“Baby Got Back” by rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot was released May 7, 1992. Approximately two months later, July 4, 1992, the song was No. 1 in the US. The song’s ribald content was actually cultural commentary that discussed a facet of American life that at the time wasn’t discussed on a national scale. That is, the differing beauty standards for white women and black women. Before anti-body-shaming movements and the proliferation of acceptance of various types of beauty, it was up to individuals to value their physical attributes and to declare themselves attractive.
Sir Mix-A-Lot and “Baby Got Back” and other songs about the body
Seattle, Washington native, Sir Mix-A-Lot, was not the first performer in any genre to extol the virtues of the kind of body he found attractive. From “My Lean Baby” (made popular by Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughn) to “Brick House” by the Commodores, and numerous others in between, the female body or the physical body of a beloved person, has long been a topic for popular music.
What sets “Baby Got Back” apart is Sir Mix-A-Lot’s explanations of what he means in terms of proportion, how people respond to types of bodies they don’t appreciate, and how to keep up the body type he desires. It is rap, after all.
During what could be described as a bridge, Sir Mix-A-Lot mocks the so-called standard for women’s proportions. “36-24-36?” he asks. “Only if she’s five-three.”
At the beginning of the song is the discussion of a black woman’s “butt.” Those discussing the woman are supposedly white women (Becky and her friend) who declare the woman’s backside “so big” and “so black.”
With this, “Baby Got Back” kicks off a national discussion of what constitutes attractiveness and why it is important not to change because other people do not appreciate how a person looks.
In true unabashed style, Sir Mix-A-Lot pleads to women to stay in shape while keeping the desired proportions. “You can do side bends or sit-ups/but please don’t lose that butt” he raps. Thus, it is not a promotion of “obesity” as so many body positivity movements are accused of being.
Sir Mix-A-Lot and the early 1990s rap and r&b scenes
In terms of chart positions, Sir Mix-Al-Lot had to compete with a brand new crop of r&b groups comprised of all men or all women. New beats and new dances were gaining the attention of youthful music lovers. For all the sophisticated love songs and odes to old neighborhoods and hometowns, no one was talking about the body in the way Sir Mix-A-Lot was.
With a catchy beat that encouraged some to dance, “Baby Got Back” grew in popularity. That beat, plus the lyrics that mocked a sentiment in public what many mocked in private, resonated with urban listeners.
“Baby Got Back” was so popular it inspired a parody – – “Baby Got Snacks” on the comedy show “In Living Color.” In the musical skit, Jamie Foxx plays a rapper named Trail Mix-A-Lot and the desired women are larger than imagined in the song.
Despite the jokes, some elements of the song remain in widespread usage. “Back” as a stand-in for “butt” was used throughout the 1990s, and “Becky” as a name for white women who behave rudely under the guise of having “standards” still exists today.
While the intent of “Baby Got Back” was probably just to have fun, maybe make a point, when audiences look a little deeper, more is there.