Back to Top

Bodak Yellow

by Cardi B

Behind this production’s stripped-back facade lie a number of interesting nuances. You may not initially notice that the final note of the main B-C-E-B-C-E-B-C melodic riff switches between C and E on alternate bars, and there are a number of further variations besides: the intro’s E-B-E-E ending; the tape-stop interruption first heard at 0:59; and the octave-dropped version that appears, rather intriguingly, just the once at 0:30-0:45. I also like the inventive kick-drum programming — the simple trick of displacing the lone 808’s hook-section position from the downbeat at 0:15 to the first backbeat at 0:31, for instance, and the contrast between its sustained tone and that of the shorter, higher kick at 0:23. The highlight, though, is its subsequent cadenza at 1:17-1:32 (foreshadowed in the intro’s closing fills), which supports Cardi B’s own shift towards insistent triplet 16ths. Another peculiarity is the disjunct between the arrangement structure and the rap. The second half of the backing track (1:47-3:35) pretty much repeats the first (0:15-1:47), but Cardi B doesn’t totally follow that lead: in the first half she delivers eight bars of hook and 16 bars of verse, whereas in the second half she reduces the verse to 12 bars, begins her triplets passage four bars ahead of the kick-drum filigree, and delivers the first part of the third hook section over a backing texture previously associated with verse one.

Still, every section of this production is clearly cut from the same cloth, delivering a continuity of sonics and general atmosphere that make it instantly recognisable, however small a snippet you happen to hear — no small consideration in marketing terms. Within this context, the internal programming details and tectonic shufflings help maintain the freshness of its relatively small stock of musical material, despite eking it out over a full three and a half minutes. And the beauty of this slightly paradoxical musical backdrop, at once constantly churning and yet somehow fundamentally consistent, is that it throws the expressive range of the vocal performance into greater relief, helping it pack its emotional punch without recourse to the melodic and harmonic devices of competing styles.

I discovered something rather unusual about the vocal too: if you mix together the first and second hook sections with the polarity of the latter inverted, you can mute most of the backing track, but the vocal doesn’t disappear at the same time. Had the vocal been performed anew for each hook section, this wouldn’t be too surprising, but here the vocal is clearly a single performance that’s been copied. This indicates that the timing synchronisation between the lead vocal and the beat wasn’t maintained during the copying process, and specifically that the vocals are about 7ms earlier in the second hook and about 5ms earlier in the third. Depending on your levels of cynicism, you could interpret this as either a subliminal attempt to enhance Cardi B’s apparent rhythmic urgency, or just a product of slapdash Pro Tools editing…