Interview: “Bodak Yellow” Producer J. White Opens Up About Suicide Attempts, Celebrates Grammy Nomination
One song can change a rapper’s, or producer’s, life. Hence, the lovable and comically unfiltered Bronx native, Cardi B went from a expresssive reality TV star to Grammy nominated MC seemingly overnight. Cardi’s sudden rise to success is largely due to her trap-banging single, “Bodak Yellow.” Experiencing a euphoria similar to Cardi’s is J. White, the beatsmith responsible for the simple snare-heavy neck-shaker.
The Dallas, Texas native has spent years behind the scenes crafting beats for the likes of Eric Bellinger, Plies, 2 Chainz, Strange Fruit MC Stevie Stone and others. Despite the small taste of success as a producer, White was still missing that one hit song that would enable his name to enter a new tax bracket.
“I only wanted to work with one artist. I produced Eric Bellinger’s ‘Valet,'” White says. “[I produced] for Fetty Wap and 2 Chainz, but I felt that I wasn’t being treated fairly in the music industry. So, I said Cardi B is the only person I’m going to work with. If I blow her up with my sound, I’ll be a genius. People will think that I’m that dude. I was telling people that I’m working with Cardi B and they would be like, ‘Who?’ and laugh at me.”
His plan worked, too. On one particularly slow day inside the studio, White was toying with a trap-inspired backdrop when his manager Shaft, who also manages Cardi’s very busy career, mentioned how ear-catching his snares and hi-hats are. Taking heed to Shaft’s advice, White added snares and hi-hats to the beat he was creating at the moment, and abracadabra—in less than 15 minutes, the now-Grammy-nominated producer completed the snapping instrumental that would become “Bodak Yellow.”
Grammy Weekend is still buzzing here in New York City. White is absorbing all of the music festivities here in the Big Apple. Before taking part the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, where he and Cardi had hoped to take home coveted awards for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song, J. White made a pitstop by VIBE’s HQ’s to discuss his journey from the rural backroads of Mississippi County (Blytheville), Arkansas and Dallas to being nominated for a Grammy on the exact day (Jan. 28) of his mother’s murder.
VIBE: First of all, how are you felling?
J. White: I feel like my mom was up there pulling strings for me. On the 28th of January, 2015, my mom was murdered in Arkansas by her boyfriend. And now on the 28th, I’m nominated for a Grammy.
Sorry about that. She’s up there pulling strings for you.
My mom was my biggest fan. I remember one time she told Chingy’s daddy, “You don’t know my know my son, J White?”‘ [Laughs] I was like, Mom, them people don’t know me.
So explain your story. How’d you get here?
You remember Black Planet? I was on there, and I found someone in the music room and his name is Jermaine—God rest his soul. He was trying to get his beats off, too. We started making beats together, and few months later, he and his manager were like, “Why don’t you move to New York?”
Please don’t tell me you moved to New York with some guys you met on social media.
[Laughs] Yes, I did. I moved to New York. Never met these guys. One day, LL Cool J had an event in Saint Albans, Queens. I was living across the street from there. And Shaft, our manager, was standing there talking to someone and he mentioned the MTV Awards. My keyboard, a Yamaha Motif, just shipped in from Kansas. I approached him and asked him if he wanted to hear my beats and he said yes. He liked the beats and he wanted to send me a car that night to go to the studio. [Instead] he picked me up in the morning, though. He produced for Lil Kim and Loon. He taught me how to sample and do all of the other things I wanted to do.
Give me a timeframe. When was this?
This is ’05. From ’05 to 2016.
Was Shaft upset? Or was there a disagreement over your decision to leave?
Nah, I went back home to make music with my friends. I haven’t seen nor talked to Shaft, but he would always find me. He would even call my friends phone. I never knew how he got their numbers.
Shaft was calling you to come back to New York?
Yeah, but by then I’d gotten a record with Juelz Santana, a record that never came out. I thought I was about to be rich after that. Juelz was at his peak. I’m thinking I’m about to start charging $500 a beat, but it didn’t work out like that.
So what happened after the Juelz Santana record fell through?
I started DJing at clubs around Kansas. I knocked on doors, passed out fliers, and I just started grinding. I was a janitor at the time, too. I didn’t care. But Shaft was still hitting me up. My mom was murdered in 2015. I even tried to commit suicide twice in 2016. I literally called my cousin who lives here in Brooklyn, and she told me to come out here to visit. Once, I got here, I called Shaft. He told me to come to his house, and Cardi B came out of the room. That’s how the Cardi B situation happened. Then I worked on Gangsta B**ch Vol. 2.
Explain the the moments in the studio when you were creating the “Bodak Yellow.”
I was doing a R&B track in the studio, and Shaft was like, “Cardi said why are you doing a R&B track?” Then she came out of the room like, “Why are you doing a R&B track, J. White?” So then I started making “Bodak Yellow.” It was called “Up Run 3000,” she did what she did and the rest his history. When we did “Lick,” I thought that was it. But when I heard “Bodak Yellow,” I was like, yo, this is special. But I didn’t think it was going to do this to do another record.
We made history together, and I hope we continue to make more history together.