Things weren't going well, for a time, for Sir Mix-a-Lot. His first two albums, Swass and Seminar, had climbed the rap charts—enough to make him a platinum-selling artist—but his third, Mack Daddy, was struggling to find an audience. His label, Def American Recordings, wanted to get the new album more widespread airplay; the first single it released, though, “One Time’s Got No Case,” was pretty much a flop.
Then Def American developed a new strategy: It sent the music video of another of the album's singles to the Box, a music-video-oriented cable channel—a kind of grittier, wittier MTV. The channel allowed viewers to order videos, pay-per-view-style, with their phones (with each call costing between $1.99 and $3.99), and also with their TVs—via an on-screen menu that offered up to 300 video selections across different musical genres. (The menu was the result of an "interactive video system" that the Box had patented.) Like a jukebox, the videos would play in the order you purchased them.
The Box was, on the one hand, simply a video-focused reimagining of an old technology: the classic jukebox. But it was also, as a concept, ahead of its time (or at least ahead of American Idol, which is pretty much the same thing). The Box foreshadowed YouTube (instant access to music videos!), cable news (24 hours of programming!), reality TV (voting for what gets broadcast into your home!), and the kind of cross-platform pollination we take for granted today (TV programming! Ordered on your phone!). As The New York Times put it, somewhat breathlessly, in a 1992 article, the Box "capitalizes on computer technology to transform viewing from a passive experience into an active one."
Which brings us back to Sir Mix-a-Lot. And, more to the point, to his affinity for large derrieres. Because the song Def American had sent to the Box was "Baby Got Back." And while the label had sent the video to MTV, too, MTV wouldn't play it any time but the evening. It also wouldn't let you watch the thing on repeat, the better to marvel at the dancing and memorize the lyrics. It wouldn't let you experience music videos, in other words, in the relatively intimate way we're used to experiencing them today, on the web.