Biting vs. Homage: The Curious Case of “Bodak Yellow”

Bodak Yellow” is in strong contention to be song of the summer, and as of this week it has landed a top 10 spot on the Billboard Charts. It’s the highest-charting solo single by a female rapper since 2014’s “Anaconda,” an impressive achievement for hip-hop newcomer and former Love & Hip Hop star, Cardi B. There is no doubt that this is a well-earned triumph for Cardi B: rather than being yet-another reality star who wants to lazily cash in on her name to push a mediocre single, it’s clear she has studied the craft closely and has worked on creating her own distinct style and sound. Looking at her raw, unfiltered personality and the seriousness she has taken to the genre, Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma seem to be clear influences, but Cardi could be well on her way to surpassing them and becoming the new queen of hip-hop. She has certainly become a fan favorite as was seen when Drake brought her out last week to perform the hit single at OVO Fest.

When looking at Cardi’s latest releases, it initially seemed like “Red Barz” and her Offset collaboration “Lick” had more hit-power, especially considering their radio friendliness and Offset’s sheer popularity at this moment in time. But “Bodak Yellow” had an organic popularity stemming from fans’ overwhelmingly positive reception to the song. The label quickly saw its potential and put forth the marketing dollars in order to morph this untapped potential into a smash hit.

What many immediately noticed about the song is that it pays direct homage to rapper Kodak Black. Cardi has spoken openly about this homage rather than denying it, and for good reason. It’s hard to deny that “Bodak Yellow” shares many similarities in the flow department with Kodak’s 2014 breakout song, “No Flockin.”

Borrowing flows and lines is nothing new in hip-hop and it’s great to see acknowledgement from Cardi about this. This “biting vs. homage” argument has been a source of contension and has led to many squabbles in the past over what artists perceive as stealing. Where do we draw the line between inspiration and straight-up jacking? In this situation, however, Kodak had no issues with the apparent flow-jacking and expressed that, although he wasn’t a fan of Cardi B at first, he liked the song.

When discussing the song’s popularity and massive success, many have brought up the “No Flockin” record as a way to diminish Cardi’s achievements. As previously mentioned, this is not a new phenomenon in hip-hop: anyone who has spent even a small amount of time listening to the genre should know that its foundation lies in sampling and reappropriating past works to create something new. More artists should take note of how smoothly this was handled by both Cardi and Kodak and give the proper credit rather than denying it altogether. By openly embracing Kodak and “No Flockin” as inspirations for the song, it seemed Kodak felt more like he was being honored than stolen from.

A recent example of how tensions have arisen over supposed flow-jacking has been over Drake’s “KMT” and XXXtentaction’s breakout hit, “Look At Me!” Xxx and his ever-loyal fanbase were unhappy at what he perceived as flow-jacking from Drake. He took to twitter to address his grievances:

On a Radio 1 interview, Drake then delivered his response to the entire situation:

“So I go and find what song they’re talking about, and I listen to it and I’m like okay, I see where people could draw this comparison off of the first two lines, whether it be cadence or the rhyme pattern or whatever… It’s crazy that people think that after all this time, after all I’ve been through, that I’m the type of person…to go and take that and make it my own. I’m not stupid, I’m not a shitty person like that.”

It’s ironic that the controversy of the supposed biting was what led to the two-year-old track gaining traction and entering the billboard charts. You can listen to the comparison for yourself and draw your own conclusions. But this wouldn’t be the first time that Drake has been accused of swagger-jacking. It’s something he has been called out for time and time again, perhaps most notably perhaps on the 2014 remix to Migos’ breakout hit “Versace” where he took advantage of the triplet flow and continued to use in future songs. He has also been accused of jacking the sound of D.R.A.M’s single “Cha Cha” for his #1 song “Hotline Bling” (which Xxx previously addressed in his tweets).

Travis Scott is another artist who has been dogged with “jacking” and “biting” claims throughout his career. He has even had to respond to a Deadspin article that labelled him as a “shameless biter.” These claims were perhaps most notable on his smash hit, “Antidote.” Many listeners immediately noted the song’s similarity to that of many Rae Sremmund songs, and in particular to Swae Lee’s cadence. The similarities exist to the point that Rae Sremmurd producer Mike WiLL Made It felt he had to speak out about this and went on an impromptu twitter rant about what he perceived to be artists biting from Rae Sremmund without giving their due credit. In the end, Antidote became a worldwide smash hit that pushed Travis Scott into a household name. Whether this has been achieved through swagger-jacking the juice of others is debatable and the ethics of his success shady to say the least.

When it comes down to it, no one can “own” a flow (even what is today known as the “Migos flow” can be traced back to early Three 6 Mafia). It’s impossible to know if a rapper or artist listened to a song and directly took the entire rhyme scheme and flow or if the idea was completely original to them. However, Cardi B has shown us the correct way to deal with “borrowing” another artist’s cadence to use on an original song and it has worked out extremely well for her. As long as you give credit where credit is due, this shouldn’t be an issue at all. It’s a bummer that Cardi will likely continue to be dogged by claims that she is an unoriginal artist who made a karaoke version of a Kodak Black song, but at the end of the day, “Bodak Yellow” will continue to get massive play all around the country despite its detractors.


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