Three decades is a long time to be involved in hip-hop. And many have tried to put an expiration date on the art form, believing that it's taboo to be in hip-hop after the age of 30. As time goes on, however, artists like Jay-Z, Eminem, and 2 Chainz have proven that age has no limits when it comes to creativity. Ditto for rap legend Sir Mix-A-Lot.
Seattle's original rap superstar -- who's spent the last several years producing and mixing as well as performing -- still has major game, which you can witness for yourself tomorrow night when he brings his brand of high energy, sexually tinged rhythms to the Viva PHX music festival.
Thing is, Sir Mix-A-Lot isn't coming to town just to rap, as he's also getting in some studio time, something he discussed with Up On the Sun during a recent phone interview. The 50-year-old rapper also dropped dime on his feelings about fellow Sea-Tac hip-hop artist Macklemore, as well as Miley Cyrus and how his first hit "Posse on Broadway" was partially inspired by a trip to Phoenix.
Oh, and we also discussed "Baby Got Back," the song that's utterly synonymous with Sir Mix-A-Lot and not only changed his career, but also the hip-hop world as a whole.
How are you doing?
I'm doing good right now! I am actually on my way out there (Phoenix) right now. I'm coming out there early to chill for a little bit and hit the studio.
A lot of people don't realize that you are actually a major pioneer of the Seattle hip-hop movement, even before the success of "Baby Got Back." You had "Posse on Broadway," which has been widely sampled and influential in the growth of hip-hop and EDM. You also garnered the first hip-hop platinum plaque and Grammy for the city. So how do feel about the recent success of Macklemore and Seattle hip hop in 2014?
I love it, man. It's evolution, kind of like passing the proverbial baton. Macklemore took it and ran with it. He optimizes the way the business should be ran today, no more sitting around waiting on major labels. He became a walking, talking brand and he is good at it. So I am happy for him for keeping eyes on Sea-Town.
Have you ever done anything with Macklemore?
Oh man yeah, I did a full out interview with him and have rocked a few shows with him. He is probably the most down to earth multi-millionaire I have ever met.
Any other Seattle hip-hop artists that we should keep an ear out for?
There is this guy Outasight who will be rocking on stage with me, that boy can rap his ass off. There are groups like Blue Scholars and Common Ground that are really starting to bubble.
Can we talk about "Baby Got Back" a little bit?
At the time of its release, the song received major controversy for its raunchy lyrics and its sexual nature. If "Baby Got Back" were released today, it would not be censored. How do you feel about the desensitization of hip-hop and censorship in main stream media?
[Laughs] "Baby Got Back" would be kiddie pop right now! The difference between now and then is that there was something to having certain limitations in place that forced me to be more clever. If you actually listening to "Baby Got Back," it was actually making some serious points, but a lot of people thought that I was rapping just about butts. I kind of let those who didn't know the real meaning wander around thinking that they did, and the people who did know were like, "Thanks, man. It's about time."
Let's talk about the impact of the song for a second. Before it dropped there was very little sexuality in hip-hop. Now it's a standard to have a video vixen shake her ass on camera. With two-plus decades under your belt, how do you feel about it's impact on hip-hop when you see artists like Drake with ass-shaking in his videos?
[Laughs] I don't let it bother me, I see a lot guys, especially older rappers, sitting around like a bunch of grumpy old bastards complaining when they did the same damn thing that Drake is doing! For me, the whole butt thing came to me via Luke Skywalker and 2 Live Crew, so it's evolution. I wanted to do more than rap about women as sex objects, I wanted to talk about something that a lot of people were trying to avoid: in that era, if you were an African-American woman with any type of mainstream success, be it acting, modeling, et cetera, you were forced to assimilate into "white culture." And I just thought that was weird.
It was even weirder on a professional level with magazines like Cosmopolitan and Vogue who were strictly about hiring wasting away heroin addicts. So with that in mind, I wanted to talk about what the brothers think about their women. And it was kind of cool because a lot of black women understood the song and the real message behind it while a lot of other people just thought that it was a cool song to dance to. If I had approached it from a more serious angle it wouldn't have been as successful, I had to make it tongue in cheek to get the message across.
So you had to pull the wool over their eyes a little bit?
Exactly, a lot of artists nowadays have a tendency to act so self-important. Honestly, nobody gives a damn about what you think about politics, no one gives a damn about your opinion on global warming...just shut up and give me a cool song! I realized early on that yes, I can make some points here and there but the bottom line is that I am an entertainer and people want to have fun. So I had to make the song fun enough to be tolerable.
So what artists are you listening to now?
I'm all over the place but with the current stuff. I think Kendrick Lamar is incredible, but I have to admit [when] Eminem came out with "Rap God," I was like "Okay, that's it. Game over." The lyrics, the delivery, the speed, the skills...the entire song really is just off the hinges and it's incredible. I like weird stuff and I am always looking for new influences.
Are we getting some new music from you on this tour?
I have about six songs done and I am trying to find way to release an album that accomplishes two things: I want the album to gain traction virally, I don't want to go through major labels where they force fed music down your throat, so I'm trying to develop buzz organically.
Number two: I have to release this in way that doesn't seem like I am desperate to remain relevant. For some reason, hip-hop has an expiration date on it. It's uncool to rap past 35 or whatever, which is stupid. Could you imagine rock 'n' roll telling Mick Jagger that he is too old to keep performing and making music? Ridiculous!
Critics like to try and establish the fact that you are an old dude; you are probably broke and are working part time at Wal-Mart. So what I plan on doing, I will be live streaming the process of me working on song from start to finish on my website which anyone can watch. After the song is done, you will be able to download the songs for free for a few days after the song is done.
That's a pretty cool idea.
We will see how it works.
So speaking of old rappers, how do you feel about Jay-Z's last effort? Many felt that he was trying too hard to maintain relevance.
Nah, a lot of people try to say that but I like Jay-Z new album. It grew on me quick and you have to realize that where a guy is coming from. If Jay-Z kept saying "I'm gangster, I shoot a muthafucka, blah, blah," we would be like, "Come on dude, you are in your 40s."
You have to understand that the fact that he is almost a billionaire now, and even though I might not know what Ibiza is [laughs], I love that fact that he does. I am not a hip-hop purist. I think purists in any for are dangerous because they stop things from expanding. If he tried to keep the sound he was doing 20 years ago, it would not work. If I released another "Baby Got Back" now, people would laugh at me and say I showed no growth. You really can't win but He made up his mind that he is going to do what he wants to do and if you don't like you can kiss his ass.
Have you been following the antics of Miley Cyrus?
How do you feel about her venture into urban music on her last album?
I don't know man, I try not to diss people but wow. It is what it is. She is doing her thing, but I heard her say that guys over 40 can't get hard anymore, though. [Laughs]
Yeah, she said it to Matt Lauer on NBC. She asked how old he and said "50", she said "Oh, you can't get it up anymore." But she is young and having fun. She just wants to break her squeaky clean, "Achy Breaky Heart" image. She'll grow up eventually.
On a side note, Janelle Monae is probably the best female artist in the game right now. Period. She is fantastic. Great artist.
One more question for you, what is one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
I am all about technology; I'm not talking about taking a half a million dollars and investing it in a company and saying that you are in technology. Nah. From the age of 15 years old, I've been building huge RS amplifiers and communication based amplifiers. Now I gravitate towards making controllers for studios. Technology is a love I had before music. In fact technology got me into music.
Can you elaborate on that a little?
Early on, I remember watching the group Kraftwerk and I noticed that they didn't have a band. They were using homemade drum computers. I immediately gravitated towards music technology, I got crap job at arcade fixing pinball machines, I saved up and bought the very first Dr. Rhythm Tr-55, I learned how to program my own beats and the rest was history.
That's crazy because "Posse on Broadway" had a revolutionary sound that is still being sampled today. Your sound is truly timeless.
A lot of people don't realize that Phoenix was the city that sealed the deal for me, and made me do "Posse on Broadway". I was writing the song from a Seattle point of view and thought that no one would like it but then I came to Phoenix and saw that you all had a Dick's Restaurant and I was like "Whoa, they are just like us!!" I was a young dude; I had been all the way to Phoenix, I thought I saw everything. So I wrote the song based on what I saw in those two cities.
That is crazy.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Sir Mix-A-Lot is scheduled to perform on Friday at Crescent Ballroom during Viva PHX. Tickets are $20.