How Roddy Ricch's "The Box," and a strange noise that almost didn’t make the song may have changed his career.
It begins like the eerie score of a classic horror film with shrieking trumpets diving against your ear drums stimulating the brain’s temporal lobe, the part responsible for emotion. After which, an equally gory squeaking, screeching ‘ee-urrr’ - the best way I can describe it is wet shoes dragging across tile floors or a modified bed creak from "Some Cut" by Trillville. That sound ushers in the beat to beget the year’s top song. Somehow these noises combine to create a hoodrich harmony. The organs. The 808. The rat-tat-tat of the snare. All ingredients in the recipe that baked "The Box," this year’s defining hit.
Legend has it "The Box" was the final song Roddy recorded for his most recent album, Please Excuse Me For Being Anti-Social. It was tracked in the pitch black of New York night as the Compton rapper toiled in the studio. According to 30 Roc, the track’s producer, and an Atlantic Records A&R - after the song was already done Roddy said, "Wait let me add something,” and it was there that he may have altered the course of his musical history. Boom, we got the beauty ad-lib that I honestly can’t effectively describe but that took over the charts and social media in one fell swoop.
Roddy Ricch performs at SummerFest 2019 - Jerritt Clark/Getty Images
"The Box" debuted at #47 on the Billboard Hot 100, even though it was not released as a single. In four weeks, it became #1, and topped the Billboard charts for seven consecutive weeks. It also notched an eighth week at No. 1 on the Streaming Songs chart with 52.2 million U.S. streams last week, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. The track became so addicting to fans it blocked the likes of Justin Bieber from topping the chart after his return to music, thus causing him to strangely pander to his fans to help him hop over Roddy.
My girlfriend is an elementary school teacher and says all day kids walk down the hallway making the ee-urr noise. You can’t go anywhere without hearing it. The song went viral on social platforms like TikTok as well, perhaps unsurprising given that the platform is built around bite-sized, intriguing sounds, but thus also clearly highlighting why a song with such a weird sound is perfect for present-day music consumers. It's inspired countless recreation videos utilizing the peculiar squeaking. It is mostly used for comedy skits, including the popular “how the song was made” spoofs. Here, users would recreate peculiar sounds heard in songs with everyday objects. I can’t lie, these are hilarious.
Of the strange sound the song has come to be known for, Roddy told TIME magazine “It’s just the sound I heard when I made the song,” he said. “I be putting sounds – you ever just make random-a– noises? That’s all it was. It was my imagination, wherever your imagination wants to take you. I feel like a lot of people gravitated towards the sound, but it’s just what I heard. When you make music, it’s all art – so it’s just the way I stroke my paint, the detail added.”
Today, the way social and digital media so heavily influence our consumption patterns - songs run numbers for a myriad of reasons outside the song’s actual quality. The song "Lottery" by K Camp is another hit that went viral because of a dance frequently renditioned on Instagram and TikTok. The Shiggy challenge for Drake’s "In My Feelings" song went viral for a similar reason. "Black Beatles" by Rae Shremurd went viral because of mannequin videos everyone seemed to take part in. And of course Lil Nas X’s "Old Town Road." Yet to be fair, unlike Nas X who used TikTok as a launching pad for his career - Roddy had already established himself with songs like "Every Season" and "Die Young" before the viral hit.
Musicologist Andrew Mall who spoke to TIME in the same piece highlighted other reasons that make "The Box" such a captivating hit: "I see how and why that [sound] is a viral component of the song on TikTok, but honestly that’s not the most interesting component of the beat. I’m really taken by the atmospheric synths that underpin the track and provide the central harmonic component, particularly since there is no bass to speak of aside from a pitched bass drum sample. Also, the fact that he retains writing credit here and on several other tracks that are charting, including those where he is a featured artist, speaks to a strong business savvy on his part.”
Besides for the simple soundbites that song offers to social media users, the melodic quality, cadence and lyrics make it versatile in other ways. It's perfect for the story selfie videos, gym anthem, or pre-game turn-up tunes. It’s the perfect song for posting up, parking lot pimping or blaring your system to obnoxious decibels at traffic lights. It could equally work as a ride-slow anthem, the song builds up and moves purposefully, recalling chopped and screwed styles. The track's catchy short phrases like “BITCH DON’T WEAR NO SHOES IN MY HOUSE!” make it extremely memorable and quotable. As does Roddy's flow, where he stretches words and snaps them back just as quickly, on lines like "She sucked a nigga souuuul, gotta Cash App."
Roddy Ricch attends the Grammys - Amy Sussman/Getty Images
Even with all of these facts, elements of sounds or components of song which can be extrapolated for different reasons seem to be more important than the actual song quality nowadays (even though, as we've argued, "The Box" is a phenomenal song in its own right)
The song itself is about jail. When he was 18 years old, he spent a week in prison when he faced a potential gun charge. It's perhaps an ironic omen that it went viral. In many ways, we exist in the confines of social media and this digital age that shrinks the globe. Technology has exposed us to so many things yet we’re still in a Box. Moral of the story is that social media, in several ways, has grown into this juggernaut that influences what we are exposed to. Because of our FOMO or fear of missing out on what every is doing or talking about, we feel compelled to join in on the fun. It highlights the fact that we are prisoners of the mainstream for better or worse.