Cardi B is nasty and I'm here for it.
There are rappers you blast in your car and there are rappers you play behind closed doors with headphones on. Cardi B is a rapper you blast through your car, windows down, one hand on the wheel. Cardi B is one nasty woman. And better yet, she doesn't care. It goes without saying that her debut album, Invasion of Privacy, qualifies her resident nastiness in a sweet spot between Lil' Kim and Remy Ma.
A loud and provocative voice on Love & Hip Hop, Cardi B was always a quotable personality. On Invasion of Privacy, she proves just how explosive that personality is, showcasing a rough, sexual, brazen side of herself that most women in music are habitually told to subdue. But it's Cardi's fascination with this Madonna complex in the music industry—the good-girl-gone-bad persona fulfilled by every pop star from Beyonce to Britney Spears—that transcends Invasion of Privacy. Women must be good until it's more marketable to sell them as bad. For Cardi B, a retired dancer and open supporter of gang culture, there was never a chance of selling her image as good—"I don't dance now, I make money moves." No, Cardi B isn't the average role model, but these days, Cardi is as real as it gets. We should've listened to her the first time around. She knows how to rap and she knows how to make a hit.
Invasion of Privacy is filled with them from the wildly explicit "Bickenhead," where Cardi B leverages her sexuality against men ("You make-believe, now with me it's only facts."), to the more pronounced club banger "She Bad," where Cardi, again, praises the almighty power and persuasion of her lady bits: "I'm a boss in a skirt, I'm a dog, I'm a flirt / Write a verse while I twerk, I wear Off-White at church."
Here Cardi explores a type of business mentality traditionally inhabited by men in music or the Scarface-esque iconography of Jay-Z. Her time, her presence, her body, and her attention aren't free—Cardi has money to make with or without your help. It's this brute mentality that's felt in her voice, her accent decorating each vocal inflection and syllable. She has a way of making words sound more regal than they are, highlighting the formalities of braggadocio with the eccentricities of a Bronx-born afro-latino woman. Her voice, then, is her strongest weapon, creating a type of cartoon swagger that mixes comedic inflections with the crisp production of designer trap music. She sounds powerful, hungry, pressed for time and patience, and outrageously fun.
Critics and naysayers have attacked Cardi for using ghostwriters, questioning her talent and legitimacy as an artist. But rap is a genre that organically adapts to current trends and styles; even its most original acts are indebted to flows and rhymes of the past. Hated for her popularity, Cardi addresses the irony of celebrity on the Chance the Rapper-assisted "Best Life": "I said I never had a problem showin' ya'll the real me / hair when it's f—ed up / crib when it's filthy / way-before-the-deal me, strip-to-pay-the-bills-me." The rags-to-riches story in hip-hop is a familiar trope, but Cardi inverts it, challenging why she should arrive with an apology for her past. Ironically, it's Cardi's honesty that makes her a distinctive MC, and it may well be the thing that hurts her sound as well.
So when Cardi does allow us to see her vulnerable side on "Be Careful"—an honest and sensitive rebuttal to the speculation surrounding Offset's alleged infidelity—or "Thru Your Phone," another response to an unfaithful partner, it shows just how diverse Cardi's range is as a rapper. She knows when to be a killer and when to be soft. She has found a way to make rap songs that bang but can be played in rotation with Katy Perry. She's infiltrated pop music and found a balance between comedy and facts. She's unpredictable, she's uncouth, and she has stories to tell on her own terms. At a minimum, she's real and watching someone be real and comfortable in themselves is refreshing. And that's an exciting prospect in music. Because really, how often are women able to just be themselves? Cardi B is, undeniably, and it sounds so f—ing good.
Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.
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