IN THE SUMMER OF 1992 there wasn’t a rapper alive bigger than Sir Mix-a-Lot. “Baby Got Back,” his ode to ample behinds, was inescapable—even after MTV banned it. (The once-edgy network that had allowed Howard Stern to bare his backside on live TV was suddenly skittish about rhymes like “My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hon.”) It spent five weeks at the top of the Billboard charts—the last song by a Seattle artist to hit number one—and earned him a Grammy the next year. He’s never replicated that success, but ask local hip-hop heads who put this city on the map, and they’ll tell you it was Mix. (His family knows him as Anthony Ray.) Now, 20 years after his peak, he’s working on a new album, but don’t call it a comeback. He never left.
Back in the ’80s the perception outside of the city was that we all rode horses, so a lot of Seattle rappers would try to act like they were from New York or LA. But I realized that wasn’t going to work. I don’t lie on wax. That’s why you never heard me talking about how I shot 50 people. I just said, “I’m going to be me. What did I see when I was growing up?” I didn’t see gangs, but what I saw was pimps. So that’s what I talked about, but in a more comical way.
When MTV banned “Baby Got Back” I’ll never forget what the label’s publicist said: “This is what’s going to take your song from being a hit in 1992 to legendary status.” All of a sudden it went from being that song you got sick of on the radio to being pushed out by the system. It was no longer a novelty. It wasn’t cute. It wasn’t simple. Somebody didn’t like it. Elvis was wiggling his hips again.
If you ever want to snatch the credibility right out from under your own career, dis your biggest song. What you’re telling the fans is, “What you know and love about me is bullshit.” So I’ve always embraced “Baby Got Back.”
A video director once told me that he viewed curvy women as whores. I fired him, of course.
I had to learn a lot about the music industry. But it didn’t take long. You get screwed out of some money, and you learn.
My ego’s never been what drives me. When people doubt me— that drives me. Every large move I made, there were doubters. When I was just a DJ at the Boys Club and I decided I wanted to make a record, people doubted that: “Oh, dude, you just a DJ.” Then when I made a record and it did pretty good locally it was, “Yeah, but can you do it on a national level?” Then when I did it on a national level it was, “Yeah, but you’re still living in a rented house.” Then when I bought a house it was, “Yeah, but you haven’t won a Grammy.” Then when I won a Grammy there was nothing left to say, so it was just, “Oh, he’s a sellout.”
But I wasn’t competing for street cred. I wanted to do something bigger than just make songs that sold on Yesler Way. When I started leaving town and meeting other stars, I’d watch how they carried themselves, and their demeanor was just like, Whatever. I had one rapper tell me, “If you ain’t hated at home, you ain’t doing no damage.” I overcompensated by giving money to people. I just gave, gave, gave—to the point where it actually hurt. And to this day, you’d hear some of those very same people say, “He didn’t give me shit.”
I’m fiercely loyal in business. A lot of guys have said a lot about me, but they can’t say, “He owes me ten grand.” Business is like having sex: When people start spreading rumors, you’re done.
The IRS popped me for $150,000 in 1996. I was so pissed off, blaming everybody else. And I remember washing my car and I’m bitching, and my brother just calmly put out his cigarette and said, “When was the last time you seen Mom?” And he walked off. That hit me. The fact that I had to think about it told me, “Oh, that’s the problem. It’s me.” I remember it like it was yesterday. That’s when I realized, Okay, first and foremost, the next goal is to get close to family. And since then, me and my mom have been like this. She has dementia now, but she knows me when she sees me because I go there so often.
I’m a big Tony Robbins fan. Some guys will look outside and see that it’s not raining but there are clouds in the sky and go, “Here come the clouds.” I go, “Damn, it’s not raining.” And I believe that those little, subtle moves dictate who you are. The guy who sees it as potential rain never succeeds. I’ve met a lot of successful people, and none of them think like that.
Nobody knows how to make hits. That’s accidental. That’s what happened for me. That’s what happens for everybody. Some people will tell you, “I knew from the day I released that album it would go Number One.” Bullshit, no you didn’t. You got lucky.
Never get used to fame. It can go away just as fast as you get it.