30 years later, 1988 still stands as rap’s greatest year. The lyrical molotovs of Nation of Millions and Straight Outta Compton, the post-modern (and pre-lawsuit) free-for-all of sampling, the national spotlight of a new show called Yo! MTV Raps and much more. To celebrate 30 years, Rolling Stone’s Best of ’88 explores some of the greatest songs from those explosive 12 months. See our other entries on Rob Base and D.J. E-Z Rock, EPMD, Run-DMC, Slick Rick, MC Lyte and Biz Markie.
The first nationally embraced volley of Seattle rap, Anthony “Sir Mix-A-Lot” Ray created a hyper-localized classic that would help hip-hop forever spiral off its East Coast-West Coast-Dirty South axis. Released the same year as Mudhoney’s grunge blueprint “Touch Me I’m Sick,” “Broadway” was unapologetically Emerald City, replete with references to Rainier Avenue, Dick’s Drive-In and various Mix-A-Lot crew members. A blend of New York storytelling, muffler-dragging Los Angeles crawl and booming Miami bass, it was an instant classic ultimately covered and interpolated by everyone from E-40 to Insane Clown Posse to Natalie Portman on Saturday Night Live. Rolling Stone caught up with Mix to talk about being the J.R. Ewing of Seattle. Posse up!
You had released four 12-inches before “Posse on Broadway” came out.
Yeah, I put out some goofy stuff. I had no idea who I was as an artist at all before “Posse on Broadway.” Man, I’m just being honest. I tried gimmicky stuff ’cause I wanted to get some attention, and remember, you know, in the rap world Seattle was a cave. There was no light. So we were in this cave, and I’m trying to flash light and get attention, so I just tried to do anything that would catch a little bit of wind and start the sailboat going.
Most of those early singles — “I Just Love My Beat,” “I’m a Trip,” “I Want a Freak” — they sounded like what was happening in L.A. at the time.
Right. Yeah, I was just copying shit. I was listening to Egyptian Lover and all that stuff. That was all I heard. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I had access to some of the New York stuff but I wasn’t New York, I was West Coast. So I figured I’d try that, but it just wasn’t me. [“I Want a Freak” is] kind of a combination of New York and L.A., really, ’cause it was “freak, freak, freak.” Everything was about freaks in L.A. back in the day [laughs].
But “Posse on Broadway” is this completely different thing.
“Posse on Broadway” was definitely inspired by a combination of a New York and Ice-T, “6 ‘N the Mornin’, stuff like that, real slow. We called them ‘slump beats’ on the West Coast. All the Beastie Boys stuff, that influence is definitely in there. …
“The New Style,” the end of it, when I heard that [emulates booming track], I said “ooh shit!” That’s where kind of that slow, slumpy, straight-up elongated 808 kick-drum [came from], which was hard to record back in those days because reel-to-reel 24-inch tape didn’t want to record the tail end of that 808. It would always go [makes boom noise], make this weird noise and it took me a long time to find somebody that could actually record that.
How did you figure out how to elongate that kick-drum?
Terry Date, who recorded a lot of people, he was a real famous engineer out here, he did a lot of the early grunge stuff. He tried to record it and he got close but I had to roll off some of my decay which is why “Posse on Broadway,” the quality’s really poor, because I didn’t have a lot of money, but we got as close as we could to stretching it out like some of the stuff I heard out of New York.
Had Miami bass filtered up to you yet?
Yeah, a little bit, the early 2 Live Crew. I had a lot of underground [exposure] because Nasty Nes [Rodriguez, Seattle radio personality] was a good friend of mine, he always got underground stuff from every area. Miami stuff, he let me hear that stuff, I really liked it because it reminded me of techno which is what I grew up listening to. I grew up listening to a lot of Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, Devo, all that stuff. Tommy Boy is all over me, I mean. It was all there, so that album, [1988’s] Swass, was a little bit of everything. Even Prince.
I would say “Romantic Interlude” is pretty Prince-indebted.
I listen to that now. Did I lose a fuckin’ bet? Like, what the fuck made me do that? I still think about that. I must have been trying to get some chick or some shit, I don’t know what the hell I was doing.
So, what was the birth of “Posse on Broadway”?
Well, we had “Square Dance Rap” that came out. I think we released a remix of it and that remix got really popular ’cause I was saying a bunch of cities, you know, “Denver rocks… to the square dance rap,” you know, doing all the little cities, kissing ass, trying to get a tour. And we got a little small tour. And, you know, obviously I was a kid then, man, and I thought our Broadway was the only Broadway. Everybody has a Broadway! Every city I went to, you know, San Francisco, Broadway, New York, obviously. I was down in Arizona and they even had the Dick’s Restaurant down there which I thought was strange. Keep in mind, tryin’ to make a hit, but trying to be me doing it, and I got the idea for doing a song about Broadway, the street Broadway, but I wanted to make it uniquely Seattle. I didn’t think anybody else would really care, but I knew everybody had a Broadway so if they did care they’d buy it. I whipped it out, I literally actually talked about an actual night that we actually had. There’s nothing on that song that’s a lie. I mean, we literally were kicking it, runnin’ around picking up chicks on Broadway, you could do that back then, you know?
I listen to that now. Did I lose a fuckin’ bet? Like, what the fuck made me do that?
You are blowing my mind that this was one actual night.
The people had been modified a little bit, but Maharaji was my guy and we literally would go up to Dick’s, we’d hang out. Me, Maharaji, Attitude Adjuster, I’d go up there with chicks and we’d hang out and we’d kick it at Arnold’s on the Ave. Just like I said, we’d ride up Union, Cherry Street, all those streets I named, I was always there. Always.
Taco Bell was a little spot right next to Dick’s. And it’s kind of weird, right after we did the song Taco Bell closed and everybody started telling me there was no Taco Bell there. I’m like “OK.”
If this is based on real events, did your homie PLB actually mace somebody?
No, no, no, nononono, we didn’t do none of that shit, but we had haters. When you get haters you actually feel like you’re a success. We had people that couldn’t stand us, so. My clique was pretty large back then, I wasn’t exaggerating. You might see us, it’d be four or five carloads, that’s how we ran back then. Of course that is expensive, too. I found that out the hard way. Oof. If you wanna mess up some money, have a big clique.
Were you actually driving around in limos back then or was that just aspirational?
No no no, but the cars, other than the limos, those were my cars back in the day. I had a big crazy-ass gold Cadillac with the wheel in the back, all that immature-ass shit. But, at that time that was everything to a 20-something youngster. Give me that and a gold chain and I thought I’d made everything in life. Didn’t have a house yet, but it didn’t even matter, I thought I was rich.
It started to take off and I’m like, How can a song about Seattle be so popular in, you know, Houston? Really weird.
After the song came out did you become the hero of Dick’s Drive-In?
Actually not! When we shot the “Posse on Broadway” video, we were getting ready to shoot it, we went to Dick’s. The song was, you know, kind of underground, it had a nice underground swell to it, didn’t have a lot of radio play but we were moving some units. We went to Dick’s and we talked to the owner. I said, “We want to shoot a rap video.” He said, “What do you mean?” Keep in mind rap was new to him. “I don’t understand what you want to rap … What are you wrapping up?” He didn’t understand what we were talking about. So he actually told us no, so it wasn’t shot at Dick’s. We had to use a place called Stan’s down on Rainier that looked just like Dick’s.
And here’s the crazy thing, he’s passed away now, but before he passed away we did a show, closed down Broadway, did a show right on Broadway at Dick’s on the street and he drove up with his kids, rolled down the window, and he apologized. 96 years old or whatever he was at the time. He said, “Hey, I didn’t know.” I said, “No, I’m not upset, sir, not at all.” I mean, I would have said the same damn thing. Fifteen hooligans walk up to my door saying they want to shoot a rap video. Kiss my ass, I sell hamburgers. You know, but he actually apologized to me, shook my hand and within a year he was gone, just like that. I had to tell that story ’cause that means a lot to me.
Did you actually like their hamburgers?
Yeah, you got to eat two of ’em though. They’re not big ones but they’re good and fresh.
So, you wanted “Posse on Broadway” to be a national hit even though you had very local lyrics in it?
No. I didn’t even know what a national hit felt like. I thought “Square Dance Rap” was a hit record. I really did. I mean, it sold, 80,000 copies. I got myself a little car, I was paying the rent at a little house, and I said, “Yeah, I made it.” So, I thought “Posse on Broadway” would maybe do what “Square Dance” did, maybe 100,000 copies or something. That was how low my expectations were. And then it started to take off and I’m like, How can a song about Seattle be so popular in, you know, Houston? Really weird. ‘Cause Houston was the first market it blew up in. And then the Bay, Oakland, that was Number Two.
We were doing these shows and I would do “Posse on Broadway” and they were going crazy. And they knew every word, they were finishing sentences for me.
When did you realize that this was a big thing?
Well, we were on a tour — I never will forget this — and I was leaning on my crutch. My crutch at that time was “Square Dance Rap.” We were doing these shows and I would do “Posse on Broadway” and they were going crazy. And they knew every word, they were finishing sentences for me. Then when I got to “Square Dance” — no movement. They would just stand there like, “You already played the hit…”
It was also on Yo! MTV Raps.
And the craziest thing was when Fab 5 Freddy came out to Seattle. I was humbled. I’m like, “Fab 5 Freddy, you know how many copies of ‘Change the Beat’ I had?” When I was a DJ I scratched those records to the point where I almost wore holes in ’em. But when he came out, I didn’t realize how many people I hung around with that he was like, Whoa. I mean, I don’t want to get into the gang thing here, but the people around me then were not like the people around me now, it was some crazy motherfuckers and he was like almost scared. I realize we did have some buffalos back then. We were eating hamburgers at Dick’s on Broadway talking about “Posse on Broadway.” That was the first time I actually met somebody and I was actually shaking. I thought we’d be on MTV every day after that but that didn’t work out.
Are there any other memories you have about this song that you want to share?
So, Lyor Cohen, one time [laughs] he probably doesn’t even remember this. I was in New York for some stupid-ass reason. He wanted to meet with me about something. And “Posse on Broadway” was doing pretty good, I thought I had made it, and Lyor Cohen starts to fuckin’ read me the riot act, dude, about, “You need to fuckin’ roll with us, you’d be doing this, you’d be playing this.” I never will forget that because he said, “This ‘Posse on Broadway’ shit? It’s gonna be over. Then what? Who’s your fucking manager?” I’m like, “My manager’s sitting right next to me.” He said, “You need new fucking management!”
I wasn’t really offended, because he’s Lyor, you know? But he was right, though! I was fucking with a hat then. My hat was kind of cheap and he had one on with this suit, he said, “Now this is a fuckin’ Mack Daddy hat. You see this shit? This is what you need. When you start getting these you’ve made it, son.” [Laughs.] Everything he told me, he was right on the money, I have to give it to him. I just didn’t want to hear it.