My personality exceeds everything, ” Cardi B once said GQ. She is not wrong. The Bronx rapper has collected many prefixes for her name. There will be Grammy Award winner Cardi B, best-selling artist Cardi B, chart-topper Cardi B. This weekend, just shy of her 30th birthday, she will add American Music Awards host to the list. But in the face of a growing number of awards, it is still Cardi B the person – Cardi B, the personality – that remains the most fascinating.
So far, the story of Cardi B – real name Becalis Almanzar – is a pop culture script: Stripper became rap superstar. Her stiletto step up was as unconventional as it was well documented. It begins with a childhood in the Bronx, where Cardi was born to a Dominican father and a Trinidadian mother. She grew up part of a narrow Dominican enclave in the city, and listened to reggaeton, bachata and madonna. In the early 2010s, Cardi took a job at a grocery store to pay for community college. It was her manager who suggested dancing in the nearby strip club. She would make a lot more money there if she sold organic products on the Amish market, even if it was in singles. Around the same time she started in the Private Eyes Gentlemen’s Club, Cardi started what became her real hatred: posting on Instagram.
Cardi’s arrival on the social media platform is linked to the network’s new video feature. In June 2013, users were able to upload videos to their profiles. It was an artistic opportunity not to be wasted on Cardi, who began posting short snapshots of her life. The clips mostly followed the same format: grainy ad hoc videos made on poor quality front camera in which they preached street wisdom based on their own life experiences. One of her first posts ever from April 2015 saw a baby-faced cardi giving some sage dating tips. “Bitches don’t want to eat out anymore, bitches want to go shopping,” she says honestly before taking a big bite out of a hot dog.
In one of her iconic clips, she is standing in the hallway of a hotel dressed in a tight skirt and small bra top: “It’s cold outside, but I still look dark because a hoe never gets cold.” Cardi has pure meme-ready gold in 15 seconds or less. She was honest. Sex, butt injections (not implants, as she has since clarified during a TV appearance) and harsh revelations about body functions were not out of the question. Her appeal was obvious and immediate. Soon she had thousands of strangers voting just to see what Cardi B was talking about today.
Her growing popularity gained her occupation Love & Hip-Hop, a reality series about mostly forgotten rappers who make mostly forgotten music. At the time, the rapper was merely an asterisk for Cardi’s name. But within months of releasing her first single “Cheap Ass Weave” in 2015, Atlantic Records signed her. When the first track opened the door for the Cardi, then the “Bodak Yellow” 2018 blew it off the hinges. The song – a thunderous, bombastic riff on Kodak Black’s “No Flockin ‘” – was massive. It did not take long for it to steal its way to the top of the charts. First, it took over Justin Bieber and Luis Fonsi’s summer hit “Despacito”. Then it took Taylor Swift off the top. “Bodak Yellow” made Cardi – a relative none of those who were not accused of Internet subcultures – the first female rapper to top the Billboard Hot 100 charts with a solo track since Lauryn Hill in 1998. has.
The spread between influencers and artists, however, is enormous. Removing things from their home on the internet often proves disastrous. Consider TikTok’s Crucifixion Performance Megastar Addison Rae Makes Eight Back-to-Back TikTok Dance The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. But all doubts about Cardi’s talent were dispelled by her debut album Invasion of privacy. It was a stylistically diverse record that proved that she was neither a One Hit Wonder – nor a One Trick Pony. There was more of the loud-clapping rap heard in “Bodak Yellow.” But more surprising were the velvety sounds of R&B, against which she brought her heart to songs including “Be Careful”. There were some potentially big hits on the album, but it was their awful Latin trap single “I Like It” that came out as number 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
In the years since, Cardi has become an immeasurable force in hip-hop. Their lyrics have remained true to their roots: still upright, still horny. See “WAP”, their 2020 collaboration with Megan Thee Stallion. The track debuted at number 1 with the most streams of the first week ever. It became the song of the summer. And it also provoked the wrath of the Conservatives everywhere. This bawdy duet between two of rap’s greatest powerhouses over the slipperiness of their vagina felt like a seismic moment in music. “WAP” was downright dirty, and refreshing; a recovery of female sexuality at a level we have never seen (or heard of).
But while Cardi’s tracks continue to make headlines, it is her personality that is the true narrative engine of her stardom. During the U.S. election last year, Cardi took to Instagram Live to reassure her young fans not to vote at the same rate as her grandmother friends. She did this while wearing some hearty sunglasses and a towel on her head. Months later, she discussed the effectiveness of social distancing measures in her distrust of Joe Biden in a video call with Bernie Sanders (“Uncle Bernie”, as she kindly calls him). She had an argument with Peppa Pig and exchanged sweet messages of mutual admiration with Penn Badgley. His face is now her Twitter profile picture – and hers, his.
There were also errors. It was time that Cardi appropriated the Hindu culture in a photoshoot for an ad for her new line of trainers with Reebok. And then the tonedaf moment she shared a photo of her big Thanksgiving festivities back home in Atlanta, when all the other socially distancing guidelines were followed. She apologizes on social media on both occasions. Remarkably, the apology sounds like her. They are written in their voice, which means they are instant, if a little dismissive. Compare this to the influencer apology ™ that has emerged in recent years – the tear-eyed video or screenshot of a Notes app with a thin statement of regret and “accountability” – and, seriously, it sounds like Cardi’s Suffering at least feels sincere. “I did not try to be disrespectful,” she wrote in response to the ad reaction. “Maybe I should have done my research. And I’m sorry I can not change the past, but I will do more research for the future.
The hard-hitter tracks help, sure, but Cardi B’s her charisma – her dark honesty and exuberance – that’s the soap that cuts through fat. Social media is increasingly becoming a way for celebrities to cut their image. But Cardi makes her want to grow. Sure, there are the obligatory magazine covers and album promo shots that splash under their feed, but their presence is always felt, even if only in a cheeky thrown-away headline. Anyone can create an image with the help of a PR Megateam. And yet it takes a lot to transcend that and show who you really are. To quote one of Cardi’s most famous hit characters, she is “a regula degula schmegula girl from the Bronx”. She’s also just funny as hell.
The AMAs take place on Sunday, November 21st – check out the full list of nominations hey