How Sir Mix-A-Lot led me to Seattle

I’ve never told this story to anyone, simply because they would laugh. This is a silly story, but I swear it’s true. When I was 26, I had been in Albuquerque for two years and knew I needed a change. I loved being back in New Mexico after the Peace Corps, but I had a strong sense that I was never meant to stay in NM.

I started considering places to move. I ruled out most of the US really quickly. Back east has too much snow and cold. (This also ruled out the mid-west.) The south was too hot and muggy. Texas and Arizona were still too close to home. (I mean seriously, Phoenix is Albuquerque-west.) California? I love to visit, but could not deal with the cost of living. So there I was. Where to go, where to go?

Sea-town

I can remember the moment Seattle popped into my head, I was sitting in my apartment and it just came to me. And instantly, I knew it was the place for me. Which was really strange because I’d never been there. I’d never even been to the northwest. The furthest north I’d ventured on the left coast was Sacramento. So I planned a trip out there and started wrapping things up in NM.

I went to see how I felt about Seattle and how Seattle felt about me. My first night in Seattle, I met up with the son of a  lady that worked with my mom. I picked him up in the rental car and he suggested his favorite (gay) hangout which was on Broadway.

Kevin shouted “Broadway, it’s time to get def!”

Now, I played it cool, but already I was thinking, The Broadway, from Posse on Broadway? But I just drove, not asking any questions. Just as we parked and started walking to the Broadway Grill, I saw it. Dicks ON BROADWAY. And seriously, I knew it was ridiculous, but I started tearing up. I just knew I was meant to be there. I mean, dude, it’s the Dick’s from Posse on Broadway. That is a helluva good omen!

So until today, I had never actually seen the video for Posse on Broadway. But there at 3:20, it looks a lot like the Dick’s that I saw on Broadway that first night in town.  That’s some powerful magic ya’ll!

Mac Daddy

It’s a shame if all you know of Sir Mix-A-Lot is Baby Got Back. He is not a novelty rapper and that song, despite the fact that you have probably danced to it with your aunties and nieces at a wedding, is a good song.

And Mix deserves your respect. Of  all the amazing artists to come out of the Northwest — Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Heart, Queensrÿche, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarten — it was Mix-A-Lot that was the first to hit number one on the charts and the song went double platnum. Mix got a grammy for Best Rap Solo performance. The vid was controversial back in the day. Because of the “sexual nature of the video” (read pro-black message), MTV only played it at night. It says a lot about how mainstream hip hop has become that Target used the song for their back to school ads a few years ago. (Stats from Wikipedia.)

Magnet Magazine describes Mix-A-Lot’s  influence well:

Sir Mix-A-Lot—a.k.a. Seattle-based rapper/producer Anthony Ray—may forever be linked to 1992 mega-hit “Baby Got Back,” but you’d be off-base in labeling him a one-hit wonder. One of hip hop’s ultimate DIY practitioners, Ray was a platinum-selling artist (his 1988 album, Swass, and its definitive single, “Posse On Broadway”) long before “Baby Got Back” introduced suburbanites everywhere to the glories of the big, bad booty.

He founded his own record label (Nastymix), promoted his music himself while producing his own tracks, created a Seattle hip-hop scene from scratch (giving birth to a generation of latter-day artists such as Blue Scholars, Oldominion and Common Market) and was among the first hip-hop acts to deliberately collaborate in the rock genre (working with fellow Seattleites Mudhoney, Metal Church and Presidents Of The United States Of America).

These days, Ray is working on a new album due out next year and generally surveying a scene hugely influenced by the music he created two decades ago.

Back in the mid 80’s, Mix was underground right alongside the big boys: Run DMC, LL Cool J, and NWA. DK Presents describes our experience nicely:

But before the internet, the idea of alternative music was very real. Around my high school fans of groups like The Cure and Depeche Mode were sequestered away in secret societies, where membership was hard-earned and meant being a virtual outcast from the rest of the student body (it also meant buying and using copious amounts of eye-liner, regardless of gender).

But in truth, discovering anything that wasn’t on the FM dial or MTV was akin to getting into a speakeasy with a secret knock and password. Metal, punk, hip-hop, and other non-mainstream genres were years away from anything approaching national marketing, and finding out even basic information about underground bands required a level of proactive effort that would stun anyone who takes AllMusic.com for granted

Hip-hop started filtering into my circle of friends around 1986, a full two years before Yo MTV Raps! hit the airwaves, so any clues about rap were relegated to word-of-mouth, “listen to this” experiences. There’s no question that, because it was exotic music that lived on the fringe of the mainstream, hip-hop had extra appeal for teenagers in a slow-paced small town, and by my senior year (1987) it was definitely in the mix at every clandestine keg party. In particular, Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Swass, LL Cool J’s Bigger And Deffer, Run-DMC’s Raising Hell and the Beastie Boys’ Licensed To Ill served us and served us well.

You better recognize

Those were his peers, yet listening to Sir Mix-A-Lot, his style was all his own. He has such a gift for storytelling and engaging delivery. He just holds the listener transfixed as he tells an funny story in such a clever way. Don’t believe me? Have you heard Posse on Broadyway? Or what about Gold?

There is such a pride in his city and the northwest throughout all his songs. There are so many places I knew of before I even got here: Broadway, Ranier, Seward Park, the CD, Pine St, MLK, 23rd and the list goes on….And his stories included descriptions of the many  different racial groups and cultures represented in this international city.

And throughout his songs, he’s thrown out some great lines, both amazingly descriptive and succint:

“Cuz I never liked a punk who beat up on his girl. If you don’t have game, then let her leave your world.”

“I work for myself, don’t have no boss. Boy you gotta have game if you wanna be swass.”

Follow the signs

I’m a huge believer in signs. To me, signs are those little affirmations that mean you are on the right path. A sign to me is hearing an obscure Prince tune on the radio at 6 am as I am setting up for the garage sale. Or having every light seem to wait for me as I am late on my way to volunteer. To me, it’s those little nods from the universe that you are where you are supposed to be.

And while I don’t believe in bad omens per se, when something occurs that has very negative meaning to me, I slow down and start paying attention. I guess I think of it as a Caution sign more than a bad portend. Or as Tribe called Quest put it: Be alert, look alive and act like you know.

Word to the 206

How does the story end? I have been here  twelve years.  (Prior to this, the longest I’d every lived anywhere was four years.) Seattle is my home and she has been good to me. I love the rich musical history and thriving music scene. I have seen so many amazing shows at tiny venues. I have been to battle rap competitions! Me! In my thirties! I couldn’t believe it myself, I never dreamed I would see battle rap live.  That is the holy grail for a hip hop head like me.

Seattle is a truly international city. It’s wonderful to get to live in the US but surround yourself with people from all over. We were at a small neighborhood park yesterday, enjoying some much needed sunshine. In the hour we were there, my kids played with children representing 5 different countries, we heard at least four different languages. This park is less than two miles from our house.

And know that Mix is still keeping it real in the 206. I’ve seen him make appearances on local TV programs and random events. He has a new website which looks great. Unfortunately, I have to say I HATE the clip of Mix on SNL shown on his blog. He is too good for that crappy sketch, he deserved better! If this post inspries you to pick up some Mix a lot, you can buy it directly from his web-site. Let’s show our homeboy some love!

Five Mix a Lot picks by Bonita Applebum

Do I hate them? No I gotta love ’em. They think my head is big and                         I’m trying to be above them.

Yo bro, you ain’t the flow pro.

I can tell you’re getting jealous from the looks I’m catchin’.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mr.Bitterness (nom de plume)
    Feb 19, 2010 @ 22:46:21

    I just wanted to say that I truly loved this post. I am a native New Yorker trapped in a place I dislike because of the local yokel parade of idiocy that tarnishes this fair town. I was lucky enough to be at ground zero when hip-hop gnashed its teeth first and I appreciate being there at the right moment. Your love of the hip-hops was such a breath of fresh air for a jaded old guy like me and I just wanted to say thank you for a great read.

    your new fan
    The Reverend Roberto

    Reply

  2. toe-to-toe
    Feb 20, 2010 @ 12:37:56

    this was awesome. thank you for reminding me about those little nods from the Universe! i def used to think like that, but in the last year and a half id kind of gotten lost in my own troubles, and i hadn’t been paying enough attention to see if any nods had happened to me in that time. this was a timely reminder, and it’s given me some food for thought, as is usual for you! much love!

    Reply

  3. Melissa
    Feb 20, 2010 @ 13:29:07

    This was a really great post, Bonita. You not only showed me how much more to Sir Mix-a-lot there is, but wrapped it in your own story of self-discovery and looking for a place to calll home.

    I take for granted having the Internet to search out music I would otherwise have trouble finding on my own, or would spend a lot of money to get. As a teen, I liked buying albums in record stores and taping things off of the radio and collecting all this information for my mental “must listen to” list, but the Internet is both good for finding everything, and takes away the community feeling. Sometimes I still get it when my brother shows me his DJ finds with real records or my friend sends me jazzy instrumentals, but it’s hard to imagine a time when all of this music that is easy to find now was so hidden and underground that you had to be really in the scene to know it all.

    Reply

  4. Dagney
    Feb 20, 2010 @ 21:27:30

    Bonita- What a great story. I love that you connect the dots of life with the gentle lilting background of a soundtrack.

    Reply

  5. Richard
    Jun 16, 2010 @ 19:11:23

    I love this website, the information is great and I have bookmarked it in my favorites. This is a well organized and informative website. Great Job!

    Reply

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