The mid–2000s were not always a great moment for hip-hop. 4 of the top 10 highest–selling rap albums in 2004 belonged to Nelly, Ludacris, and Young Buck, and somehow Robin Thicke held the top spot on Billboard's "Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs" in 2007. However, one great thing to come out of this era is Omarion’s “Ice Box,” a collaboration between Omarion and Timbaland that puts The Weeknd’s dramatic tracks to shame.
“Ice Box” is exactly what 2006 R&B music should be, and for that it is the single–greatest breakup song of the past 15 years. For all the growing pains hip–hop was going through in the mid–2000s, the R&B artists of the time were excelling like no other when given minimalist beats to pine and sing on.
Artists such as Ne–Yo, D’Angelo, Usher, and others were enjoying somewhat of an R&B renaissance after pioneers such as Aaliyah, Mary J. Blige, and Lauryn Hill paved the way for the sound of mid–2000s R&B in years prior. Yet, for all the hits that Ne–Yo and Usher generated, none of them fully encapsulated the sound of their era more than “Ice Box.” “Ice Box” is neither profound nor lyrically overpowering, but that’s not what the aim of a breakup song should be. At its most fundamental level, “Ice Box” is a musically sweeping R&B jam dedicated to when one wanted a relationship to work out, but just couldn’t get it to work anymore.
Omarion opens the song by wistfully sharing, “Fussing and fighting, we back at it again/I know that, it's my fault but you don't understand/I got memories, this is crazy/You ain't nothing like the girl I used to know,” setting the stage for the theme of the song. Omarion hits home on this notion throughout the song–he doesn’t love his girl anymore–yet he tantalizingly leaves the listener with little–to–no information about what changed over the relationship.
Listeners get glimpses at his attempts to piece things together, as leading up to the chorus Omarion sings, “Girl I really wanna work this out, cause I'm tired of fighting/And I really hope you still want me the way I want you/I said I really wanna work this out, damn girl I'm trying,” but as often happens in this situation, the last–ditch attempts to repair a broken relationship prove to be futile.
While Omarion struggles to excel lyrically, his true achievement in “Ice Box” is his tone and technical skill, as delivers a painful yet defiant vocal performance about the end of his relationship. The beat is mostly unremarkable and uniform throughout the verse, as it sounds mostly like any generic R&B breakup song.
Yet, as soon as Omarion ramps up to the chorus, the tone of the song shifts dramatically from dismissal to pain, reflecting the realities of processing a breakup itself. The chorus of “I got this ice box where my heart used to be/icebox where my heart used to be,” immediately followed by Timbaland’s “I’m so cold, I’m so cold, I’m so cold,” achieves exactly the kind of passionless and desolate sound that Omarion attempts to convey through his lyrics. “Ice Box” is a masterfully produced track by Timbaland, and Omarion’s vocal performance was the ideal complement to complete the standoffish tone of the track. By skillfully wavering between grief and aloofness, pain and detachment, but most of all, uncertainty, Omarion's tone and vocal performance epitomizes the second–guessing and confusing nature of a recent breakup.
Arguably just as important as the song itself, however, is the music video for “Ice Box.” If one wanted to identify the sounds and atmosphere of mid–2000s R&B, one only needs to watch the music video for “Ice Box," which includes a full 40 seconds of a heart beating before launching into Omarion’s first verse. In the meantime, we get our first glimpse at coordinated dancers, a giant clock, and a roaring fire in an otherwise dark and desolate room. At first glance, the viewer is led to believe Omarion is talking to himself, but soon enough, the camera pans to reveal yet another stereotypical theme of mid–2000s R&B music videos—the quiet, yet sultry, woman over whom the artist is languishing. However, yet another factor enhancing the character of "Ice Box's" music video is the fact that this sultry woman is actually Solange. Ten years prior to her excellent album A Seat at the Table, the R&B artist herself performed as the woman towards which Omarion had gone so cold. Complete with a sudden journey into the woods, more heavily–choreographed dancing, and Timbaland sitting in the back of an all–white Rolls Royce, this music video is the epitome of mid–2000s R&B and easily gives “Ice Box” the crown for the best breakup song of the past 15 years.