Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was — the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period — with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators and industry insiders involved.
Cardi B‘s heist of the music industry is probably one of the biggest jack-moves in hip-hop history. Before the success of “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi was a fiery Bronx locomotive who rattled off cheeky jokes at the drop of a dime. Instagram followers reveled in her spunk and theatrics. Her charm was both her calling card and saving grace, which was why fans adored and appreciated her bombastic club banger “Bodak Yellow.”
Having just released two projects under the KSR Group with Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 in 2016 and 2017, respectively, Cardi’s music career was in limbo. After “Lick,” featuring her future husband Offset, failed to cause traction on the charts, Cardi became frustrated with how long it took for her to blow up on a mainstream level. “‘Bodak Yellow’ was created mainly because ‘Lick’ wasn’t doing what it had to do,” recalls the song’s producer JWhiteDidIt. “I don’t wanna say it was out of desperation we made that record, but it was more like we needed a better record.”
Eagerly looking to rebound for her previous loss, Cardi sought after a “hard” track to rejuvenate her momentum. On June 16, 2017, “Bodak Yellow” was released. Inspired by Kodak Black’s 2015 song “No Flockin’,” Cardi followed the same cadence as the Florida native to spice up her thunderous record. Her supple voice, searing jabs, and bristling delivery instantly pulled listeners in, while her magnetic confidence — the same one that pushed her to IG glory — was amplified by the buoyant production of White. If someone incessantly barked negativity into your ear, all you had to do was shout right back the song’s hook: “Little b–ch you can’t f–k with me, if you wanted to.” Sonically, and lyrically, no mainstream song had the same flare as “Bodak Yellow” in the summer of 2017.
“I feel like the song was so left field that it came out of nowhere,” says White. “I feel like that was a missing energy that nobody knew that they needed. It was such energy that [made the] summer so electric,” says White.
The electricity from “Bodak” zapped listeners instantly. Drake brought Cardi to OVO Fest two months after the song came out. Award shows such as BET and MTV VMAs each salivated for a drop of Cardi’s drip because they knew she had the juice. Shortly after the song zipped into the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, Cardi toppled Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” and became just the fifth female rapper to earn a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 record in Sept. 2017. Even her dentist Dr. Catrise Austin gushed to TMZ about how the song’s success had his business booming.
“It’s just the lit-est song of ever,” says Cardi, looking back on her explosive banger. “Every party, every New Year, every Cinco de Mayo, every Thanksgiving, it’s just that type of song that you want to play to turn the party up. It’s just that song. It’s that song that make you feel like that b–ch, that girl. ‘Bodak Yellow’ is that girl.”
Cardi B is heading into the 2020s still on top, scoring a Grammy for best rap album, a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with Invasion of Privacy in 2018, and two more Hot 100 No. 1 hits since the release of “Bodak Yellow.” But she left an indelible mark on the summer of 2017, not only because she rewrote history, but she gave hope to the have nots, the people who were too scared to dream because they were repeatedly told no.
“Bodak’ just brought people together,” says J. White. “That was our ‘We Are the World.'”