This past weekend, I spent a couple of days catching up with some old friends I hadn't seen in about ten years. The context for the reunion was a documentary film about the history of the Northwest hip-hop scene being shot in Seattle by local production company, Coolout Productions.
In this case, though, the occasion itself wasn't quite the most important thing. About ten years had passed since our last encounter, and I figured it was long overdue that I made a little time to catch up with my friends Sir Mix-A-Lot, Kid Sensation (a.k.a. Xola Malik), Attitude Adjuster, and my former drinking pal, Maharaji. I needed to see what these cats were up to lately.
Turns out they've been up to quite a bit too, but we'll get to all that in due course. First, a little history is probably is in order.
From around the mid-eighties to early-nineties, I was deeply involved in the Northwest hip-hop scene. I wrote about it for Seattle's music paper, The Rocket, sold it at Seattle's inner-city record store, Music Menu, and played it on the radio as DJ "Shockmaster" Glen Boyd — first on my own KCMU show Shock Frequency, later teaming up with DJ Nasty Nes for KCMU's Rap Attack. How the partnership between Nasty Nes and I came about is a story in and of itself, and one I'll save for a future article in this series.
During this same time, Sir Mix-A-Lot was a local rapper who was creating quite a stir both at local house parties as well as when Nes began playing his records like "Square Dance Rap" on his own Fresh Tracks radio show on the commercial R&B station K-FOX.
When the hastily pressed recordings began to sell like hotcakes off the griddle at stores like Music Menu and Tacoma's Penny Lane, Nes and local promoter Ed Locke formed Nastymix Records to distribute them. I eventually went to work for the label as head of National Retail Promotions. There was an album, and then another, and the rest was history.
I had the great fortune to witness this phenomenon from the ground up and — as gold and platinum records followed — I eventually rode the Sir Mix-A-Lot train all the way to a gig at Rick Rubin's Def American label along with a trip to the Grammys when Mix-A-Lot won for "Baby Got Back."
It was an amazing time, one made all the more dizzying by my ringside seat. At the time, a rapper from Seattle making it all the way to the top of the music mountain was simply unheard of — at least not in the grunge-loving town that gave birth to Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains.
And in this particular instance, the rapper in question also happened to be a good friend of mine.
Of all the people involved though — including, most importantly Sir Mix-A-Lot himself — I've only managed to stay in touch with Nasty Nes, who I see about once a year, but otherwise maintain regular correspondence with by e-mail. So a reunion with Mix-A-Lot and the rest of his group was long overdue.
It was time for the Posse On Broadway to roll…again.
After spending Friday night in a freezing-cold studio in Seattle's Belltown district to film interviews with Nes and myself about our days at KCMU and Nastymix, we met up Saturday morning at Nes' hotel near the airport to make our way to Mix-A-Lot's place. Actually, make that his mansion.
Driving up to its iron gates and viewing it from the outside at street level, Mix-A-Lot's "crib" looks like nothing so much as the classic mansion on a hill. If it we're just a bit darker and well-worn — and if you added in a few more bare trees with those skinny branches that seem to grow out from every direction — Mix's house wouldn't look out of place in a film like House On Haunted Hill.
After making the long trek up a winding driveway leading to the inner sanctum, we made our way inside and found the interior to be no less impressive than the golf-course-perfect grounds outside. Sir Mix-A-Lot greeted us at the door and gave a quick tour, which included long spiral stairways, a kitchen the size of my entire house, an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool, a basketball court, and space for a yet-to-be-built recording studio.
I found myself torn between thoughts of pride in how well my old friend has done for himself and wondering at exactly what point had I made my own wrong turn off of this personal road.
More than that though, I was also very curious about how Mix-A-Lot could continue to live this, quite frankly, large. After all it has been 15 years since "Baby Got Back," and the hits haven't exactly kept on coming since. As it turned out, though, I would get my answers to that and other questions soon enough.
After exchanging some old war stories about the days at Nastymix (such as the way Mix-A-Lot announced to both staff at the label and to the rest of the world — through a bold double-paged ad in Billboard Magazine — that he was leaving to launch his own Rhyme Cartel enterprise), it was time to get caught up on the present.
In one more quick war story though, Mix recalled our own relationship, and the first time I criticized one of his songs — the title track to his debut album Swass. "Glen was always real nice about telling me something sucked," Mix laughed. "’Swass’ was the song I wanted to push, but Glen wasn't hearing it. He was all about ‘Posse On Broadway,’ and he was right."
Just as I was soaking up this unexpected praise from my old friend, however, Mix nailed me cold. "The only thing is, when The Pussycat Dolls used part of "Swass" (for their mega-hit "Don't Cha'"), that's what paid for this house." I guess even the Shockmaster can get it wrong every now and then.
In fact, artists like the Pussycat Dolls and movies like the Charlie’s Angels remake (and Cameron Diaz's famous scene dancing to "Baby Got Back") are exactly what has kept the Sir Mix-A-Lot brand fresh in the minds of music fans for all these years — ever since the 1993 smash became that year's second-bestselling single (Only Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" outsold it).
Always an astute businessman, Mix-A-Lot’s choices about how that brand is marketed and represented have always been paramount. He says he’s been blessed too many times over the course of his life and career to chalk it up to mere chance. Which is why these days, Mix-A-Lot takes nothing for granted — especially the brand.
"The main thing is I have to have creative control. And don't think I haven't been offered reality shows," Mix-A-Lot said. "But when we did the Burger King ads, that was the first thing they said — it's a good thing you didn't do those reality shows, or we wouldn't be here. But Burger King was great to work with. They left me alone and let me do my own thing. Target was the same way."
What Sir Mix-A-Lot wants more than anything else these days, however, is to be recognized for his talents outside of the limelight — producing and working with other artists. To that end, he has relaunched his Rhyme Cartel label and is working with a group of artists, including rapper E-Dawg, hybrid rocker/rapper Outtasite, and neo-soul singer/songwriter Tomeka Williams.
"I've always been an electronics and a gadget guy," Mix-A-Lot says. "So I want to show my skills there by doing the best job I can with these new artists, and then by putting their stuff out there the right way. Not just with the Internet and the viral marketing, but with the right kind of shows — and not the chitlin' sort of circuit we came up on."
The rest of Sir Mix-A-Lot's original group — Kid Sensation, Attitude Adjuster, Maharaji, and Nasty Nes — all share a collective laugh at that last statement. They've also been busy with their own projects and, in most cases, also have families of their own these days.
Kid Sensation (who currently goes by the name Xola Malik) is still making solo albums, as well as working with charities like the United Way, and athletes like baseball stars Ichiro Suzuki and his longtime friend Ken Griffey Jr. Attitude Adjuster and Maharaji are working on solo projects of their own, with Maharaji also working with a left-handed guitar whiz from Colorado who he describes as "insane" (which means good, by the way). Nasty Nes is CEO of his own record marketing firm Rap Attack Lives, and has also done some acting, including a recent spot on NBC's E.R..
Sir Mix-A-Lot also says he has at least one album of his own left in him. "I don't have anything to prove anymore, so I don't really care if it sells thirty copies or thirty million. I'm just doing this one for me. And it won't all be rap stuff either. Hip-hop is always gonna be my first love. But it's not the only thing I'm about. I just love music."
It was great catching up with old friends again. By the way, that's me you'll miss if you blink as I "walk into the party looking like Joker" in the video below.
'Twas another lifetime…
Photo Credits: 2009 by Coolout Network