Since its release in June, “Bodak Yellow,” the debut single from rapper Cardi B, has rung out from car windows, dance clubs, and even live at the stage of the legendary MoMA PS1. The single topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for three straight weeks. That’s the fifth time a female rapper has ever led the chart, and only the second without an assisting feature. (Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” was first, in 1998.)
Behind the beat that carried Cardi B to fame lies a Dallas producer with a personal story filled with heartache and pain, a story almost cut short from mental illness and depression. The rattling bass and fast pace in Jermaine “JWhiteDidThat” White’s arrangement of “Bodak Yellow” reflect the madness of the producer’s last few years: After losing his mother to domestic violence in 2015, he battled mental illness and thoughts of suicide.
After a fateful meeting in New York with Cardi B, with whom White shared a manager, chemistry formed quickly. Once production started for the single, he created the trap-influenced beat in fifteen minutes. It was exactly what Cardi B asked White for: Something that encapsulated her kinetic personality, but also echoed her struggle.
Texas Monthly: Let’s take it back. When did you first fall in love with music?
Jermaine “JWhiteDidThat” White: My mom sang in choir in church. My dad traveled around the south in different gospel groups as a singer and guitar player. My uncle played drums. With hip-hop, I was always jamming on tables during lunch at school, man. I’d hit on tables and get in trouble. I would listen to Three 6 Mafia and Timbaland and try to emulate those records. I would be in the designated beat table while everyone was rapping.
TM: Were you producing beats back then as well?
JW: People would be like “Aye man I need a beat.” Back in the day I got a tape recorder and did what I do best. I recorded myself beating on tables on my tape recorder and gave it to them. [laughs] They was like, “What’s this?” Then my uncle got me a Optimus keyboard from Radioshack that had the same sounds everyone used on the radio. My uncle showed me the tricks of the trade. It kicked off right there. I didn’t look back. I never had a plan B.
After football practice I would run home and make beats until 10 o’clock. I was super obsessed with it. I was listening to the radio and remaking the beats I heard. My life was beats, track, and football. When I was working at Taco Bell, bet I was moonwalking in the kitchen.
TM: How did you break into the music business? Before collaborating with Cardi B, your production credits include work for Stevie Stone, R&B singer Eric Bellinger, and rapper Plies.
JW: In 2005, I moved to New York at nineteen years old. I met some people off [website] Black Plant and moved there on some crazy stuff. I moved there ‘cause 50 Cent was from there—I thought I was 50 Cent, when I worked at Taco Bell I changed my name to 50 Cent on my name tag.
My manager Shaft had worked with Lil Kim, Loon, and other Bad Boy Records acts. He gave me my first taste of being a producer. He let me get on projects he was doing, with Jim Jones and on the Notorious B.I.G. duet album. Even though I wasn’t the greatest producer, I had energy. Eventually, I signed with Trackboyz [a production group out of St. Louis]. They had broke the single, “Air Force Ones.” That was my first taste of making money, through residuals. From there, I worked with singer Eric Bellinger in 2015 on a track called “Valet” featuring Fetty Wap and 2 Chainz. I thought I was about to make it then. It spun heavy on the West Coast and down south.
Then in 2015, my mom was murdered from domestic violence. It took me for a turn. I was depressed after I lost my mother—she was my best friend. She died young, she was 46 and I was 30. Then I went through financial issues, and my relationship was horrible. 2015 was a blur.
By this time the music industry was taking a toll on me. In the music industry, we all drive to be great. People don’t understand the other side. When you don’t have the proper money management, it’s a very tough industry to get in and stay in. I felt like I wasn’t working with the right people. I wanted to commit suicide. I missed my mom. I have a daughter, so you know I was really messed up mentally. I just wanted to make enough money and get out the industry.
TM: How did you get back on your feet?
JW: My cousin called me and told me to come to New York right then. I booked a flight to NYC cause I wasn’t mentally stable. A lot of us in the black community are afraid to admit we have mental issues, so we don’t take care of them, but I’ve gone to a psychologist to figure out the issues with myself. I went to NYC to get love ‘cause I was so distraught. People didn’t know how distraught I was. While there I called my manager Shaft. He asked if I had any beats. Of course I did. He told me to bring them to his hotel room. When I got there Cardi B was there as well.
That’s what saved my life. I was really gone. I told myself, “I’m gonna put all of my eggs in the Cardi B basket. If they hatch, I’m gonna be a genius. If they crack, that’s OK ‘cause I chose to do it. I have nothing to lose.” I gave Cardi B all my best music. People didn’t take me serious cuz it was Cardi B, but I was like y’all don’t know, she sold out a tour all on her own. Fast forward to now: Two weeks ago I signed my deal with Kobalt Music Group.
TM: What is your approach to producing a song?
JW: I sit down and think about everyone who doesn’t want me to win. For each record, I put my hard-earned soul into it. I put my energy into it. If I get a vibe I am going to run with it. Music is not made to be over-complicated, it’s meant to be enjoyed.
TM: What was the vibe you and Cardi B wanted from the single?
JW: I try to keep music in its rawest form. Cardi wanted energy, she crazy man. She wanted music that matched her. That’s one thing that we got down, my music and her energy match perfectly. I’ve been working with her for over a year and a half and we’ve made history together.
TM: I know you reside in Dallas. How involved are you with the hip-hop scene there?
JW: I worked with Fat Pimp on his single, “Uh Oh” and I’m featured singing on that one. I did a song with Trey Ward called, “Anymore.” I want people to know the type of fight you have to have to make it to the top. I was faced with the question, “Are you willing to lose everything for your music?” And I said “yes,” because I knew I wasn’t going to lose.
TM: Has Dallas hip-hop found its footing as a major hub?
JW: Look, we got Post Malone. We are the wave, we are the sound. From dope producers like Symbolic, Jay Oliver, Sikwitit, and myself, Dallas has a dope sound. The pop side is strong too with Demi Lovato. She’s doing her thing. I don’t wanna say we’re slept on, but it’s OK, we gonna make more records and stay consistent and work together to build a platform.