Sir Mix-A-Lot, on tour in Kitsap, explains why he penned 'Bremelo'
The 1992 hit "Baby Got Back" made legendary rapper and producer Sir Mix-A-Lot a national name, but it was his penchant to rap about places in the Pacific Northwest that was credited with putting Seattle on the country's hip-hop map in the late 1980s and '90s.
Now in his 50s and still touring, there's one song in his repertoire that his fans love to joke with him about across the country, Mix-A-Lot says — and it's the one with Kitsap connections.
"They always wanna talk about Bremelos," the 58-year-old said in an interview Tuesday with the Kitsap Sun.
On his way to play the Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort on Friday night, he'll once again drive through the city that inspired him to write the song about a long-running, derogatory stereotype whose exact etymology remains unknown. Yet to the ears of Sir Mix-A-Lot, learning the terminology on a visit via ferry to Bremerton in the 1980s, it was a song in the making.
He'd come to the city with a member of his original group named Maharaji, who lived in Bremerton and whose parents were in the Navy, he said.
"Long before the song, I heard a guy say it, and I asked him what the hell does that mean," said the rapper and producer born Anthony Ray. "I thought, 'I think I'll start using that.'"
The song cuts a crude characterization that borders on mythological — the "Bremelo" is "a Bremerton beast chasin' fellas in the Navy," Sir Mix-A-Lot raps on his debut album Swass, released in 1988. He's not performing the song these days and is quick to point out there are "plenty of fine women" in Bremerton, which, to be fair, the original version also did note. Yet at the time, he recalled hearing about the city's "Bremelos" multiple times on visits across the water.
Today the term survives, from casual conversation to debates on social media about its meanings and origin — is it a portmanteau? — and on at least one set of license plates of a van seen in Bremerton. Local resident Don Feldman, the owner of Typewriter Fever on Callow Avenue, trademarked the word about 20 years ago, building a website that sells merchandise. Why'd he do it?
"That's what my wife asks," said Feldman, adding that he believes the term goes all the way back to World War II.
Some see Bremelo as misogynistic. Others, a joke.
"It is a part of our history," said Mary Jo Rose, owner of the South Pacific Sports Bar & Grill, whose grand opening in 2002 Sir Mix-A-Lot played. "Good on Sir Mix-A-Lot for being so creative and writing a song about it."
Growing up in the 1980s, Lisa Paquette recalls her father, who worked at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, would say it from time to time. She grew to find the term to be offensive but, in its iteration, a fun word to say. So she's reappropriated it to mean a local rude person, regardless of gender.
"It's another anthropomorphism of today's 'Karen,'" she said.
Meanwhile, half a decade after Bremelo's release, Sir Mix-A-Lot was an American household name. "Baby Got Back" spent five weeks at the top of the charts and has since sold more than 2.4 million copies. The song, now 30 years old, has become an anthem for the appreciation of posteriors that come in all shapes and sizes.
"You either know how to shake it, or you don't," Rose said.
Part of Sir Mix-A-Lot's enduring charm has always been to interlace his lyrics with known Pacific Northwest locales — hanging out at Dick's Drive-in or driving Capitol Hill's Broadway Avenue, or his songs to promote the 1990s Seattle Supersonics — that create a connection for those listening. "I always give a wink, wink, nod, nod, to Seattle," he said, adding that he wondered why other big names in music from Seattle — including Quincy Jones, who discovered his love of music in Bremerton — don't mention it in their own songs.
Plus, what's the harm in doing so? "It doesn't offend fans elsewhere," he noted. And in a region sometimes overlooked in American popular culture, his verses, plush with destinations, puts the northwest on a pedestal.
These days, touring is not where Sir Mix-A-Lot makes his money. He's embraced the wave of commercial success of "Baby got Back," but he's very selective about how it gets used: Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" sampled heavily from it, and it can be heard on ad campaigns that get his seal of approval. Even 30 years on, its appearance in popular culture seems endless, from an expansion pack in the "Cards Against Humanity" game to former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's performance in a colorful bear suit as part of "The Masked Singer."
Still, he goes on the road for his crew, he says, and still loves performing live. He can't fathom how some performers lip-sync their way through songs, "microphones in their pockets."
"I'm old school," he said. "I talk to people, I don't talk at them. And if the crowd wants another song, I'll do another one."
His love of music — and the music scene he came from — remains strong. During the darkest days of the pandemic, he not only donated thousands of dollars to help keep music venues in Seattle going, but he also hosted numerous fundraisers to keep the cash coming in.
For his own performances, he still has "little rituals" he goes through to get ready for a show. A few days prior, he runs through an entire set at full volume, "to burn my voice out." He says it helps clear out negative energy and prepare him for the stage. "Once you get past that, I'm ready to go," he said.
He's played the Clearwater a handful of times now, and he knows what to expect. He's happy to keep playing there as long as the fans respond well. "I do care if the client's happy," he noted. "As long as it works, I'll keep playing."
Josh Farley is a reporter covering the military and Bremerton for the Kitsap Sun. He can be reached at 360-792-9227, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @joshfarley.
This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: Sir Mix-A-Lot, on tour in Kitsap, explains why he penned 'Bremelo'