“The Box” isn’t the best song on Roddy Ricch‘s (great) debut album, Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial (that would be “God’s Eye”). It’s also not the most ambitious (“War Baby”), or the obvious hit single single (“High Fashion”). It is, however, the album’s biggest hit since its release in early December. The 30 Roc-produced song is far from the Compton rapper’s catchiest — Roddy Ricch does catchy well — it’s built around what sounds like a sample of Roddy imitating the squeak a windshield wiper gives when it needs to be replaced. “We made ‘The Box’ at 6am in NYC after being up all night, you can only imagine my face when Roddy already finished the song and said ‘Wait let me add something,” Keefa Black, an Atlantic Records A&R wrote on Twitter. “And EHH ERRR. EHH ERR was born.”
Roddy’s unconventional chorus is long, and forgoes repetition in favor of building a labyrinth of slang from hitting licks with a box to putting sticks in said box and cough syrup seals that need popping or enemies that have prices on their heads. There aren’t many songs that rise as fast as “The Box” has — it was streamed 32 million times last week — that simultaneously boast that they’ll be a “2020 president candidate,” while also claiming they’ve put a “hundred bands on Zimmerman.” He means that Zimmerman, and one can assume what the $10,000 is for. “The Box” isn’t your typical hit.
Regardless, the song has broken through. Helping its rise is its use as the basis for a viral TikTok meme, now almost a prerequisite in 2020 for a hit song (see: “Old Town Road,” “Gordon Ramsay“). In the clip, TikTok user Jay Will wipes a mirror clean as a producer builds a beat with the now-signature yelps from Roddy. Another popular meme follows a similar premise, except the mirror is replaced by a squeaking door. Even SpongeBob Squarepants has been used to put a spin on “The Box.”
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Another likely reason for the song’s swift ascent is its placement on the album. After the brief “Intro,” “The Box” is the first full-fledged moment on Roddy’s debut. In December, Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial was the Number One album on Rolling Stone’s Top 200 Albums chart, earning 101,500 album-equivalent units in its first week. “You see the intro always at the top of the streaming numbers the first week when their album is released,” Dallas Martin, svp of A&R at Atlantic Records, told Rolling Stone in March. “Everybody is listening to the first song automatically…[it’s] for sure a strategy.”
But more than the memes and positioning, “The Box” succeeds because it distills Roddy’s two best assets — his unconventional voice and ability to mold the subgenres of rap (primarily Chicago’s drill and Atlanta’s trap) into something highly palatable for a wide audience. “They don’t give a fuck about West Coast, East Coast,” Roddy said about the geographical differences that generally color hip-hop. “The kids ain’t giving a fuck about that shit. I started gaining the mentality of ‘Why should I give a fuck about that? Why should I limit myself to a certain sound, just because of where I’m from?’”
Find a playlist of all of our recent Songs You Need to Know selections on Spotify.