Radio Hits One: "Baby Got Back" And 20 Years Of Ass-Themed Hits
20 years ago, the Seattle-based rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot was doing pretty well as a mid-level star of the burgeoning west coast hip-hop scene, coming off of two successful albums and a series of rap radio staples like "Posse On Broadway" and "My Hoopty." In February 1992 he'd just released his third album, Mack Daddy, and its moderately popular lead single, "One Time's Got No Case," when he made a decision that would change his lifeand, dare I say, the world: He released the track "Baby Got Back" as a single, and spent most of the attendant video standing astride a gigantic prop ass. Within a few months, the song had topped the Hot 100. (No other Mix-a-Lot single before or since has reached higher than No. 70.) That put "Baby Got Back" in the anal annals of history as the most famous butt-themed hit song of all time, though it's had ample competition in the two decades since.
Of course, there were songs about the ass before "Baby Got Back," both in hip-hop and further back in the worlds of disco and especially funk; Sir Mix-a-Lot himself credits the ass-obsessed Parliament-Funkadelic as a primary influence for "Back." Even a rock band, Queen, got "Fat Bottomed Girls" into the Top 40 in 1978. Throughout the '60s and '70s, most hit songs about moving your behind would beat around the bush by merely telling you to shake your hips, your groove thing, or simply "it." The first overtly butt-themed No. 1 came in 1976, when KC & The Sunshine Band topped the charts with "(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty"; in 1988, the Washington, D.C. Go-Go band E.U. cracked the Top 40 with "Da Butt"; and a year later hip-hop enjoyed its biggest pre-Mix-a-Lot celebration of the ass with LL Cool J's "Big Ole Butt," which peaked on the Rap Singles chart at No. 13.
In the early '90s, the Hot 100 was still largely ruled by gloopy ballads. So the five weeks "Baby Got Back" spent at the top of the charts were an oasis of goofy, uptempo fun in the middle of a summer that was otherwise dominated by Boyz II Men's "End of the Road," Mariah Carey's "I'll Be There" and Madonna's "This Used To Be My Playground." But that song helped plant the seed for another future booty-shaking smash: Wreckx-N-Effect producer Teddy Riley drafted protégé Pharrell Williams to help write "Rump Shaker." And Williams would go onto great success years later as one half of the production duo The Neptunes--whose hits include "Shake Ya Ass" by Mystikal, which hit No. 13 on the Hot 100 in its clean edit form as "Shake It Fast" in 2000.
"Baby Got Back" foreshadowed what would prove to be a very funky butt-loving 20 years on the pop charts, although things were relatively quiet on the rear front for a few years after "Rump Shaker" and the peripherally butt-themed ode to hot pants by Duice, "Dazzey Duks," which peaked at No. 12 in 1993. Sir Mix-a-Lot continued the T&A-obsessed new direction of his career with later singles like "Ride," but his most overtly anatomical single after "Baby Got Back," 1994's "Put 'Em On The Glass," was decidedly more T than A.
The late '90s and early 2000s, though, marked a golden era for the ass song, a time when booty-themed hits scaled the Hot 100 once or several times a year, and at least three compilations of booty jams were released and promoted with late night TV ads.
The turn of the century booty rap renaissance began with Juvenile's "Back That Azz Up," which in its clean edit as "Back That Thang Up" peaked at No. 19 on the Hot 100 and No. 5 on the Hip-Hop/R&B chart, and no doubt inspired Juve's modest 2001 hit "From Her Mama (Mama Got Ass)," which peaked at No. 65 on the Hot 100. In 2000, Juvenile's New Orleans contemporary Mystikal hit big with the aforementioned "Shake Ya Ass," a few months after Sisqo's "Thong Song," ostensibly titled after an article of clothing but indisputably a celebration of the ass, peaked at No. 3. Amidst this booty hit parade there were a myriad of minor hits such as R. Kelly's "Feelin' On Yo Booty" (No. 36, 2001), Mos Def's "Ms. Fat Booty" (No. 54 R&B, 1998) and Trina's "Pull Over" (No. 93 on the Hot 100, 2000) and even a dance hit, Groove Armada's "I See You Baby" (No. 12 on the Hot Dance Club Tracks chart, 1999). Benzino, the infamous co-owner of the magazine The Source who often used his industry pull to launch a career as a rapper, even drafted "Rump Shaker" producer Teddy Riley to help him make an ass-themed hit, "Boottee," although like other Benzino singles it failed to chart.
In 2001, pop music's increasing obsession with the ass and ability to alter the English language were demonstrated by two hit songs. "Fatty Girl," a posse cut headlined by Ludacris and LL Cool J, reached No. 87 on the Hot 100 and featured Keith Murray's first on-record coinage of the now famous phrase "badonkadonk," which has since inspired countless songs, including the country novelty hit "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" by Trace Adkins (No. 30 on the Hot 100, 2005). And "Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child was a landmark for the butt song genre in many ways: after countless songs that almost exclusively came from the perspective of the male gaze, Beyoncé and her girls were celebrating their own curves.Moreover, it was the third Hot 100 chart-topper to reference the human ass in its title (following KC & The Sunshine Band and Sir Mix-a-Lot), and it launched the title term unto such wide usage that "bootylicious" was accepted as a new word in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006. In the decade since "Bootylicious," no overtly butt-themed song has hit No. 1 again, although one may argue about the relevance of "Hips Don't Lie," "Laffy Taffy," "Get Busy," "Drop It Like It's Hot," and many other body-moving 21st century No. 1s. The Black Eyed Peas reached No. 3 with "My Humps" in 2005, and Bubba Sparxxx and the Ying Yang Twins got to No. 7 soon after with "Ms. New Booty."
In recent years there'd been a relative drought of ass songs on the charts until Big Sean's "Dance (A$$)" which, after being remixed with Nicki Minaj, peaked at No. 10 and became perhaps the most ridiculously, repetitively ass-obsessed hit in the two decades since "Baby Got Back." The Gym Class Heroes also recently peaked at No. 12 with "Ass Back Home," although that song's rare instance of an uncensored A-word on the charts probably owes to the use of the word as a euphemism for "self" rather than an anatomical reference. Another recent top-20 hit, "The Motto" by Minaj's labelmate Drake, contains a guest verse by Lil Wayne that concludes with a knowing nod to the "Baby Got Back" intro: "Oh my god, Becky, look at her butt."
This article has been corrected from its original version.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.