In the 1990s, rappers were not afraid to produce amusing songs. Naughty by Nature made “O.P.P.”; Duice had “Dazzey Duks”; and then there was Sir Mix-a-Lot, with “Baby Got Back.”
On Saturday, July 8, Spotlight 29 will host the Old School Freestyle Festival, with Sir Mix-a-Lot as the headliner. The show will also include Taylor Dayne, Stevie B, Sweet Sensation, Ying Yang Twins, Debbie Deb, Snap!, Pretty Poison and DJ Unk.
During a recent phone interview with Sir Mix-a-Lot, aka Anthony Ray, I was surprised by not only the smooth tone of his voice, but his extensive musical knowledge—and his business acumen. I asked him what he’s been doing in between sporadic live appearances since releasing his last album, Daddy’s Home, in 2003.
“I’ve been doing all kinds of stuff, man,” Ray said. “I do pretty well with publishing and licensing. I have a tech company I started called True Human Interface, and we’re finally close to a first product, so that’s going pretty good. I’ve also been dabbling in some real estate and had bought some things in the down market in 2008 and got out of them now, so that’s looking good.”
Given the current state of the music industry, Ray seems like a genius for not putting all of his eggs into one basket.
“The industry now is so different than back then,” he said. “I’m definitely not a ‘get off my lawn’ kind of guy, but at some point, you have to see it for what it is. The old guys are being stupid, because they don’t want to let their music be posted on any streaming service, but these are the same old fucks who beg people to ‘please play my record for free on the radio.’ I always tell people that I always pitch myself, because in this day and age, it’s not normal in hip hop to be doing pretty well.”
Ray, originally from Seattle, said he loves different types of music. He recorded the song “Freak Momma” with the band Mudhoney for the Judgment Night soundtrack, and he performed and released several songs with the band the Presidents of the United States of America under the name Subset.
“I love music. I’ve never been a one-genre kind of guy,” Ray said. “I love hip hop. I’m crazy about EDM at my age, and then into old-school funk like Parliament-Funkadelic. The only thing I’m not crazy about is straight pop music. It’s always about been rock music with an edge—grunge music, obviously, and stuff like Metallica.
“Me recording with the Presidents of the United States of America years ago was a natural progression. We never released a record, because the old guys with money never gave a shit,” he added with a laugh.
Ray said he felt a little bit out of place in Seattle’s music scene early in his career.
“When I released my first record, Swass, in 1988, there really wasn’t any grunge music,” he said. “Seattle wasn’t musically dormant, because there was music being made; it just wasn’t national. It felt a little strange, and I felt a little guilty, because you had great bands who were just starting to come together. The Soundgardens and the Pearl Jams were just starting to get the momentum going, and I sneak in with this song called ‘Posse on Broadway’ and get a platinum record out of it. But once the grunge movement hit, and people realized Jimi Hendrix was from here, everything started to catch on, and I felt more comfortable.”
Some bands that have come out of the grunge world have said they hate the term “grunge.” Ray said he finds that opinion to be … well, stupid.
“I hate that,” he said. “Can you imagine Run-DMC saying to you, ‘Please don’t call us rap,’ at any point? I don’t understand why grunge is something to be ashamed of. It’s still rock ’n’ roll. It’s uniquely Seattle, and I personally think when artists diss that term or that name, they’re actually telling people not to take them seriously, because grunge is a unique sound.”
Of course, Ray’s biggest hit is “Baby Got Back,” released in 1992.
“‘Baby Got Back’ was actually a serious track,” Ray said. “The reason the song was written was because at that time, back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the African-American idea of beauty was never represented publicly. You only saw three types of African-American women on TV: a prostitute, a heavy-set woman who gave advice to white children on their way to school in the morning, or a black woman who had to assimilate to another culture to be accepted.
“After talking to the director (for the music video) and telling him the same thing, I was blown away when I walked in and saw this girl on a pedestal, which is what I wanted, but she’s wearing this … oh my God, talk about stereotypical. I thought someone was playing a joke on me. She had this big gold chain, and she looked like a prostitute with these cheesy shoes and leopard print, and I was like, ‘Whoa! You guys got me all messed up.’ It got me off on the wrong foot, and I had to explain to everyone in the room that this song was a serious subject wrapped in novelty. Those who did know that said, ‘Thank you,’ when I made that song. After that, the video went fine.”
“Baby Got Back” was controversial due to its sexual content.
“The song was banned from MTV, which I felt was ironic; that song wasn’t racy or sexist,” Ray said. “I was a little surprised that there was any issue whatsoever, to be honest. I made sure that in the song, I’m lusting for this girl, but I actually never get her. I never conquer. So it comes off like I’m a sexist pig, but I can’t get her because I’m a sexist pig, and that’s why, I think, the video really worked.”
Ray has made a new album—but he said he’s hesitant to release it.
“I have an album that’s actually ready … and what’s keeping me from releasing it is I have this issue with how it would be perceived,” he said. “I don’t want people to think I released a record only because I’m desperate. That’s kind of a fear I have, and I don’t know where that comes from.
“People are shocked when they meet me and learn that I’m not broke. I was driving my Lamborghini the other day, and I had a guy come up to me and ask, ‘Did you rent that, or do you own it?’ Perception is that I must be broke, and that’s not the case. I don’t want that perception to be the reason that I tarnish things I do in the past, because I love making music, and I’m doing what I’m doing because I love music. It’s not as easy as it sounds.”
The current state of rap music came up during our conversation.
“It’s just like it was in any era. I say this about rock and rap: In any era, the cream rises, and the bad stuff sinks,” Ray said. “The kids grab a song, and it blows up. That’s good, but if those kids grow up and resent the fact they ever liked that song, that’s bad. Is there a formula for retaining those kids as they grow up? I don’t know. I got lucky, and three of my songs are still holding on, but it’s hard to do.
“There was some bad stuff out there in my era, and some people say I was that bad stuff,” he added with a laugh.
The Old School Freestyle Festival takes place at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 8, at Spotlight 29, 46200 Harrison Place, in Coachella. Tickets are $39 to $59. For tickets or more information, call 760-775-5566, or visit www.spotlight29.com.