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Cardi B Makes Billboard History With 'Bodak Yellow'


CARDI B: (Singing) Oh, look what you made me do. Look what you made me do. Look what you just made me do. Look what you just made me - oh.


OK, this conversation is not going to be about Taylor Swift. It's about the woman who took her place at the top of the music charts this week.


CARDI B: (Rapping) Now she says she going to do what to who? Let's find out and see - Cardi B. You know where I'm at. You know where I be. You in the club.

CHANG: That's Cardi B's hit song "Bodak Yellow." And here to talk about it and other music news is NPR's hip-hop journalist Rodney Carmichael and NPR Alt.Latino host Felix Contreras. Welcome, guys.

RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: Hey. What's going on?

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Hey. What's happening?

CHANG: So Rodney, this moment Cardi B is having in music - did she just kind of come out of nowhere, or has she had a big following for a while?

CARMICHAEL: Well, she kind of has had a big following for a while.

CHANG: Yeah.

CARMICHAEL: But it's been a social media following, a reality TV star following. And you know, now she has transitioned to music, and it's really kind of a fairy tale - a hip-hop fairy tale.

CHANG: I love that - a hip-hop fairy tale. So let's get to the song. What is this song about?

CARMICHAEL: It's classic Cardi B, which is maybe funny to say since she's so new.

CHANG: (Laughter).

CARMICHAEL: But I mean it's a real anthem of her just taking charge and being her bad self.


CARDI B: (Rapping) You can't - with me if you wanted to. These expensive. These is red bottoms. These is bloody shoes. Hit the store.

CHANG: And "Bodak Yellow" - where did she come up with that name?

CARMICHAEL: Well, it actually comes from a song that she borrowed her flow from for this song. It's a song by an artist out of the South, out of Florida called Kodak Black. And he put out a song in 2014 called "No Flocking"...


KODAK BLACK: (Rapping) It's little Kodak, the finesse kid. Boy, who hot as me - told the doctor I'm a healthy kid. I smoke broccoli. I will run around...

CARMICHAEL: ...Which is the very exact flow that she uses on this track.


CARMICHAEL: So - and it's kind of part of a trend that you've - we've kind of seen. The last New York song to hit number one - New York rap song a hit number one was also a song that borrowed a Southern aesthetic. And so they're - you know, New York rappers are scoring again, but they're borrowing from a region that's not necessarily their own.

CHANG: I love that. OK, so why are you so excited about seeing Cardi B rise to the top like this other than the fact that she knocked Taylor Swift off the top of the Billboard Hot 100?

CARMICHAEL: It's a lot of reasons. I mean Cardi B is just - she has an infectious personality, but she's also the first female rap artist to score a No. 1 hit unassisted since Lauryn Hill in 1998. That's 19 years ago.

CHANG: It's been that long.

CARMICHAEL: It's been that long.

CHANG: What's up with that desert?

CARMICHAEL: I don't know. You know, it's a good question. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that streaming has just started to count in terms of how we figure out the consumption. And hip-hop has always been a heavily bootlegged genre. But the other thing is, it's a very male-dominated genre. And so women getting to the top has always been a challenge.

CHANG: All right, so Cardi B is not the only news in music this week. The Latin Grammy nominations were announced yesterday. What are some of the nominees to watch, Felix?

CONTRERAS: OK, of "Despacito," the song of the summer.

CHANG: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: We couldn't get away from it for better or for worse. You know, but we also see a trend of alternative artists doing well in the nominations, people like Danay Suarez from Cuba. And another one is Residente, who was formerly of the rap group Calle 13. He received nine nominations for his first solo LP.


CONTRERAS: And two of those nominations are for the song "Guerra."


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Spanish).

RESIDENTE: (Rapping in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: The whole album is an amazing and thoughtful rumination on heritage and ethnic roots. And it's inspired by a DNA test he took.

CHANG: What?


CHANG: A DNA test?

CONTRERAS: So what he did was - he's from Puerto Rico, so there were large amounts of Africa and Spain. But what he did was he went to places where there were small, trace amounts like Eastern Europe and China. And he went and recorded music from each one of those areas and put it together on an album. Then he mixed in, you know, some Latin music stuff...

CHANG: Whoa.

CONTRERAS: ...Some Afro-Caribbean stuff...


RESIDENTE: (Rapping in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: ...And then his - you know, his signature flow on top and make this amazing record. And I think that the Latin Grammy Academy was impressed by this stuff 'cause they gave him nine nominations over...

CHANG: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: ..."Despacito's" four.

CHANG: Yeah. You mention Residente is from Puerto Rico, which obviously is still struggling to recover from hurricanes that just devastated the island. What kind of response have you seen from Puerto Rican musicians?

CONTRERAS: Musicians have been stepping up. Musicians and bands have been stepping up for both Puerto Rico and Mexico. We just did a blog post on Alt.Latino about some of the musicians and some of the places that are taking donations and doing benefits for relief for both places 'cause it's going to take a long time. As you know in other parts of the news, it's going to take a long time for both of those areas to recover.

CHANG: Yeah. Felix Contreras is the host of NPR Music's Alt.Latino. And Rodney Carmichael is NPR Music's hip-hop writer. Thank you to both of you guys.

CARMICHAEL: Thanks so much, Ailsa.

CONTRERAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rodney Carmichael is NPR Music's hip-hop staff writer. An Atlanta-bred cultural critic, he helped document the city's rise as rap's reigning capital for a decade while serving on staff as music editor, culture writer and senior writer for the defunct alt-weekly Creative Loafing.
Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.