Some artists write songs hoping they’ll be hits. Others, like Sir Mix-a-Lot, write songs hoping they’ll become much more.
In the early ‘90s, Sir Mix-a-Lot became a household name thanks to his now-iconic rap, “Baby Got Back.” As he tells “Oprah: Where Are They Now Extra” in the above clip, his motivation for writing the song actually came from an epiphany he had after seeing a beer commercial.
“You had the Budweiser girls cute, but basically all hair. They were basically [shaped] like stop signs,” Sir Mix-a-Lot says. “That’s where I realized … ‘There’s another beautiful that, for some reason, is not being talked about much.’ I wanted to talk about it.”
Sir Mix-a-Lot wrote the rap, with lines like, “I like big butts and I cannot lie” and “So, Cosmo says you’re fat. // Well, I ain’t down with that.” Each line, he says, was written to serve one calculated purpose.
“I said, ‘How do I write this track and kind of diss the norm in a funny way?’” he says. “I didn’t want women to look at Cosmo as the goal … Don’t look at Cosmo and say, ‘I’ve got to get that physique so they’ll put me in pictures.’ Don’t worry about them! Baby, you are beautiful, you are gorgeous, you can do what you want to do. The hell with them.”
I realized ‘There's another beautiful that, for some reason, is not being talked about much.' I wanted to talk about it.
Though its array of sexual lyrics made “Baby Got Back” a controversial track at the time, it still climbed to the top of the charts and struck a chord with female fans.
“It’s kind of an empowering song by accident,” Sir Mix-a-Lot says. “Every line in that song was written with that in mind: Pick at the establishment not too much, not too over the top and lift the sisters up. Constantly elevate them, even at the risk of dissing yourself.”
This was particularly important, he points out, given the way a majority of black women were portrayed on television in those days.
“They were maids, servants, they played hookers or they would assimilate to another culture,” he says. “I didn’t like that. It bothered me a lot.”
Sir Mix-a-Lot wanted to celebrate real women’s lives and shapes, but he says he also wanted to be careful not to preach. “When I wrote ‘Baby Got Back,’ I wanted to make sure that I said those things without offending anybody,” he says.
The song was a definitive success, winning a Grammy and solidifying its place in pop culture history. Sir Mix-a-Lot certainly succeeded in getting his message out there through song.
“The people that needed to hear it got it immediately,” he says. “It worked well enough.”
Another inside look at making music: