If ever there was a Hall of Fame of twerk tunes, no song could ever match or outpace that of Juvenile‘s ‘Back That Azz Up.’
Today’s From The Vault pays tribute to the preeminent party starter – the undeniable, incomparable 1999 jam turned cultural phenomenon celebrated its 20th anniversary today.
Join us inside as we say “Happy Birthday”:
The stringed-filled intro of ‘Back That Azz Up’ could easily go down as one of the most recognizable song preludes in history, let alone of the past 20 years. It’s the signal to partygoers, concertgoers, school goers, and maybe even churchgoers to prepare thine knees, backs, and elbows for the beat drop that is to ensue. And, faithfully for the past two decades that’s what we’ve done in an almost uncontrollable fashion. Then, by the time Juvie announces that “Cash Money is taking over for the ’99 and 2000s,” we collectively burst into our fieriest twerks with heads bobbing, weaves rocking, backs arched, and p’s popped.
Who knew on February 24, 1999 the future of Hip Hop would be changed forever by the ultimate ode to rumpshaking? Lyrically, the tune’s structure may not deviate far from the formula of some of the ‘Rump Shaker’ (Wreckx-N-Effect), ‘Doo Doo Brown’ (2 Live Crew), and other 90’s misogyny-laden tributes to female dancing. From a compositional standpoint, however, the clear separation from its predecessors came courtesy of the cut’s unusual, yet potent, one-two combo of a New Orleans’-inspired bounce mix coupled with an orchestra-inspired string melody. The result? An enduring Hip Hop classic that continues to be a “must hear” at parties. Part of that endurance, interestingly, has also been its ability to leapfrog over most of the controversy afforded to its Rap counterparts of the day and beyond (including some of the aforementioned tunes) despite its explicit and raunchy lyrics. That very bulletproof attribute has helped it transcend mere “party tune” status to elevate to that of a cultural movement – an etch in Blackness that seats it close to the likes of Earth, Wind, and Fire‘s ‘September,’ Gap Band‘s ‘Outstanding,’ and more tunes that feel universally ‘us.’
The song itself, though the biggest hit of Juvenile’s career (at the time), only peaked at #19 at the height of its popularity. Going on to help its parent album, ‘400 Degreez,’ sell over 5 million copies worldwide (4x platinum in the U.S. alone), ‘Back’ – albeit a commercial success by many standards – comes as a reminder that many tunes’ respective impacts cannot be measured quantitatively.
Hear hear to the Hot Boyz for blessing dance floors with a gem that’s not only stood the test of time, but shows no signs of going anywhere any time soon. No doubt that we’ll probably still be droppin’ and wobblin’ to the tune come February 24, 2039.