Belcalis Almanzar, better known as Cardi B, has absolutely exploded over the past year. As an Instagram celebrity originating as a stripper in New York, her debut single for Atlantic records, “Bodak Yellow” reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. This made her only the second female rapper to accomplish this, after the legendary Lauryn Hill.
Her debut solo album “Invasion of Privacy” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 200, and Time Magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People on their annual list this year. She describes her album as “different from the past mix tapes that I put out because I just grew more as an artist. I study more sounds, I’m more focused, I’m getting better at my flows.” It’s clear from listening to this album that she’s eager to face all the skeptics that ever made her feel that the success of her rap career was a fluke, or that she’s undeserving of her time in the spotlight.
The Dominican and Trinidadian rapper found herself in an abusive relationship for many years after her parents got divorced and she graduated high school. Her parents didn’t have lots of money and couldn’t support her in many ways. She took up dancing at a strip club after quitting her job at a small grocery store and she attributes this part of her career to really saving her. Stripping was a way for her to escape poverty and domestic violence, and led her to go to college, before dropping out a few years later.
In 2013, she became an internet sensation and personality, sharing hilarious videos of herself on Instagram and Vine, and a few years later was able to launch her music career. In the inspiration for her single, “What a Girl Likes,” she said, “I wanted to make a song that would make girls dance, twerk, and at the same time encourage them to go get that Shmoney.”
Cardi B’s heavy, aggressive, and in-your-face style overwhelms a great deal of her listeners. She’s outspoken and unafraid of her past, and ready to face anyone who’s told her she isn’t worthy of massive hip hop acclaim. In songs such as “Get Up 10,” she has a merciless attitude which stems from the treatment of those who have challenged her. Another goal of her music is to express that the more negative attention she receives and the more people doubt her, the more powerful and fired up she feels. In her song “Best Life” with Chance the Rapper, she raps, “Fore I fixed my teeth, man, those comments used to kill me/But never did I change, never been ashamed,” describing how no matter how her body or physical appearance changed over the years, due to societal and industry pressures, her attitude and outlook never did. Females in the rap industry often struggle with getting their voice out there and being treated with respect for who they are.
Understanding Cardi B’s harsh, unforgiving new album requires looking deeper into her background and knowing what she’s all about. The world has never seen a female rapper quite like her, and she’ll certainly continue to create rap music that defies female standards, directly addresses her haters, and create awareness about the struggles she faced to get where she is today.
COVER PHOTO: DJ Booth