I generally spend a lot of time writing about MCs that may get overlooked by the masses, but at least the "True Listeners" of lyrics recognize their lyrical talents. I thought I'd flip it here and write about a guy that the masses love, if only for a few cuts, but hardly anyone ever celebrates his lyrical contributions...
Sir Mix A Lot is fairly well known name in Hip Hop. These days his fame is primarily linked to two songs, “Put ‘m On The Glass” and especially “Baby Got Back”. It doesn’t take any amount of imagination to figure out the subject matter of these songs. He essentially found a formula that worked on his third album, “Mack Daddy” and got the mega hit “Baby Got Back”. He then followed suit with the other strip club favorite on his 4th Album, “Chief Boot Knocka". I admit it’s a mental balancing act between finding it humorous and disturbing that those songs, and album titles for that matter, took the music world by storm.
Certainly one-part of the success of these songs is that Sir Mix A Lot had the primal instincts of the mindless masses to his advantage, but Sir Mix A Lot also had a talent for song writing, danceable production and strategic about targeting a ripe opportunity, as he did with "Posse On Broadway" and "Beepers". He also was willing to tap into his weird and absurd side to find some inspiration. I first heard Sir Mix A Lot in ‘85 on a Saturday listening of WNUR 89.3 FM in Chicago via his first minor hit, “Square Dance Rap”. On the song he is sporting a heavy effected altered voice with a awkward Country accent, all in a effort to teach you a new dance. It was clear that this was a novelty record, but it had this entertaining charm that kept me listening. It was a fun record and I was with it. There is also a piece in there where he does this speed rap verse that confirmed that he also has some MC talent, so I was curious to what else he might have to offer.
Just one year later he followed up with his “I’m A Trip” Maxi-Single. He makes fine use of the Vocoder on the hook, but this time reveals his commanding and crystal clear voice for the verses. “I’m A Trip”, plus one of his B-Sides, “I Want A Freak” are the early framework of those bigger hits later in his career. Even though these tracks are musical focused on making you dance and lyrically talking about his skills with the ladies and flaunting of his wealth, he still sprinkles in some of that competitive Hip Hop spirit. On “I’m A Trip”, he has no problem dismissing U.T.F.O’s “Roxanne, Roxanne” explosion from the East Coast as a thing of the past. He also issues a challenge for DJs/Producers to step out of their comfort zone, “I make my own jams because my mind is able/To rock the West Coast you must know more than just turntables/Yeah, I said it and I’m right, Program computers every night/Here’s a tip for you suckers if you ever wanna bite/Go buy a DMX, drink some kool-aid, have some sex/But if you use your style against me I will break your neck!” He also takes a moment to state his superiority over the Seattle locals, “Don’t waste my time with battles, cause your mind I will rattle/The only DJ with computers in Seattle!” Later in the song he details the story of how and why he acquires a DMX drum machine after being put to shame by someone rocking louder beats than him on the streets, “I went back home with a brand new plan/If I want to be the best I got to spend a few grand/Grabbed my bank card cause I know I had to use it/Looking in the phone book I saw American Music/When I walked into the store he said, ‘May I help you sir?’/I said, ‘I want a drum machine that makes the walls converge!’/’I want something big and I don’t write checks/I don’t want a 808, I want a DMX!’/I gave him two grand, said goodbye, shook his hand/Now I’m feeling real tuff, cause I’m a one man band!” Make the walls converge?!!?! Lord have mercy. I may not share his DMX VS 808 philosophy, but that is the kind of argument that would make want to at least do a comparative check just to make sure.
However, I only rocked “I’m A Trip” semi-regularly and I didn’t really pay much attention to “I Want A Freak”, except enough to notice that the drum programming and arrangement was excellent…reminding me I still need to get my hands on the Dub Version of that. Anyway, it was a third track on this record that certified me as a Sir Mix A Lot fan, “In My Studio”.
At a young age I was fascinated with studio equipment or rather the thought of it. I never really seen much of it, except for club set ups of the early-mid 80s of turntables, long mixers, echo chambers, disco lights, fog machines, bubble machines, and at least one primitive drum machine, the Boss DR-110 Dr Rhythm Drum Machine. I was most intrigued by what was used to make the music. I would always listen to songs and wonder what piece of equipment or instrument was causing certain things take place. I could spend hours thinking about it and try to envision in my mind what one of these studios might look like, but didn’t have any real insight. Spyder D touched on it in ’84 with “Placin The Beat” and I still love him for that and the song is a favorite of mine for that reason. However, Sir Mix A Lot took it to the next level with “In My Studio”. Listening made me feel like I actually understood how making a song worked and made me more determined than ever to one day have that experience for myself. I got my first Drum Machine, the Roland TR-505, later that year. It wasn’t converging any walls, but it was a start. I was only a couple years away from my first full studio experience.
The production on “In My Studio” is minimalistic, but dramatic. There’s some remedial keyboard work lurking in the background with a “worbbly” space effect and actually the highlight of the beat might be the intense drum-rolls in the very beginning that suggest something heavy is coming. When Mix A Lot comes in, full of confidence and purpose, you know it’s predominantly about the lyrics, “I demolish DJs with computer technology/Annihilate your Momma(?), no response or apology/The bass equalized to the adequate size/Add claps to my beat to individualize/My royalties increase with every tune I release/my voluminous beat vibrates the obese…” Please take a moment to re-read those lyrics and get all those visuals in place...this guy is helpful and hilarious.
Through out the song he continues to throw in jewels for inspiring young producers and engineers. He speaks about the editing conveniences of his Commodore computer and goes even deeper with, “A oscillator wizard, a joystick ruler/Complex air systems keep my stereo cooler!” Even his taunts are useful, “I’m composing on equipment that you can not afford/EQ on both sides of my mixing board!”
I honestly would listen to this over and over and try to figure out what he meant. For example, it took some time to understand that his comment “Track seven is adjusted to avoid repetition” was most likely referring to improving song arrangement and the need to switch up the beats to give variety. He also informs muffled mouth MCs, “The Dolby’s in, the hiss cuts out/The microphone is two feet away from my mouth!” He offers some trouble-shooting assistance, “The beat goes flat, I fix it in a jiffy/A minor malfunction in the world of MIDI.” If you’re working on that final mix and it hasn’t got that knock you want, you can heed his suggestion, “Sub-Oscillators makes Bass sound greater.”
In the midst of all this valuable information he does reroute briefly to administer a quick verbal sucker punch, “Songs that I do generate revenue/You’re comparing Mix A Lot to EGYPTIAN WHO??!!” This is obviously a lil’ slick talk about the Egyptian Lover who people compared him to due to tracks on his first single, namely "Let's G (Watch Out)" and "Mix-A-Lot's Theme"…which quite honestly do sound just like Egyptian Lover. However, Sir Mix A Lot, who by know had developed his own sound, takes the comments in stride and instead suggests perhaps he’s never even heard of him. Surely it’s untrue, but it has that MC arrogance and ruggedness which activates the pleasure chemicals of the brain. Later he even takes shot at who was most likely one of the Egyptian Lovers largest influences, “Revenge isn’t necessary, I’m so legendary/Wipe out Prince with a deep vocabulary”. Even the Purple King wasn't untouchable.
Due to this song I was very much appreciative for the mental voyage of his studio and attentive to what he was going to offer next. Tomorrow we’ll explore the “Swass” and “Seminar” albums, plus a couple B-Sides with him at his lyrical best...
From The Rhyme Side: Sir Mix A Lot Music Sampler
Written By Kevin Beacham