Making Money Moves: The Rise of Cardi B and “Bodak Yellow”

I don’t gotta dance, I make money move. So goes one of the most belted out lines on a hip hop track this year. Cardi B‘s “Bodak Yellow” quickly emerged as a frontrunner for Hip Hop Earworm of 2017, placing the Bronx native on the radars of industry and hip hop fans in the US and beyond. What’s fascinating about Cardi’s climb is the fact that nobody expected her to come through and prove her worth.

First thing’s first: Cardi didn’t have the traditional entry into music that you’d expect. The former stripper turned internet celebrity eventually landed her TV debut on VH1’s Love & Hip Hop series and soon became one of the most popular members of the New York cast. Unfiltered and unashamedly so, the reality TV star was quick to use the platform to build a profile for her burgeoning career as a rapper not to be messed with.

Musically, Cardi’s been recording since 2015 and has collaborations with the likes of Popcaan and Shaggy to her name in that early part of her career. A smart move on her behalf, Cardi began separating herself from the Love & Hip Hop shadow that had been cast over her and turned focus to music more than ever this year. Inking her first major record deal with Atlantic Records, Cardi’s emergence onto a bigger stage was bolstered by co-signs from Love & Hip Hop cast member and fellow New York rapper Remy Ma and Lil Kim, while The Lox brought her out on tour earlier this year alongside the two.

It was clear that in Cardi B was more than just a stripper who stumbled on internet fame and decided she wanted a rap career. When the likes of XXL and The Fader began reporting on Cardi B’s moves, the co-signs began to grow even more. Her debut full-length release prior to the Atlantic Records deal came in the ambitiously named Gangsta Bitch Music Vol 1, which was added to this year with Gangsta Bitch Music Vol 2. 

Off the second instalment came “Lick”, the brash and hard hitting song that saw Cardi link up with Migos member and partner, Offset. Aggressive and unfiltered (as expected), Cardi’s rap style would soon be compared to that of Nicki Minaj, while her approach and explicit lyrical flow drew comparisons to work by TrinaKhiaFoxy Brown and Lil Kim.

Which brings us to “Bodak Yellow”.

In the same vein as Migos‘ “Bad and Boujee”, Cardi’s “Bodak Yellow” is simple in its presentation. Cardi raps over a metallic beat progression about her wins. This is her “Started From the Bottom” but where Cardi differs from Drake is in her unabashed honesty. She references her stripper background, acknowledges the hardships of growing up poor and her moves made to get her to the top.

“Got a bag and fixed my teeth,” she raps. “Hope you hoes know it ain’t cheap.” 

Cardi B is a fighter and “Bodak Yellow” is the purest example of her fend-for-myself ethos. And the response was clearly resonating; the success of the single saw Cardi emerge as a two time BET Award nominee, while the amount of nods she has for the 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards puts Cardi in the same league as Kendrick Lamar and DJ Khaled.

Since its release, “Bodak Yellow” has been working its way further and further into public consciousness. Janet Jackson worked it into her set recently, actor and DJ Idris Elba loves it, while the queen herself – Beyoncé – has even graced Cardi with her presence.

As of this week, the song sits comfortably at #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart, behind Taylor Swift‘s “Look What You Made Me Do”. As UPROXX reports, if “Bodak Yellow” topples Swift for the #1 spot, Cardi B will be the first female rapper since Lauryn Hill to land the spot. No features, no major label backing at time of release – such a coup if it happens.

What sets Cardi B apart from Nicki Minaj, say, is that while she doesn’t shy away from selling sexiness, Cardi hits harder – like we mentioned before, she embraces her past and uses it as a weapon. She raps on records like the men do; she gets her money, she a wheeler and dealer. She eggs the listener on and provokes reactions from her naysayers before shutting them down with another climb up the charts and cheque in the bank.

In a genre still heavily dominated by men and largely built on a culture that objectifies and demeans women, the success of Cardi B and “Bodak Yellow” marks a turning point in modern hip hop. Not only is she storming ahead off the back of pure hustle and some big name endorsements at this point, but she’s shattering a glass ceiling that dictates women of her background (read: ex-stripper) aren’t good enough to enjoy the same successes as the men who rap about them favourably as long as they remain in their lane.