why cardi b is the relatable rap queen we all need
As hip-hop’s force of nature announces her debut album, we break down why the industry needs more stars like her.
We ask quite a lot of Cardi B, don’t we? When she’s not being hysterical on social media, finding a fan in Timothée Chalamet, or riding a bloody horse in the latest issue of i-D, the 25-year-old rapper is in the studio churning out banger after banger for us all to obsess over.
After months of shifting released dates and singles so great they’ve already placed her into the rap hall of fame, we now know that Cardi’s hotly-anticipated debut LP, titled Invasion of Privacy, will drop next Friday. The cover alone is giving us life.But unlike most rappers on the verge of releasing their first full body of work post-mixtape, it’s as if Cardi B has bypassed that pivotal ‘make or break’ stage. She’s already hustled hard enough to earn her crown, and we’re grateful to have witnessed her humble, admirable glow-up.
You see, musicians like Cardi B are hard to come by. Practically one of a kind, she manages to balance the fantasy of being wealthy, talented and incredibly famous with a mean sense of humour, alongside a social media savviness that makes her even more alluring. She’s the kind of rap star that publicists wish they could conjure up in a test-tube: a ready-made public figure destined for the spotlight, who has both the bars and personality to make swathes of people fall for her charm -- an affinity for hip-hop is totally optional.
Last year, when she topped the charts with Bodak Yellow, Cardi became the first solo female rapper to achieve that feat since 1998. Her achievement served two purposes: for one, it proved hip-hop was systemically shaped by the patriarchy and the gross approval of male mentors (like many genres), while also proving that a change was underway. If a former reality-TV star who used to make ends meet by stripping -- a past that most conservative, white music bosses would consider distasteful -- had the ability to make history all on her own, what did that say about the diverse voices that might be given a fair chance in future?
But it wasn’t just her off-kilter path to success that made her so great -- the music was pretty slick, too. Even from her early days, her Gangsta Bitch Music mixtapes were cementing her as a New York voice that women around her could resonate with. Then when Bodak came around, and she was rapping about being bought Yves Saint Laurent (and a new whip) in triplet flows over trap beats, her rhymes represented a battle to the top that she’d won; proof that so many like her could achieve what once felt unattainable if they set their minds to it. While chart success seemed unwaveringly shaped by male musicians and flagrant nepotism, here we saw an independent woman from The Bronx rise to dominance. She was 2017’s stream queen, and the men of the rap world were now begging to work with her.
To keep things interesting, we expect our favourite artists to be guarded by a layer of smog-like mystique: the less we know about what they’re up to, the sweeter the eventual reveal is. Right now, we’re used to seeing Beyoncé and Yeezy retreat into the shadows, taking social media exoduses before dropping new music or announcing colossal tours out of nowhere.
Cardi, however, does the opposite. She flagrantly disregards the rule that a star should keep everyone guessing. A keen presence on everybody’s Instagram feed, she likes to keep her followers updated on what she’s up to, whether that’s when her new videos are about to drop or her questions about what the US government is doing with her tax money. She taps into everybody’s frustrations, and reframes them for a beguiled audience of over 20 million people. Cardi is real.
She even uses the platform to weigh in on the most pertinent of political debates, leaving her trademark comedy in tact. Back in February, while the world was still recovering from the aftershock of the Parkland Shooting, President Trump preposterously put forward the idea of arming all teachers with handguns. While most public figures took the opportunity to direct their anger towards Trump in a traditional, stoic Twitter statement, Cardi regrammed a Matilda meme that summed up a lot of people’s thoughts perfectly. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but the point is that unlike most out-of-touch stars, she understands the dialogue young people are having right now, and the way meme culture can cut the bullshit and get straight to the point.
She also executes #sponcon perfectly. While most try forcefully to make their paid collaborations with big brands seem like a natural extension of their everyday lives (yeah, right), Cardi proudly rips the piss. In an iconic clip sponsored by the affordable clothing brand Fashion Nova, she poses the question: “Want to know how rich people, like me, stay rich?” before answering her own question: “By staying on a budget!” She goes on to cackle and splutter her way through 30 seconds of unfiltered Cardi brilliance. Come for the paid content, stay for the comedy.
What’s great is that none of this feels like a PR stunt; a trick that, by now, we’ve all learned to see through quite quickly. Every move Cardi makes, be it with her music or her presence online, seems to come from her. She’s the relatable, unequivocal doyenne of rap we all need.
We want our megastars to be omnipresent, funny and wholly relatable; the kind of people you can simultaneously worship at the altar of, but also bond with over really immature flatulence gags. In an industry still shaped by old-fashioned chauvinism and the vitriolic male gaze, Cardi B is proving that women have the power to reconstruct the path to musical dominance -- no permission needed. Long may Cardi B, the talented, tongue-in-cheek rap queen reign, and here’s to a 2018 where we get more stars like her.