SpotemGottem’s “Beat Box” And The Art Of The Organic Viral TikTok Hit
When you see it on the Billboard charts, the listing looks weird: “SpotemGottem Featuring Pooh Shiesty Or DaBaby.” It’s not “and.” It’s “or.” One or the other. Choose your fighter. There’s a reason for this. “Beat Box,” a song from the 18-year-old Jacksonville rapper SpotemGottem, is going through different incarnations so quickly that Billboard doesn’t quite have the institutional vocabulary to describe what’s going on.
Mostly thanks to TikTok, “Beat Box” has become one of the songs of the moment. The track has the type of hard, simple beat that tends to attract freestyles from other rappers. When there’s a big enough rapper with a good enough “Beat Box” freestyle, Interscope swoops in, turns the freestyle into an official remix, and throws it back out there. This strategy, clearly built to game the charts and the streaming services, has been working out. As I write this, “Beat Box,” in its either/or incarnation, is the #20 song in America. It’s gone as high as #15. It might go higher.
“Beat Box” began its life almost a year ago. SpotemGottem is part of a whole new wave of Florida rappers with piled-high dreads and impenetrable accents. He’s got a high, squeaky gargle of a voice, and he sounds like Kodak Black after half a hit of helium. In the past few years, post-Kodak Florida rappers like Jackboy and Hotboii have risen to YouTube stardom, and SpotemGottem is part of that whole scene. SpotemGottem’s YouTube page goes back a little more than two years, and if you dig into his earliest videos, you’ll find a neck-tatted baby with an innately melodic drawl.
Spotem posted the first “Beat Box” video in April of 2020. In that video, he plays with guns and thrashes around in a straightjacket, dialing into rap-video tropes that are older than he is. It’s a quick, energetic jab of a song, less than two minutes long, and its tough-to-decipher lyrics are all gunfight-themed: “Hit him in the spine, knock his dreads off/ My woadie just caught a body, I nicknamed him Randy Moss.” When SpotemGottem released his album Final Destination in December, he brought in the ascendant Memphis rapper Pooh Shiesty for a “Beat Box” remix. That remix is just the same song, but now with a pretty good Pooh Shiesty verse that helps it stretch out to longer than two minutes.
Shortly after that Pooh Shiesty video came out, a Los Angeles TikTok-personality type named June Elite posted a video of himself doing a sort of spasmodic body-jerk dance to “Beat Box.” (The dance, I’m realizing, might’ve been inspired by a thing that SpotemGottem did while holding two guns in the video for the first “Beat Box” remix.) June Elite started posting more videos of that dance. He added a new video every day, showing himself doing the dance in more and more random, surprising places. “Beat Box” was a song with energy before June Elite started doing the Junebug Challenge videos, but it wasn’t exactly a funny song. Those Junebug dances turned “Beat Box” into pure physical comedy.
The dance caught on. More and more people posted videos of themselves doing the Junebug Challenge. Celebrities started doing it: LeBron James, Kevin Hart, Saweetie, G Herbo, the Carolina Panthers. The dance picked up more silly little intricacies, like the fake-out lunge when SpotemGottem says the word “bitch.” Junebug — he’s just known as Junebug now — became a celebrity himself, traveling around the country and posting videos of himself doing more and more elaborate and ridiculous versions of the dance. (He’s been doing it on the nightclub circuit, too, which apparently has barely slowed down during the pandemic.) At this point, Junebug is just as synonymous with “Beat Box” as SpotemGottem.
Day 21. They tried to say I have a cavity 😒🦷 @dr_rubinshtein ##junebugchallenge
The song took off along with the dance. At some point, Interscope picked up SpotemGottem and started promoting “Beat Box.” In February, DaBaby posted a freewheeling, cartoonish video of himself rapping hard over the “Beat Box” instrumental, bringing the same levels of goofy fire that he first had when he showed up on the national radar two years ago. The DaBaby freestyle got some attention for the vaguely confusing punchline where DaBaby seemed to be calling the child star Jojo Siwa a bitch, and DaBaby had to point out that this was just the construction of the line and that he doesn’t think Jojo Siwa is a bitch. It’s a bit weird that that was the line people objected to, since the freestyle also has DaBaby talking about killing someone on Instagram Live and claiming that he can make a ladyfriend drink his piss, but I guess that’s just celebrity-culture politics for you.
Thanks to that viral dance, “Beat Box” has the exact right combination of hardness and silliness for DaBaby. Interscope did whatever deals it had to do, and the label released DaBaby’s freestyle as an official remix, thus driving the track up the charts. But it’s not just DaBaby. More and more rappers have done their own “Beat Box” freestyles: Mulatto, Polo G, Lil Yachty, Bizzy Banks, Calboy. It’s turning into one of those beats every rapper needs to rap on — a phenomenon we haven’t seen too often since the mid-’00s golden age of slimline-CD-case mixtapes, when every rapper had to do something over the “A Milli” beat. I love it.
At this point, TikTok virality is a crucial element of rap hitmaking — and, more generally, of pop hitmaking. To old people like me, that can be alienating and irritating. But that whole TikTok economy is still in a strange, anarchic phase, and songs and trends can catch fire from the ground up, without corporate interference. “Beat Box” was doing just fine for itself before it became a TikTok fad, and because he’s been doing pretty good YouTube numbers for a couple of years, there’s a decent chance that the song won’t come to totally overwhelm whatever else SpotemGottem might do in his career. It’ll be tricky, though. “BeatBox,” in all its different incarnations, has exponentially more streams than any other Spotem track.
I think “Beat Box” itself is OK. I think some of the freestyles are very good. But more than anything else, I like what the whole phenomenon represents. The “Beat Box” thing now has a big company behind it, but it happened on its own, without too much money or power behind it. It happened because people heard the song, saw the dance, and liked them both. That’s how this whole system is supposed to work, and it’s nice to know that weird shit can still happen within the algorithm.
1. Lil Tjay, Polo G, & Fivio Foreign – “Headshot”
Two years ago, Polo G and Lil Tjay made the hypnotic, mesmerizing hit “Pop Out,” and the song helped push both of them toward stardom. On this track, they get back together, and even without a chorus, they find all sorts of effortlessly swirling melodies to toss back and forth. Fivio Foreign adds nice energetic punch to their whole dynamic, and the video is perfectly ridiculous. These guys have become the establishment, and they haven’t lost much of their power along the way.
2. Balenci & Saint Laurent Sour – “End Of Discussion”
One cool thing about the mainstreaming of UK drill is that gut-wobble sandworm jungle basslines — a key part of the UK pirate-radio experience for almost 30 years now — have reached the rap zeitgeist. I don’t know anything about those two rappers, but I’m pretty sure I danced to that bass sound at a Metalheadz club night in 1997.
3. Pink Siifu & Fly Anakin – “Tha Divide” (Feat. ZeelooperZ, Mavi, & Koncept Jack$on)
Pink Siifu and Fly Anakin’s new $mokebreak EP is generally excellent, but this one really got me. Here, we’ve got five champions of thoughtful lo-fi rap kicking around a hazy jazz-loop beat together. It’s too languid and breezy to work as a statement of intent, but it feels like some kind of declaration anyway.
4. ZillaKami – “Chains”
I get my first injection on Saturday. About half the people I know already got theirs. The return of moshpits feels like it’s just around the corner. I can almost taste the blood in my mouth.
5. Bfb Da Packman – “Federal”
“Family full of hoes, even my granny got an OnlyFans.” Magnificent.