Could there be a one-hit wonder in the age of the internet? As soon as you get done listening to the smash single, the next song is already playing on YouTube autoplay or the Spotify queue. Also, artists can connect with fans directly on social media, so they’re no longer a sum of their work, they’re a personality, a brand. In a simpler time, you would buy an isolated single and listen to it until your ears bled.
Last year, “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B gained monstrous success and took on a life of its own. It was the banger of 2017, perhaps of all time. A few decades ago, Cardi B would be destined to the same fate as A-ha, Vanilla Ice and Dexys Midnight Runners. In the year 2032, she would perform at the Reno Rib Cook Off and people would say, “Oh yeah, I remember her.”
The record executive overlords turned Cardi B into a whole franchise. Rappers these days become superhero cinematic universes with gluttonous installments. Cardi B’s journey follows a tale as old as time itself: stripper turned reality TV star turned famous rapper. She is one of the most polarizing figures in pop culture. Cardi B, born Belcalis Almanzar, is no longer an artist or a person, but a conversation point, an idea to tweet praises or criticisms about.
After mixtapes Gangsta Bitch Volumes 1 and 2, she finally released her debut album. “Invasion of Privacy” decides whether she can sustain as an artist.
It’s curious the artwork beckons to the 90s, because the album sounds like Cardi forgot that era ever existed. The beats revert to early 2010s-style theatrics and the lyrics contain peak-Lil Wayne punchlines (“You a pussy and rat/You like Tom and Jerry”) without the flow variety.
Cardi draws many comparisons to Nicki Minaj, but I don’t see many similarities beside them both being women. Nicki’s voice, hair, nails and entire Barbie complex comes off as disingenuous. For better or worse, Cardi is vehemently herself. “Real bitch, only thing fake about me is the boobs,” she raps on “Get Up 10.” She reminds the listener several times she got her teeth fixed. She’s revealed the facade of fame as superficial, but it’s not a condemnation, it’s a celebration.
Many hold up Cardi as a feminist monolith. When Pitchfork named “Bodak Yellow” the number one song of 2017, they called the song “an unignorable antithesis to a political landscape built around xenophobia, racism, and sexism.” I don’t think that’s her interest, and I don’t think it’s fair to pigeonhole her as a social justice warrior just because she is a woman of color. On “Bickenhead,” she raps “Lawyer is a jew, he gonn’ chew up all the charges.” On “Best Life,” she raps “#CardiBIsSoProblematic is the hashtag/I can’t believe they want to see me lose that bad.”
The most empowering thing about Cardi B is that she does what male rappers have gotten away with for so long. Cardi is confidence incarnate. On “Drip,” she describes herself as “Lookin like a right swipe on Tinder.” She makes music to scream along to on a drunken car ride home when the Lyft driver offers you the aux. “Pussy so good I say my own name during sex,” she proclaims on “I Do.” She represents the version of you without doubt or guilt or uncertainty or anxiety or self awareness. She got SZA, the woman who made the most heartbreaking, vulnerable album of 2017 whereon she sang “I get so lonely, I forget what I’m worth”, to sing “Left a n—a on read ‘cause I felt like it” on “Invasion of Privacy.” That’s the Cardi effect. It’s exhilarating. Her music is the hip-hop equivalent of an Eddie Murphy standup special: pure bravado with zero introspection.
Even on songs like “Be Careful” and “Thru Your Phone,” tracks about unfaithful significant others, she comes off as defensive and vindictive. “Ring” with R&B sensation Kehlani falls in a long line of songs about unrequited love through missed telephone calls, including “Telephone Line” by Electric Light Orchestra and “Nobody Home” by Pink Floyd. However, similar to “Hello” by Adele or “Hotline Bling” by Drake, it may be outdated in the age of iMessage.
In Scorcese’s greatest films, (“Goodfellas,” specifically) any scene could be a closer. Cardi has so many dope one-liners on this album, any of them could be a hook. “I’m a gangsta in a dress, I’m a bully in the bed/Only time that I’m a lady’s when I lay these hoes to rest/The coupe is roofless, but I get top in it/I’m provocative, it’s my prerogative/80K just to know what time is it/Cardi rockin’ it, go buy stock in it.” I mean come on. It doesn’t get better than that. “Best Life” with Chance the Rapper has a fun, bouncy vibe, and will almost certainly battle Drake’s “Nice for What” for song of the summer 2018.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Cardi B on her impending child with Offset. It proved prophetic when she rapped “Make him give your ass a child” on “Bickenhead.” Also, after hearing “Drip,” I would like to petition for Cardi to replace Takeoff as the third Migo. You can catch Cardi B opening for Bruno Mars on tour. That’s right, the woman who raps, “These ho’s ain’t what they say they are/And they pussy stank they catfishing” will perform in front of amphitheaters full of 8th graders and their moms10