“Some of these rappers is kind of dainty,” Sir Mix-a-Lot says as he pumps gas en route to his Seattle home. “They think it makes them look rich if they got clean fingernails, but every now and then you gotta get ’em dirty.”
The rapper born Anthony Ray has turned his longtime side hustle of designing and flipping houses into a new reality show on DIY Network called Sir Mix-a-Lot’s House Remix. Like The Vanilla Ice Project (“I love it,” Ray beams enthusiastically. “I watch it more than any other show.”), the show finds the 54-year-old surveying different properties, choosing a fixer-upper and then drastically remodeling and selling it. During the premiere episode (which airs July 4th at 5 p.m. and July 7th at 7 p.m. local time), the affable rapper blends a hyper-charming, easygoing personality with actual fix-it skills as he attempts to remove a jacuzzi from a house and make a table out of a tree he was forced to cut down.
It’s admittedly an odd career trajectory for the rapper, who scored his first hit 30 years ago with “Posse on Broadway” before becoming a Seattle star with the release of 1988’s Swass and 1989’s Seminar. But third album Mack Daddy, and its second single “Baby Got Back,” catapulted the rapper from local legend to universal household name. The Rick Rubin-produced song was an ostensible ode to ass that incisively doubled as an indictment on media culture, body image and mainstream (read: white) perceptions of beauty.
The song, inspired by the rapper and his then-girlfriend seeing a bevy of skinny white models on a Budweiser commercial, spent seven months on the Billboard Hot 100 and has since been sampled and licensed endlessly. (Mix’s favorite version: Nicki Minaj’s 2014 hit “Anaconda.”) The Grammy-winning rapper still performs regularly (“I actually drive to all my shows,” he says with a laugh), and while his star power may not be as indelible as before, he’s long ensured a permanent spot in the music and pop culture canon.
Do you prefer to be called Sir, Mix or Anthony?
Most people just say Mix because it’s less syllables that Anthony, but I’m not into that ego thing. Anything but “asshole” is fine with me. In this business, you grow thick skin quick.
So the obvious question: Why does Sir-Mix-a-Lot have a show about flipping houses?
[Laughs] I wasn’t really interested in doing a show at all. The last thing people need is another one of these, but every time I’ve bought a house, I always bought ’em in down markets. The only thing that doesn’t drop in a down market is entertainment money. I’ve probably flipped around five homes and own four more.
How do we go from that to Sir Mix-a-Lot’s House Remix?
I build a lot of stuff, but I’m not a “construction guy.” But I’m one of these guys that sits with his hands on his hips and tells you I’m gonna fix everything. [Laughs] When I bought one house, it was nothing like it is now and everybody started saying, “Who designed this?” and “Whose idea was this?” It was me. The producer looked at the before-and-after of the house and he was like, “You really did this?” I ain’t building no damn house, but I’m not one of these cats that’s scared to pick up a hammer.
Did you ever consider calling the show Flip Hop?
Y’know, actually I did.
Really? That was just a joke.
They wanted something with “Mix” in it. I personally didn’t care, I probably would’ve preferred that actually, but they wanted it. Someone [at the network] suggested Sir Flips-a-Lot and I said, “Hell no. I’ll pull out a gun and blow your ass away if you make that the title.” I didn’t want any “Sir” in it at all.
Wait, but if they’re proposing Sir Flips-a-Lot, why wouldn’t they call the show Sir Fix-a-Lot?
I don’t want that either.
Doesn’t that make more sense, though?
Yeah it would, but you know, they were saying “flips” as in flips a lot of houses but still man, that’s cornball.
That’s fair. If I went to Seattle and saw a guy named Sir Flips-a-Lot, I would think it’d be like a Medieval Times character.
Yeah, but if you were watching HGTV and you saw a guy named Sir Flips-a-Lot, you’d be like, “Oh, this is a guy that flips houses.”
But if there was a corny guy named Sir Flips-a-Lot on HGTV and you saw that, you would definitely try to sue him, right?
[Laughs] Oh definitely, yeah yeah. We gotta do it, man. But there’s a whole lot of Sir everything. Let’s face it: It all came from Lancelot, I think. I don’t know.
Let’s move on. You say in the show, “I love big kitchens and I cannot lie.” That’d be a weird thing to lie about.
Yeah, it is kind of strange and I do have a big one too, man. I like kitchens. I’m a kitchen and bathroom freak. You could actually – and I mean literally – get a Volkswagen in my shower at my house. I spend so much time on the road, I got to see the presidential suite at the ARIA [hotel in Las Vegas] and when I saw that, that’s what gave me the inspiration for the shower in my house.
You may want to rephrase “I’m a bathroom freak.” People might take that the wrong way.
Or they might take it the right way [laughs]. Depends on what she looks like, right?
When you go into other people’s homes, do you silently judge them and their choices?
I turn it off most of the time. But I do go into houses and I’ll look at something and it’s all about what you like, though. I’m not a gimmicky guy with houses. That’s one thing I learned the hard way. I bought my first house back in the 1980s when everything was stark-white, Miami Vice-looking stuff and I was doing all that to my house. When that stuff went out of style, people would walk in and be like “Woo-wee.” I did an interview and the start of it was, “Mix-a-Lot met us at the front door in his nice, but dated, home.” Oh my God [laughs]. But I’ve learned to think about time and what time is gonna say about this house.
There was one thing on House Remix I found implausible. You show the finished home to potential buyers and they just say hello like Sir Mix-a-Lot didn’t just open the door and surprise them. I’d probably go, “Why is Sir Mix-a-Lot here showing me a home?”
[Laughs] Well, this is interesting, okay? Right now I am walking in a store full of people and nobody knows who I am. I’m in a T-shirt and sweatpants and I got a headset on and I’m talking to you as I walk around looking for something bad for me to eat. And nobody is saying a word [Laughs]. Now, if I was wearing my hat and my necklace and stuff, they’d be like, “Hey, wait a minute.” Some people always say, “You look like somebody I know. Were you ever on TV?” “No, I’m never on TV. I probably just remind you of an uncle or something.”
Give me some advice. I live in Brooklyn and the building across the street from me is offering an 1,100-square feet two-bedroom for $1.6 million. Am I insane for living in New York?
Absolutely. Two bedrooms, man, you gotta go outside and change your mind in something like that. That’s crazy. Put it this way: Eight months ago, I bought an 11,000-square foot home on 10 acres and the 10-acre parcel next door for $855,000 in a down market. Now it’s about $2.2 million.
So what’s your message to people that are considering buying 1,100 square feet for $1.65 million?
Um, find a gun. Preferably get a silencer on it. And shoot yaself.
Do you make more money from hip-hop or flipping houses?
Most of my money is more brand association deals. I own my publishing so that’s allowed me to leverage my brand in ways that most people cannot or will not because they won’t make any money doing it. I have re-record rights so I can record new material and place it in something. I can license out songs or stuff like that. So you’ll see “Baby Got Back” everywhere like with Nicki Minaj’s [“Anaconda”]. You’ll see it back when the Pussycat Dolls did “Don’t Cha.” That was a song of mine called “Swass.” I’d say I make 70 percent of my money that way.
What’s the best and corniest use of “Baby Got Back” you’ve heard?
The best is definitely “Anaconda.” I thought she really made it her song. The worst was a local commercial that some guy did 15 years ago and didn’t pay for. It was something about books like, “I like big books!” I was like, “Man, get this shit out of here.” We sent a cease and deist [letter] cause he didn’t give a shit, but he pulled it. It was horrible.
MTV famously banned the video when it first came out. Is it weird to look back and think how nationally scandalous the song and video were given how relatively innocent it sounds now?
Well, yeah. It does seem kind of silly because now little kids say “I like big butts” and they giggle about it. You had [2 Live Crew’s] Luke Skyywalker doing things 100 times harder, so it wasn’t like something crazier didn’t exist. But I think mainstream companies started to realize, “Oh, wait a minute. This song is not just about butts. This song is about culture.”
Before “Baby Got Back,” beauty was defined one way: six foot, blonde, blue eyes. That was it. That was the mainstream way of looking at it and I didn’t agree at all. I didn’t want the song to sound like an alternative to what people think beautiful is. I wanted to say: “This is beautiful. Period.” Because what you saw on TV before “Baby Got Back,” other than [The Cosby Show’s] Claire Huxtable, was that every African-American or Hispanic actress was either a prostitute or a fat maid that gave the white family good advice because they weren’t grounded enough. It was real stereotypical stuff.
And it was one of the first times that a lot of suburban white kids were exposed to the culture like that.
Yeah, it really was. And it wasn’t about putting down anybody else. It was just, I was lifting people up as that’s what it was really about. And the people that didn’t get it thought, “Oh, this is just a butt song.” I remember when we put the song out, [the track’s producer] Rick Rubin said to me before it even came out, “By the time they realize what this song is actually about, they’ve already bought it.” And that’s exactly how it worked.
Do you think the video would be received differently if it came out today?
Let’s face it: it would be a comedy song now. Because now that version of beauty is beautiful and not only is it accepted, it’s almost expected.
Whose idea was the fruits and the vegetables in the video?
That was one of the few things I let the director get away with. Because when we showed up, there were some things wrong on that set that stuck out to me big time that I had to shoot down immediately.
The one thing that offended me the most – keep in mind this is a different era so that version of beautiful didn’t exist yet. I come in and the main girl that’s on the pedestal was wearing black and white, tiger print shorts, a big fake gold chain, a nasty looking weave and looking like a prostitute. And I realized that came from [the director’s] ignorance. It was because every time he saw a girl like that, that’s what she was on television. So I realized that this permeates every level here because he didn’t think he did anything wrong.
Was there anything else you wanted to change?
I wanted to make sure that when she was on that pedestal, she always looked elevated and I wanted the two white chicks dissing her to look like they were looking up, not down. It’s a lot of little subtle stuff I put in the video that some people think is stupid, but in that era, most women did not think that was stupid. I wanted her to be elevated.
Some people would say I was sexist as an artist, especially in that era, right? So I intentionally never got to her level. I never looked at her on that pedestal as an equal and I always looked up. To some people, it was, “That’s the guy that did the ass song.” To other people it was, “Thank you, about time.” It wasn’t meant to diss white folks at all. It was just to say, hey, there’s another beauty out here, y’all.
What’s the dumbest thing you spent your “Baby Got Back” money on?
Um, I did some dumb stuff. I remember flying down to Miami and I’m looking at all these drug dealers in these Benzes. I’m like, “I need one of these.” So we go to this place and buy a new Mercedes 560 SEL. I took it across the street – a new car – and tell them, “Alright, strip it down. I want this thing candy apple red with a gold grill, gold mirrors, gold door handle.” [Laughs] I had chrome rims with gold. The car was $80,000 and all the shit I put on it was probably another 80. It was the dumbest shit I ever did.
Sisqo once said after “The Thong Song” came out that countless women would throw thongs at him or ask him to sign theirs. Did anything similar happen to you?
Oh yeah, that was like the norm. You gotta remember this was before social media, so you wasn’t getting snitched on every time you did something. I was signing asses so much. Signing asses was so normal, I didn’t even look at them anymore. The dumbest thing ever was men that walked up with their wives and picked up their skirt like, “What do you think?” Like all of a sudden I became the butt doctor or something.
They wanted you to be the judge?
Yeah, yeah. Judge, jury and executioner.
And… did you feel comfortable in that role?
Aw man, I was very comfortable with that role. The one thing about me – a lot of guys talk all this stuff about what they do sexually. I was never scared of none of that stuff. Not in that era. Please.
Any last words on why people should watch the show?
I watch a lot of similar shows, and other than Ice’s, most of the time, it’s just the same, “So we’re gonna run two 2x4s across the outside of here. We’re gonna do this, then we’re gonna pull—” and it’s really predictable. And I know the house is actually the star and I get that. But we’re gonna have fun with it. You don’t call Mix-a-Lot to do it unless you’re gonna let him be him.
[Laughs] Yeah, yeah. Find that guy and call him.
Sir Mix-a-Lot’s House Remix airs on DIY Network July 4th at 5 p.m. ET/PT and July 7th at 7 p.m. ET/PT.