’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Baby Got Back”
The sixty-first No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot. This track is certainly the best-known single by Sir Mix-A-Lot, although technically he charted two other times on the Billboard Hot 100. His first hit was in 1988, with “Posse On Broadway” (peak: 70), and his third was in 1996 with “Jump On It” (peak: 96).
“Baby Got Back” was somewhat controversial for its mixed message of celebrating curves while objectifying women. As is implied in the song, supermodels were A-List celebrities in the early 1990s, as was a celebration of excessive skinniness that grew all the louder in 1993 and 1994 with the emergence of model Kate Moss and the heroin chic craze. “Baby Got Back” challenged convention not only by rejoicing in ample derrieres, but also in forwardly calling out the disconnect between editorial definitions of beauty and men’s preferences.
Beyond the social element, the single is significant for being the first track by a solo black adult male rapper to hit No. 1. This may seem stunning given that black adult males started the genre, but it is so. When added to the eight-week No. 1 run of “Jump” by Kris Kross, the five-week run of “Baby Got Back” meant that for 25% of the year, a Hip-Hop song was the biggest song in the country. That was a milestone in shifting public taste. “Baby Got Back” also scored big on the Dance chart in addition to the R&B and Rap charts.
Let’s listen again to “Baby Got Back”:
We didn’t necessarily like this song at the time, but now that we’re older and wiser, it’s clear as a big butt in your face that this track is a masterpiece. The lyric writing, vocal delivery, scratching and use of samples all come together here to capture just the right mood at the right time. This is a fun, original, well-produced recording with historical significance.
Was it dope? This single wasn’t universally loved. Some found it offensive, especially the video, and others generally didn’t care for rap, which was still new to many ears. But it was infectious, and we knew all the words.
Does it hold up? This song holds up better than any song from 1992. As of this writing, the video has more than 11 million views on YouTube, and Nicki Minaj’s 2014 hit “Anaconda,” which heavily samples “Baby Got Back,” as of this writing has 585 million views. That’s holding up. Also, amazingly, there aren’t too many dated references or slang terms in this song. The most glaring are a reference to workout tapes by Fonda, and to a 1-900 number. That may not compute with Millennials.
Dopeness: 5 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?