Cardi B’s debut album Invasion of Privacy completes the Bronx rapper’s rise from breakout reality star to burgeoning rap goddess.
For almost two years, the world has watched as the 25-year-old Belcalis Almanzar became a pop culture phenomenon—from her inescapable 2017 hit “Bodak Yellow,” to her magazine spreads in Cosmopolitan and Rolling Stone. Some were cheering her along every step of the way; others were waiting for the bubble to burst. Regardless of why they were watching, all eyes were on Cardi. And with Invasion of Privacy, she delivers the goods.
Her rise has been fascinating for a number of reasons. A lot has been said about the dearth of high-profile women in contemporary hip-hop, but there have been a few who have crashed the mainstream post-Nicki Minaj. Young M.A. was the most talked-about newcomer of 2016; Azealia Banks had tremendous initial buzz and has maintained a respectable following despite her controversial reputation; and veteran Remy Ma’s comeback and subsequent beef with Nicki Minaj was one of last year’s bigger music stories. And while the mainstream has yet to recognize her brilliance, Rapsody dropped one of last year’s more acclaimed rap releases in Laila’s Wisdom. But once Cardi B scored a No. 1 hit with “Bodak Yellow,” the stakes were raised for her. Compounding interest was her history—from stripper to reality star to chart-topping rapper, embodying a side of hip-hop’s hustler spirit that flew in the face of sexist double standards.
She’s got that underdog, chip-on-my-shoulder panache that has informed the best and most brazen rappers, from DMX to Kanye West. And in being who she is, she’s become a mouthpiece for so many others who share similar backgrounds and faced the same haters and beat the same odds. That spirit has fueled her since before the world knew her name. She makes it plain on the scorching album opener “Get Up 10”:
“I was covered in dollars, now I’m drippin' in jewels /
A bitch play with my money? Might as well spit in my food /
Bitches hated my guts, now they swear we was cool…”
Cardi’s done it while largely remaining the gregarious girl from the BX that constantly stole the show for two years on Love and Hip-Hop: New York. She’s frank and funny (“Real bitch—only thing fake is the boobs”) and it’s served her well—it’s a big reason why so many have rooted for her to win. She comes across as one of the least pretentious stars in music; even while bragging about the finer things, she sounds like she never forgets the fight to get there. That’s not all that unusual for debut rap albums, but when you’ve become a major star before your first album drops, there can be a desire to come across unaffected. That ain’t Cardi B.
The ubiquitous “Bodak Yellow” is here, as is the hit follow-up “Bartier Cardi,” but it feels obligatory. After a year where “Bodak Yellow” was everywhere, one can be forgiven for bypassing it for the more interesting newer stuff. And there is no shortage. Over 13 well-produced tracks, Cardi B puts it all out there—her insecurities, her frustration, the required shots at haters, the dismissals of men who didn’t measure up. And the result is one of the more complete, fully-formed hip-hop debut albums in recent memory.
Migos make an appearance on “Drip,” and the Cassius Jay-produced track is unapologetic flossin’ and bossin,’ as Cardi announces: “I’ve been that bitch since pajamas and footies,” with her boys (and boo) from ATL adding verses and Offset sharing the hook. “Drip” is already burning up radio, but sounds rote compared to most of the rest of …Privacy. The hot-as-fire “Bickenhead” has hit written all over it, as Cardi shouts-out “my nasty hoes,” and producers Keyzbaby and Ayo The Producer interpolate Project Pat’s 2001 Dirty South classic “Chickenhead” as a freak anthem for the ages.
“Be Careful” is a look at loving the wrong one—a slick production from Frank Dukes and Boi 1da, that also features Cardi singing the hook herself. “I wanna get married, like the Currys, Steph and Ayesha shit / But we more like Belly—Tommy and Keisha shit / Gave you TLC, you wanna creep and shit / Poured out my whole heart to a piece of shit.” Echoing Lauryn Hill’s heartbreak anthem “Ex Factor,” Cardi’s frustration with her man makes for her most compelling moments, and serve as the real core of Invasion of Privacy.
On “Best Life” (produced by BADBADNOTGOOD, DJ Dahi and Stwo), Cardi proclaims: “Had to talk to God, dropped down, and prayed for this / To my surprise, He replied / Said, ‘You made for this,’” and sounds like she’s relieved to be successful. It’s an upbeat song that sounds more like “Can you believe this?” than the more ballerific moments on the album. Conversely, “I Like It” is all life of the party. Over a sample of Pete Rodriguez’s classic 1967 hit “I Like It Like That,” Cardi celebrates the good life while paying homage to her Latin roots. Featuring Bad Bunny and J Balvin, it’s a party anthem and one of the most infectious moments on an album bursting with ‘em.
The less chest-thumping moments on …Privacy are just as convincing. The Kehlani-assisted “Ring” features production from Scribz, Needlz and Donut and Cardi, as Cardi pines over an estranged lover. “The switchin’ up shit is what I can’t fuck with / I’m feelin’ you but you hard to get in touch with / And you ain’t hit me up in a while / Actin’ like you don’t know what number to dial…” That same frustration turns to righteous rage on “Thru Your Phone,” where Cardi goes off on a cheater, threatening everything from calling his mother to posting another woman’s nudes on Instagram. It’s a skittering trap beat with Ali Tamposi cooing the chorus and Cardi venting, and it’s brutally effective at conveying the simmering fire of bruised ego and broken trust.
Of course, the trap anthems are there. The bouncing “Money Bag” is club-ready, as Cardi B pops shit (“Chef Cardi B, I’m cookin’ up, I see you hoes at the stove again / While you hoes were sleepin’ on me, I made 40 bands by 4 p.m.”) over a beat by J. White Did It. YG shows up for “She Bad,” with a trademark DJ Mustard production giving the West Coast product a chance to spar with Cardi—and things get raw on the verses, even as the hook leaves much to be desired.
SZA guests on the closer “I Do,” as Cardi B takes time to tie it all together. As SZA croons “I left the nigga on ‘read’ cuz I felt like it…” Cardi gets the last laugh at her haters (“My little 15 minutes lasted long as hell, huh?”) and at trifling men (“Only real shit comes out my mouth and only real niggas go in it”). It’s one last reminder that she did this by being herself—and if you don’t get her, that’s not her problem.
Cardi B hasn’t lived up to expectations—she’s blown them out of the water. For everyone that assumed she was a flash-in-the-pan, she’s made it clear that she’s hear to leave an indelible mark. Regardless of whatever rumors swirl around her personal life (is she pregnant or no?), and for whatever bad energy is thrown at her (Azealia Banks seems to take a special glee in taking shots), she’s still winning and she’s doing it her way.
With Nicki Minaj floating somewhere between pop star and branding maven, she’s been less centered as a force in music lately. Banks’ new single “Anna Wintour” is earning raves, but her constant antagonizing has long overshadowed her recording career. And while a host of newcomers in hip-hop have generated buzz over the past 18 months, none came close to Cardi. She is in the best position to be the people’s champ. And she’s not only come through with an album that’s fully realized her potential as an artist, but has given us one of the best releases of 2018 thus far. What’s not to love about that?