For the first time in almost two decades, a solo female rapper has hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart — and a music producer from Kansas City, Kan., helped her get there.
Billboard magazine reported this week that “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” by rapper Cardi B will dethrone Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” from the top of the chart. The last solo female rapper at No. 1 was Lauryn Hill in 1998 with “Doo Wop (That Thing).”
A juggernaut single that The New York Times called the “breakout rap anthem of the summer,” “Bodak Yellow” is one of the year’s most streamed songs. And while this news will rightly center on the Bronx-born Cardi B (born Belcalis Almanzar) and her tale of going from an exotic dancer and C-list reality TV star to the top of the charts, it’s possible the song would have never happened without her music producer, Anthony “J. White Did It” White.
White, who grew up in KCK and graduated from Leavenworth High, says he guessed right away that they’d created a hit: “When we got the song done, I immediately started shopping for a new car,” he said, joking.
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The Star spoke with the 32-year-old on Tuesday via phone from New York City to discuss exactly how a kid from Kansas found his way to the top of the charts, what he misses about home, how he and Cardi B celebrated the big news and why just 18 months ago he was ready to stop producing and give up on life.
Q: You grew up in Leavenworth and Kansas City, Kan. How did you find your way into the studio with Cardi B?
A: At the beginning of 2016 I was in a bad place. Everything felt like it was falling down on me. In 2015 my mom was murdered, my relationship with the mother of my kids was bad, I was broke. I wasn’t getting credit on records that I had worked on, the industry wasn’t giving me any chances. I was just wanting to give up on everything —producing, life, all of that.
Knowing all of this, one day my cousin tells me to come to New York to clear my head. So I go, and one day my mentor Shaft (a New York entertainment veteran and one half of Cardi B’s management team) invites me to his house, and Cardi was there. Me and her start talking about her music, and eventually she asks me do I have any beats. And you know, I didn’t know too much about her at the time, but I thought, hey, she’s got a following. She’s got a look. She’s very charismatic and crazy (laughter). I was at rock bottom. I had nothing to lose. So I decided I would give her all my best work. I decided that day to put all my eggs in the Cardi B basket. And I guess you can say those eggs cracked (laughter).
Q: What was your history as a producer before then?
A: I started playing around and making beats when I was 16. Then in 2005 I moved to New York, where I started learning how to actually produce records. I stayed there for a year or so and then spent years living in different cities —L.A., Atlanta, Dallas — working as a producer. In that time I did records with a number of artists: Cardi B on her first mixtape, Plies, Pleasure P, LeToya Luckett, Yo Gotti, E-40, Juicy J, Too Short. Everybody but Jay Z (laughter).
Q: It’s not unfair to say that “Bodak Yellow” becoming a global smash was somewhat out of nowhere. When you made the beat and handed it to Cardi, did you know it would be that big?
A: I knew it was bigger than “Lick” (a song White produced off her “Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 2” mixtape from earlier this year that featured her boyfriend and fellow rapper Offset, one-third of the superstar rap group Migos). When I was making the beat, I was like, “Yo, it’s something special about this track!” And when we got the song done, I immediately started shopping for a new car (laughter). No but really, our whole team felt the record was going to do something major, but I didn’t know it was going to shake the culture. You always shoot for the stars, but I didn’t know we was gonna get the sun.
Q: How does it feel to know you’re the architect of this historic No. 1 record?
A: It feels like that one emoji with the shades on (laughter). It’s great. It’s awesome. I feel tremendous. It’s a gratifying feeling, but this is definitely not the end. This is just a tip of the iceberg.
Q: Have you celebrated with Cardi yet?
A: Man, Cardi been on the jet! (Laughter). I did see her for a moment yesterday after the news dropped and we did a little one-two step. And then she two-stepped right on to the airport (laughter). That girl is mad busy. Really if I see her, it’s in the studio.
Q: How does it feel to accomplish this as a kid from the KC area?
A: I’m so happy to represent the K and the C. I bought a brand new “KC” fitted (Royals hat) the other day because I knew I had to represent. People don’t give us enough credit, so any chance I can get to show I’m from here … I’m doing it (laughter). I love my people in New York, I love my Cali family and my Texas family, but it’s something about KC, the entire metro, that will always mean a lot to me. I’m glad I can show this to our people, that we can do anything on the biggest level. We can walk in our God power and show people that we’re just as talented as anyone else in the world. KC can be proud that we have a No. 1 record from a KC native.
Q: You’re based in New York now. Miss anything about KC?
A: The traffic (laughter). I miss my friends and family, the weather — I love KC in the fall. I miss watching the Chiefs play on the regular and finding (laughter) all the good sales on clothes (he’s a big fan of Burlington Coat Factory).
Q: What’s next on the horizon for J. White?
A: I’m actually going to sign a deal today with Kobalt Music Group (a rights and publishing company). Other than that, Cardi and her album is really my main priority at the moment.