Words by Ziyanda Ntloko
Cardi B has had a truly remarkable rise. From the moment she appeared on VH1’s massively popular reality show franchise Love & Hip Hop, a star was born. Although no one could’ve guessed it at the time, Cardi B would catapult from the small screen to pop culture prominence in record time. With her infectious, all-lovable personality, Cardi (real name Belcalis Amanzar) has managed to build her online and reality show fan-base into a fully fledged, bona fife rap career.
All starting with Bodak Yellow, an homage to Kodak Black’s No Flockin, released in June 2017 and arguably became the sound and song of the year. It broke numerous records, the most notable being the first song by a female rapper to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 since Lauryn Hill’s Doo Wop in 1998. And with that, Cardi seemingly became unstoppable adding star studded features on Migos’ Motorsport, G-eazy’s No Limit and Bruno Mars’ Finesse as well as 2 Grammy nominations for Bodak Yellow. All this without an album. Cardi, or rather her label Atlantic Records, has rewritten the rules of new artists. For her to have reached and maintained prominence for a full year without dropping a full length project is no small feat.
The strength of Cardi’s brand is that she’s the realistic underdog. In hindsight though, after everything she has achieved, the underdog status is questionable. With whisperings of being a one-hit wonder as soon as Bodak Yellow peaked, the release of her first studio album is Cardi embracing the spotlight she now occupies and at the same time putting to rest any suspicions that her 15 minutes are over.
For all the doubts of Cardi’s ability as a rapper, she has notable strengths in her delivery and flow. The album opener Get Up 10 is a great display of that. The structure of the song has already drawn comparisons to Meek Mill’s Dreams and Nightmares for obvious reasons. The track is broken down into two part with blatantly evident build-up to the climax. It’s made to match the narrative of the Rocky Steps – beating all obstacles to climb to the top. Lyrically Cardi goes from the aforementioned underdog to a beast. She’s here to claim her spot no matter how many times she’s knocked down.
If Cardi’s proven one thing so far in her rookie year it’s that she has a knack for making bangers. Her affiliation to Migos is obviously well known, both professionally as she’s appeared on their hit song Motorsport and personally with her high profile relationship with Migos member, Offset. Drip is a typical trap banger which is right at home for the self-professed Trap Selena. Keeping with her connection to Southern rap, Bickenhead is a shamelessly raunchy ode to Project Pat and Trick Daddy and reminds us why so many have gravitated towards Cardi’s relatable persona. A shoutout to “all the nasty hoes across the globe”, Cardi is unabashedly sexual championing female empowerment as one of the core themes in her music.
It’s not all trap and pussy popping. Be Careful, Thru Your Phone and Ring see a marked departure that allows Cardi to show her emotional range. As mentioned, her relationship with Offset is one that garners a frenzy of online commentary, no thanks in part to numerous scandals and rumours of infidelity. For the most part, Cardi hasn’t given the most in-depth commentary about her personal life, but that’s what music is for. Be Careful in particular is the classic women-scorned anthem with Cardi at her most vulnerable. The song hasn’t been without controversy as ghost-writing allegations were thrown around soon after release. The ghost-writer in question is really not that hidden as he is listed in the song’s credits. Despite on-going debate over whether Cardi really writes her music, at least it’s still speaks true to her. Sampling Lauryn Hill’s X Factor, the song is powerful and refreshing.
Thru Your Phone sees Cardi progress from being purely mournful over her relationship troubles to plotting revenge on a cheating partner with a surprisingly decent vocal performance. “Smash your TV from Best Buy/ You gonna turn me into Left Eye”, this is a warning. Let’s just say Offset should sleep with one eye open and maybe check the milk in his cereal. Ring featuring Kehlani continues the blues with an R&B tinged offering where Cardi laments a lover who won’t call. All three tracks are new sounds for her and it’s welcoming that she has variety among the obvious high tempo bops.
Growing up in The Bronx with Dominican-Trinadadian heritage, you’d expect her to have some Latin influence in her sound and it’s presented on I Like It. Cardi raps animatedly over a recognizable sample of the salsa classic I Like It Like That by Pete Rodriguez and features Colombian reggaeton singer and Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny which is sure to be a party pleaser. On Best Life with Chance the Rapper, Cardi reminds us that although she’s living the rap star lifestyle, she’s the same girl who used to post raucous Instagram commentary videos before she fixed her teeth. Cardi being herself is what’s endeared her to the general public the most and made her the People’s Champion, she’s the relatable celebrity.
Money Bag and She Bad featuring YG find her trapping at her best with big production, expert delivery on stand out lyrics like “I need Chrissy Teigen, I know a bad bitch when I see one, Tell RiRi I need a threesome” and repetitively addictive hooks. The album closes out strongly with the Murda Beatz produced I Do a collaboration with SZA, an artist who has experienced a meteoric rise of her own. It’s a confident girl-anthem reminding you to be a gangster in a dress and a bully in the bed.
Invasion of Privacy is a pretty lean offering at 13 tracks and 48 minutes. In a climate where many artists are stuffing 20+ songs on albums in order to maximize streams, this is refreshing. Even more so with the amount of variety Cardi has managed to pack in. This is a well-executed and polished début that is devoid of weak points or uninspired fillers. My only criticism, if you can even call it that is, at times there were moments where I was not sure I was hearing Cardi the artist. The true authenticity that is displayed on her earlier mixtapes, Gangsta Bitch Volume 1 and 2 isn’t felt all the way through. Within Cardi’s development into a polished musician, I hope that in chase of mainstream appeal, she doesn’t lose the rawness that’s made her stand out from the rest. That said, this is more than decent record and it finally feels like we have another female rap presence in the game that has the fan-base and music to stick around. Cardi has reached the top with record-breaking pace, the challenge now is to stay there.