On February 13th, five of the greatest artists in R&B and hip-hop will share the stage for the 2022 "Big Game" halftime show, in a moment that we're finally happy to call "unprecedented."
The careers of these five artists collectively span decades, from the iconic early years of the genre to recent hitmakers still making their mark. We can't wait to see how it all comes together.
But looking at this year's halftime lineup brought to mind not only how much the genre has transformed over the years, but how drastically the technology we use to listen to music has changed as well. Each of these artists represents a unique moment in music technology history and we're here to break it down.
First hit: "Nuthin But A 'G' Thang " (1993) | Top hit: "No Diggity" (1996) | Device of choice: Boombox / Sony Walkman®
Before all the music in the world could be carried around in our pockets, the compact cassette was the biggest thing in portable music.
The Sony Walkman was the most popular portable audio player at the time, allowing the public to carry their favorite cassettes with them and making music a personal experience instead of a public one. But sharing music is exactly what the boombox was made for.
Although they were introduced to the market in the 70s, the boombox rose in popularity in the 80s, with stars like Madonna and The Beastie Boys featuring them prominently in music videos. In R&B and hip-hop culture, the boombox is as iconic as Dr. Dre himself and is thought to be a big factor in the popularization of the genre. They were used to bring music out into the streets where kids and young people could hear and identify with the messages of urban society.
Throughout the 80s, the boombox evolved. The speakers were improved and settings like equalization and balance could be adjusted. You could listen to, and even record, radio station programs onto cassettes and, later, CDs.
Mary J. Blige
First hit: "What's the 411" (1992) | Top hit: "Family Affair" (2001) | Device of choice: CD Player
In the early 80s, Sony introduced the first CD player only five years after launching the Walkman. Players were slow to reach any popularity because CDs were expensive ($30 per CD) and there weren't that many popular titles available.
The first portable CD player was commercially available in the mid-80s, but it had a hefty price tag (around $300) and the technology wasn't quite there. Although it was advertised as “portable" you had to keep it perfectly level; otherwise, the CD would skip or stop playing.
In the mid-to-late 90s, as the R&B world was reeling over the rise of Mary J. Blige's hit album "My Life," anti-skip technology was introduced, allowing CD players to be truly portable and the technology hit its stride.
First hit: "Doggystyle" (1993) | Top hit: "Drop It Like It's Hot" (2004) | Device of choice: MP3 Player
In a brief but influential period in the late 90s and early 00s, as Snoop was telling everyone to “Drop it Like it's Hot," the music industry was forever changed by MP3 players and the storage of music on PCs.
Turns out, all those CDs we had collected could now be imported into computer software and we could take our favorites anywhere without sacrificing sound quality. At first, these players only had basic controls and features, but it didn't take long for that to change too. The ability to share music easily and even get it for free (looking at you, Napster) meant that the distribution of music had to rapidly evolve too.
First hit: "Slim Shady LP" (1999) | Top hit: "Lose Yourself" (2002) | Device of choice: Apple iPod®
In a black turtleneck that will live in infamy, Steve Jobs introduced the world to the Apple iPod® in October 2001. This wasn't the first MP3 player with an LCD screen and other players could technically store more music, but it was the introduction of iTunes® that made the iPod so covetable. We no longer had to wrestle with user-unfriendly software and swap CDs to find our favorite music. The ability to purchase, download, and take your music anywhere was available to anyone.
While the world adjusted quickly to digital music platforms, the music industry wasn't prepared and often disputes between iTunes and artists led to music not being available in the library. In 2007, hip-hop legend Eminem and his publishing company sued Apple claiming that they had not authorized 93 of Eminem's songs to be sold on the platform. Even so, artists couldn't ignore the influence of the iPod® and the music industry slowly caught up to the technology, only to have the rug pulled out again with the introduction of streaming services.
First hit: "To Pimp A Butterfly" (2015) | Top hit: "Humble" (2017) | Device of choice: Smartphones
The introduction of music streaming apps like Pandora™ and Spotify™ in the late 00s and early 10s forever changed the way that we listen to our favorite music. Our digital music players are now our smartphones, tablets, and computers, eliminating the need for a separate music-only device.
When Kendrick Lamar's multi-Grammy-winning album "To Pimp a Butterfly" was released in 2015, it broke Spotify's global first-day streaming record with 9.6 million streams. This number boggled the minds of the previous generation of artists who relied on people venturing out to stores to listen to their music on release day.
The power of nostalgia
While streaming has put almost the entirety of music directly in our pockets, never underestimate the powerful effect of nostalgia. In recent years, the sales of vinyl records, cassette tapes, and even CDs are on the rise as people reconnect with older ways to listen and share music. So if you find an old Walkman, CD player, or boombox and you'd like to get it back to working shape, bring it to your nearest uBreakiFix® by Asurion or Asurion Tech Repair & Solutions™ store and we'd be happy to take a look.