How Cardi B's 'Bodak Yellow' Exploded on Streaming Services
"You know how you listen to a song once and you like it, and then you listen to it again and you're like, 'Oh, this is something else'?" Apple Music head of artist curation Carl Chery says about hearing Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow" for the first time, a few days before its June 16 release. "It's something I noticed in the last couple years: Every now and then someone has a hit where the energy just feels different every time it comes on. It doesn't feel like a hit, it feels like a moment."
By all accounts, the summer of 2017 has served as Cardi B's moment. In the three months since the debut of "Bodak Yellow," the song has climbed all the way to No. 2 on the Hot 100 (behind only Taylor Swift's "Look What You Made Me Do"), becoming the highest-charting song by a solo female rapper since Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" reached the same peak in 2014. And this week, after a steady nine-week climb, the song reached No. 1 on Billboard's Streaming Songs chart for the first time, with 40.8 million streams in the U.S.
As Billboard reported last week, the rise of streaming as the dominant form of music consumption has led to a hip-hop/R&B takeover in the U.S., with "Bodak Yellow" the latest track to ride the wave to chart success. "The marketing part of streaming is interesting, and we do some things that we normally didn't do," says Michael Kyser, president of black music at Atlantic Records, Cardi's label, which has also seen streaming-driven success with the likes of Lil Uzi Vert and Kyle. "Radio is still one of the dominant forces, but we do things slightly differently [now] as far as super-serving the Spotify's, Apple's and Tidal's of the world. They're all really digging into the genre."
But while the mainstream is still watching its ascent, curators at major streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify have seen it coming from a mile away.
The day "Bodak Yellow" was released, Chery placed the song on Apple Music's Breaking Hip-Hop playlist. "After a few days I noticed there was already some traction on the hip-hop charts, at first just in the high-100s," he says. "I think just based on the fact that it was on one single playlist and it got that much engagement, it just made me think, okay, our users are really responding to it."
A week later, Chery placed the song on Apple Music's biggest playlist, A-List Hip-Hop, and watched its streams jump 124 percent in its first week, then 31 percent, 14 percent and another 30 percent in the three weeks that followed. By August, the song had reached No. 1 on Apple Music; to date, according to the company, it's been streamed 81 million times globally on the service. "I don't remember anything else taking off this fast," Chery says. "It wasn't specific regions. It was across the board."
Spotify's global head of hip-hop Tuma Basa remembers the day he decided to place "Bodak Yellow" on Rap Caviar, the streaming service's biggest playlist with 7.5 million followers. On June 20, four days after its release, Basa had added the song to Get Turnt, which itself boasts more than 3 million followers. The song's stylistic similarity to Kodak Black's "No Flockin" -- Cardi admits to borrowing Kodak's flow for her track, hence the titular homage -- caught Basa's attention, as "No Flockin" had performed well on Get Turnt two years prior. It was a month later, on July 21, that its allure became undeniable.
"It was a Friday morning and I was working from home. I went to a Dunkin Donuts in Harlem and even the Dunkin Donuts was playing it," he recalls. "I heard it there and I was like, 'This is a sign.' At that time the numbers were good, but they weren't stand-out good. But that's why we have human beings curating; by that time, it was the hottest record in New York. The streets deserve all the credit for breaking that record."
After a month on Get Turnt, the song had grown from 10,000 listeners to 50,000 listeners to 149,000 listeners, Basa says. Once it landed on Rap Caviar, however, the streams began to shoot through the roof: 280,000 listens, then 380,000, then 500,000 -- within a week it climbed to north of 800,000 listeners, eventually racking up 76 million global streams to date on Spotify, according to the service's public metrics.
"If you look at the trajectory, it's like a nice ski slope; it's not a bunny hill, it's not a cliff, it's just steady growth," he says, likening its rise to Young M.A.'s "OOOUUU" last year (the song made similar leaps as it climbed the Hot 100). "There wasn't a campaign around it. There's nothing forced or pushed about that. That's natural."
On YouTube, the story is similar. The song's official video has amassed 154 million views (as of press time) since it was uploaded June 24. But according to YouTube's Music Insights -- which calculates total views by combining both official video views and views from user-uploaded videos identified by its ContentID system -- the song has ballooned past 200 million, picking up steam through August and peaking with 6.4 million views in a single day on Sept. 2, with more than half those total views coming within the past month.
So what has made "Bodak Yellow," Cardi's first-ever charting single, such a smash hit?
"I think she just caught it perfectly: It's two verses, 20 bars each, doesn't feel too long, it's the right length," Chery says. "It's her energy on it, too. It just feels like a perfect storm; everything about this song feels right. With the landscape right now with streaming, there are certain songs that are more likely to take off than others. I would say that that one just kind of fits the mold. But the song isn't just good, it's great."
"It's an anthem, and it's a repeatable anthem, especially for the ladies," says Basa, taking note of Cardi's appeal across demographics in a traditionally male-dominated genre. "I think people truly believe in her. I think we're witnessing her evolution, we're witnessing her come up, and I think her fans are deeper; they relate. They feel like if she wins, they win. I think it's about people buying into Cardi B."