuts on the DIY Network in July. Apparently these days, he likes big houses, and he cannot lie.