The rap duo KATANI has dropped their very first music video for their latest remix “Kodak Mellow-nin.” The mix takes from Cardi B’s fiery chart topper “Bodak Yellow” swapping in lyrics that strengthen the pair’s message–to use the platform of well-known hits to remove themes of misogyny and discrimination from hip hop culture while promoting positive themes of inclusion and empowerment.
Their new video– filmed by Jamel Mosely and edited by KATANI’s own Kat So Poetic–was born out of a delightfully serendipitous chain of events. They had written and recorded the song in record time and when it came to filming, every aspect of the project fell into place seamlessly. It was shot in three days in local Troy businesses like Troy Kitchen, The Juice Factory and The Bradley and involved about 25 family members and friends.
As they wrapped up, Cardi B had just rolled through Albany on the Homecoming tour at the Times Union Center, making the papers not for the performance but for her post-show experience. After 1 AM on Sunday, Oct. 22–only hours after her performance–the rapper and her team were removed from the Albany Hilton after a noise complaint turn marijuana possession allegation. According to the Times Union, the artist was seen being escorted out by a hotel staff member, calling him racist. She later released an Instagram video (which has since been removed) saying “Albany is known for being racist,” and claiming that she and her team were kicked out because they were the only people of color on the floor.
“I’m not surprised, there’s always racist shit that’s going on in Albany. It’s ridiculous that they would assume [that],” Kat said about the incident.
“Yeah, I feel like I’ve had a similar experience in one of those downtown Hilton-type places so I was just like, ‘Oh of course,’” Amani added.
Cardi B’s hit is one of many well-known rap songs to be reborn through KATANI. For nearly a year, the artists have remixed songs like “No Role Modelz” by J. Cole, or “Ooouuu” by Young M.A.–trading their lyrics but maintaining the skeleton of the song–in their EP Watermelon.
“We had this idea to remake this one song that we both really liked but was super misogynistic and sexist and just deplorable in the lyric content, so… we just remade it, but we kept the same melody and flow as the original artist,” Kat said about their first projects.
“We can have it all,” Amani says. “We thought, ‘Yo, this is gonna usher in a new genre, a new era in a time of music.”
By turning such well known hits on their heads, KATANI is asking their audience a question: Do you just like the beat or do you know what you’re really listening to?
They pull a song apart word for word, replacing it with something so close–and so much stronger. The result is the same danceable track, the same cadence and rhyme and an entirely different message.
“We can say the same flow, same cadence, same rhyme scheme [with] different content because we just feel like there’s a different conversation that needs to be happening across all communities, no matter the color or gender dynamic,” Amani explains.
In songs like “Ooouuu,” the duo trade calls out harmful narratives of misogyny and violence and draws attention to social issues, citing specific instances of broken police relations with communities of color, such as the brutal murder of Latina Herring and her 8-year-old son by Herring’s boyfriend, hours after she called the police to report domestic abuse. The song also draws attention to major players in the civil rights and black power movements over the course of history, such as activist Assata Shakur.
“I wanna fix it but it’s broke tho / Why when we need the cops they a no show? (Latina Herring!) / System got me fixin to go loco / Look how they did Assata not a joke yo.”
In their latest project, they swap out Cardi B’s chorus with a stance against systemic racism, turning, “These expensive / these is red bottoms / these is bloody shoes / Hit the store / I can get ‘em both / I don’t wanna choose,” into “Pay attention / want us dead / these is bloody troops / Need some more?/ I can get ‘em woke / what you gonna choose?”
“We do a lot of work trying to keep it the cadence, [with the] same syllables, and it’s so much fun,” Amani said.
The more popular a song, the more challenging it is to take it on as a project. “Bodak Yellow” rose to the top of Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart this August in the quickest climb since the infamous viral hit “Gangnam Style” from Psy in 2012. She knocked Taylor Swift from the number one spot of Billboard’s Top 100 in late September, becoming the fifth female solo rapper to ever top the chart. (The first since Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” in 1998.)
Cardi B’s track was at the top of the charts (it now sits at number two) and though the pair didn’t know it, the hashtag #bodakyellowchallenge had gone viral, drawing freestyle rappers from all over to try their hand at the beat.
KATANI had never intended to cover the track, they had others lined up to cover in the studio such as “Lit” by Bas and J. Cole and “Caroline” by Aminé. A mutual friend had approached Amani O and Kat So Poetic on two separate occasions to come out with their own remix and with that, their take was set: “Kodak Mellow-nin” was born in a matter of days.
“There is definitely a misalignment [between] some of the things that we’re trying to encourage and introduce and some of the things in Cardi’s song,” Amani explains. I think some of the difference is still trying to find a place to uplift–woman to woman–and also fuck capitalism and violence.”
“It’s not coming at her,“ she adds. “We wanna uplift who we wanna uplift and the trouble was, everyone loves that song. We don’t wanna alienate the love for that and we wanna respect the fact that she did get to where she is and it’s really dope.”
The duo took time before writing to research Cardi B’s background, paying attention to her escape from an ongoing domestic violence at home, her discovery of financial and emotional independence through her work as a strip club dancer and her newfound success as a rapper.
In their lyrical remix, KATANI said, the important difference is inclusion of all women, respecting an individual’s life choices and–more broadly–taking advantage of the platform of fame to speak out about social issues.
“It’s like, “Word, I’m here for you, but we still are reaching out to women who still dance and women who dance for choice or who have to–I want to uplift you–we don’t want to alienate anybody who wants to still dance,” Amani explained.
“There’s mad important shit that still needs to be talked about,” Kat adds. “You can’t ignore this shit on such a platform. It’s mind boggling to think: you finally break through that barrier and you make it to the top of the charts and when you look at the message, it’s still not the shit that needs to be talked about right now. Are we blind?”