Indeed the success of “Bodak Yellow” most closely parallels the viral power of songs like Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” and Migos’s “Bad and Boujee,” both of which topped the Hot 100 this year with strong boosts from the meme ecosystem. David Bakula, the senior vice president for industry insights at Nielsen Entertainment, said the Cardi B song’s ascent most closely paralleled “Black Beatles,” before the #MannequinChallenge propelled it to No. 1.
Cardi B, 24, has no supporting meme, at least not yet — she is her own engine, a forceful personality and a technician who’s more suave than she seems. She raps as if she’s pushing out each line with a vigorous heave. Guided by the blunt doom-and-gloom beat — produced by J White — she works in a palpable rhythm of inhale and exhale, making for an entrancing rhythm. She also adjusts her approach line by line, sometimes beginning before the beat, sometimes on the beat and sometimes after the beat. (The flow pattern takes Kodak Black’s “No Flockin” as a jumping off point, but adds muscle and sass.)
Cardi B has a thick voice — she swells her syllables until they take up all available space, and moves on and off the beat stealthily. Generally, she chops up her lines into small pieces — “They see pictures, they say, ‘Goals,’ bitch, I’m who they tryna be” — making more entry points, turning each into a sort of mini-chorus.
In two months, “Bodak Yellow” has made a wide impact, the sort of crescendo that let her, in the same weekend this month, perform for the artistically minded coolhunters at MoMA PS1’s Warm-Up Series, and at the Dominican Day Parade. (She is of Dominican and Trinidadian heritage.)
Those are two different segments of New York’s music culture, and part of the reason Cardi B can move so effortlessly between them is that in a genre largely marked by heavy Southern inflections and intonations, she still speaks with the reassuring contours of New York street slang, filtered through a Spanish accent.
In this way, she’s part of another larger movement influencing the pop chart. By a very relaxed reading, the top three songs on the Billboard Hot 100 all owe their success to the Spanish-speaking world: “Despacito,” the reggaeton-lite hit by the Puerto Rican stars Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, has been at No. 1 for 15 weeks (the second-longest run of all time); just below it at No. 2, “Wild Thoughts,” DJ Khaled’s collaboration with Rihanna and Bryson Tiller, is in essence a revision of “Maria Maria,” which was a Billboard No. 1 hit for Santana in 2000. Mr. Anderson said that alignment most recalled certain weeks in 1999, a year in which Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Santana, Christina Aguilera and Enrique Iglesias all had songs reach the Top 10.
Mr. Bieber’s addition to “Despacito” — an English-language star singing partly in Spanish — helped propel it to the top of the chart, but Cardi B might have a different approach in mind. This month, she released a Spanish remix of “Bodak Yellow” featuring the Dominican-American rapper Messiah, one of the key figures in the Latin trap movement. That genre — in essence, a Spanish-language version of American hip-hop — has been gaining popularity over the last couple of years, but it might be “Bodak Yellow” that gives it its breakout moment.
Soon after its release, Spanish-language radio stations began playing “Bodak Yellow,” Mr. Bakula noted. That means that turning this English song Spanish may be the thing to take it to the top of the chart — a kind of reverse “Despacito” in the making.