A Song You Know All the Words To: ‘Baby Got Back,’ Sir Mix-a-Lot (1992)

‘Day 8’ of the 30-‘Day’ Music Challenge. While the previous entry left me stumped for even one viable choice, this task is tricky for the direct opposite reason, because there are so many songs to choose from. I’ve been a music fan since before I knew what that meant, toe-tapping along in the back of my Mom’s Dodge Dart. Toss in an aspiring karaoke ‘career,’ and I dare say there are tens, if not hundreds, of ditties I know every word to. ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ is embarrassingly among them, partly because I did a 10th-grade extra-credit project defining all the references, partly because I considered it a personal challenge.

Karaoke 5 (Ole)

Thug Life.

But the one I’ll focus on today is ‘Baby Got Back,’ and I’m focusing on it for a karaoke-related reason. Back when I first picked up the mic, the trend of preppy white chicks doing rap/hip-hop/what-have-you hadn’t really reached critical mass. At least not in my then-home of Cincinnati. So when I would take the stage — in a pink button-down and khaki capris –and attempt ‘Bust a Move,’ ‘Shoop,’ or ‘O.P.P.,’ it was taken as amusing and (occasionally, if I enunciated properly) entertaining.

But my piece de resistance now and forevermore — until I learn ‘Empire State of Mind,’ anyway — is ‘Baby Got Back.’ It’s kitschy but respectable, it’s hard enough that it can impress karaoke goers, and it has some truly iconic phrases contained therein. ‘My anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns, hon.’ ‘Red beans and rice didn’t miss her.’ And my favorite, ‘I’ll keep my women like Flo Jo,’ at which point one needs to flash a quick somber expression to acknowledge the Olympian’s premature passing.  Pour one out.

Anyway, what was most fun about this number was not the relentless bass line or the tongue-in-cheek bridge, but the fact that I knew all the words. Perhaps this poetry was burned into my brain from senior year of high school, it’s unclear. But the end result was that a karaoke performance could be rendered more ‘impressive,’ whatever that means in the karaoke context.  My signature move was to stand in FRONT of the karaoke-word screen, thereby proving I was legit and didn’t need no stinking lyrics crutch.

This has unfortunately ruined future rap attempts for me, because I insist on learning every word to any spoken-word piece I want to attempt, lest I look like I am reliant upon the screen.  Which, by the way, is a big part of karaoke, so I’m not sure why I (or anyone) cares.

Anyway, Mr. Mix-a-Lot, you seem like a pretty cool dude, and I’m proud to have performed your  iconic tune in at least five states (Illinois, Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland) and probably more than 10 dozen times over the 15-plus years it’s been in my repertoire.  Thanks for making it so catchy … and so memorable.

DJ Jazzy Beth (In Which I Effectively Spit Rhyme)

One thing I’m pretty good at — and I have no idea why or how — is karaoke rapping. Part of it is that I annunciate decently, learn lyrics quickly, and can talk in the necessarily rapid fashion needed (the too-fast Yankee speak my grandmother always complained about has its benefits).

Another part is the simple element of surprise. No one expects the 30-something white chick in the Gap outfit to bust out Kid Rock or Naughty By Nature. And so I only have to be 75% decent to earn 100% credit.

Natalie Portman rapping

My first experiment in the rap oeuvre was ‘Bust a Move‘ in about 1999, with my friend Kelly on chorus backup (‘You want it … you’ve got it’).  I tried ‘Funky Cold Medina’ at some point, but found it overly slow and ultimately boring.

With different partners — most prominently Kelly and Amy — I took Sir Mix-a-Lot’s ‘Baby Got Back’ to near-perfection, where words aren’t needed and charades accompany appropriate lyrics. This tradition started in 1988, just before the song came screaming back in ironic fashion. It is all-but retired these days due to over-saturation, but it got the job done on a weekly basis for years.

In the mid-2000s, I took on a new challenge – ‘O.P.P.’ My first public attempt was at a bar in Tampa with Molly. Right before I began, a table of about 15 African-American women walked in and sat right in front of me. And they supported my every syllable, complete with high-fives at its conclusion. The speed of this one is the biggest challenge, and I refuse to do it if I’ve had more than two drinks. Unless I attempt this at a country bar (I’ll never make that mistake again), it rarely fails to impress (unless I’ve had more than two drinks, in which case it is an embarrassing hot mess).

Fondness of O.P.P. chart, naughty by nature

At some point, I added Rob Base (and DJ Easy Rock’s) ‘It Takes Two” to the mix. Fun, but not as much a crowd pleaser as the others. No accounting for taste, or nostalgia.  I also (once) attempted ‘The Bad Touch’ by Bloodhound Gang. I stuck every last word, from Lyle Lovett to FedEx to Waffle-House-hash-browns, and the crowd ignored the whole effort. Does no one remember this song?

This year, I tried my pipes at a little Kid Rock’s ‘Cowboy.’ It’s a world of fun, slow paced, and one of my new go-tos. The biggest challenge is getting out the P-word (as Naughty By Nature would say, “It’s sorta like, uhhh, well, another way you call a cat a kitty”) without stammering or blushing. I am, after all, a 30-something white chick in a Gap outfit.

Kid Rock Cowboy

Note that I never add any new songs to my repertoire, by the way. I’m all about nostalgia. No Nicki Minaj for me – at least not for four years or so.

That said, it’s time to add something fresh-ish to the mix. Want to help me decide? The first choice has the challenge of a word I will not say and so will have to swallow; the second and third contain super-dated references (do people remember Tom Green? Chris Kirkpatrick?); the fourth requires a bit of singing and is perhaps far too iconic to eff with. The fifth? I just don’t like as well as the others.

Leave any other suggestions you might have in the comments. And ‘Rapper’s Delight’ is off the table because it is just too damn long and I won’t do that to an audience.