Twenty years ago, during the early days of the Cash Money Records administration that took over for the nine-nine and two thousand, a young visionary gave unto his people a new negro spiritual. This man, who we shall call Juvenile, blessed us with a hymn that gives strength to the weary and power to the weak. It is a hosanna that made Aunt Dorothy drop it low at the wedding reception and caused Carla in accounting to twerk at the last company picnic. It would eventually become the theme song for the proverbial cookout and the national anthem of Twerkanda
He named it: “Back That Azz Up.”
Released on Feb. 24, 1999, “Back That Azz Up” was the second single from the hit album 400 Degreez. Since that day, “Back That Azz Up” has been a staple of every celebration in black America. It is not just for nightclubs, the backing up of azz takes place at baby showers, funeral afterparties (I think it’s called a “repast”) and I’m pretty sure my choir marched in to it at the pastor’s anniversary before last.
There are not many songs that stay this popular for this long. It is impossible to know why “Back That Azz Up” has lingered in the cultural zeitgeist for more than two decades. Maybe it speaks to something carnal in the reptilian part of our brains. Perhaps it is because the tune eschews cultural norms while ultimately pleading for some semblance of companionship. Maybe it is because it knows what it wants—That azz ...
And here’s the thing about “Back That Azz Up”:
It isn’t even a great song!
Don’t get me wrong, the rump-shaking lullaby does slap. But there is nothing spectacular about Mannie Fresh’s beat and Juvenile has made better songs with more complex lyrics. It doesn’t make any sense why we love the song so much. Yet, there might not be a more famous beat drop in the history of music. You can’t not dance when you hear the sound of panting as Juvie the Great warns us about the coming Cash Money oligarchy.
If you know someone who doesn’t feel like God is trying to tell their booty something when those violins kick in, leave them alone. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. In 2012, I strained my left negroid muscle trying to stand still in a roomful of white people at a Christmas Party when the DJ played “Back That Azz Up.”
“Back That Azz Up” stands alongside “Flashlight” and “Before I Let Go,” as nonsensical testaments to black joy. “Flashlight” is literally a mushroom fever dream about ... well ... no one seems to know. And I know all the lyrics to “Before I Let Go” but, until a few minutes ago, I never thought about how fucking disrespectful that song is. Either Frankie Beverly or those Maze niggas are literally trying to talk their girlfriend into pre-breakup sex! (Of course, the sex double-check is just to make sure they’re right before they kick you to the curb, so ... It’s cool.)
Some people say “Back That Azz Up” is misogynistic. Although I don’t think “girl you working with some ass, yeah,” is a compliment, every time I ask a black woman about the lyrics of the song, I never get an answer because they are in the Juvenile-induced booty-shaking trance that seems to happen when someone mentions the song. I don’t know who this mysterious “some people” is, but some people need to shut the fuck up.
To be fair, Juvenile is only asking a question. I always imagined that the unnamed “fine motherfucker” was named Keisha. And, after telling her that she looks good, Juvie is interested in Keisha and Keisha only. He doesn’t want everyone to back their ass up. He specifically wants Keisha to back her ass up. Namely, of all the azz in the world that could possibly back up, Juvenile wants dat azz.
Say what you will, but he’s loyal.
So here’s to 20 years of dropping it like it’s hot. Since the beginning of time, black bodies have moved like mother Africa was in their waists and the holy ghost was in their hips and “Back That Azz Up” will make us dance now and forevermore.
For Juvenile so loved the world that he gave to us a timeless song. That whosever twerketh to it shall not perish but have everlasting life.