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The World According to Cardi

The breakout rapper solidifies her staying power with a killer LP

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ardi B doesn’t need this. It’s early 2016, and the up-and-coming rapper has been convinced to enroll in an etiquette class by Bianca Bonnie, a friend and co-star. Although the pals have recently become favorites on the reality show in which they’re starring, Love & Hip Hop: New York, mostly because of their unfiltered personalities, their managers have repeatedly let them know that some adjustments need to be made. Enough of Cardi’s vulgarity; enough of Bonnie’s reckless sportivity. If either artist is serious

about selling themselves to curious music execs in the near-future, they must try to figure out how to at least fake it until they make it. Bonnie thinks this etiquette class could be helpful.

 

During the session, the latter tries, temporarily, to keep a straight face. Cardi, in contrast, obliquely clarifies that she’s only here because she knows it will make for great reality television, practically mugging for the camera crew.

 

During the scene, the host of the session works through an unofficial lesson plan: how to properly sip tea, appropriately dress for business meetings, do vocal exercises, and act during interviews. Cardi laughs in the face of each stage. She slurps her earl grey, proclaims she’ll never stop wearing transparent garb (she’d rather people look at her breasts than her crooked teeth), gratuitously wiggles her tongue, and snarkily gives epigrammatic answers to practice questions. 

 

I’ve watched this scene unfold countless times, both because it’s become a pervasive presence on my Tumblr feed and because it is, like so much of what Cardi does when she isn’t rapping, inexhaustibly funny and incomparable.

 

While listening to her studio album debut, Invasion of Privacy, this clip repeatedly came to mind. So often during the LP, Cardi makes it clear that she’s proud of who she is and where she came from. She’s never conformed or catered to common social etiquettes, and has become remarkably popular partially as a result of this. In the span of a few years, she’s gone from stripper to Instagram celebrity to reality star to savvy hip-hop artist. More impressively, she’s done it all before turning 25. Much of this, undoubtedly, has to do with her unfailing dedication to being Cardi B. Those aforementioned 2016 managers who thought she needed to lose the accent and the attitude had it all wrong. 

 

Invasion of Privacy is an encapsulation of her thrillingly unaffected essence. By turns ferocious, funny, frank, and fun, it is an easily quotable and danceable musical statement that plays up to the strengths of its radiant cult of personality. This is a relief, given the spottiness of Cardi’s previous mixtape projects, 2016’s Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1 and its follow-up, 2017’s Vol. 2

 

At the outset, Cardi elucidates that she’s more prepared and composed than ever. “Knock me down nine times but I get up ten,” she sputters on the autobiographical opening track, “Get Up 10.” “I look myself in the mirror, I say we gonna win.” 

 

From there, she effortlessly glides between styles and tones, raw one moment and self-assured the next. The next three songs on the album, the Migos-assisted “Drip,” the pulsating “Bickenhead,” and the now-inescapable “Bodak Yellow,” find Cardi flashing her trademark professional and sexual resolve with astounding aplomb. 

 

Then the album moves back and forth between the confessional and the epicurean, always with success. “Be Careful” is memorably vulnerable, as are the Kehlani-supplemented “Rings” and the menacing “Thru Your Phone,” which both see Cardi in the midst of romantic paranoia (that she says has nothing to do with her fiancé, Offset).

 

Like most listeners inevitably will, I enjoy Invasion of Privacy at its most animated. The album’s second single, “Bartier Cardi,” is gleefully wicked and explicit, and later tracks, like “She Bad” and the SZA collaboration “I Do,” are clubby opuses upped by their tell-off natures. 

 

The album is nearly spotless, perhaps only hampered by the rather unimaginative production and the fact that Cardi ignores the opportunity to atone for some previous controversies but aggravatingly misses the mark. (On “Best Life,” she claims people who call her problematic are just haters trying to make her lose; in actuality, people were concerned with transphobic and racist tweets from years ago, along with her defense of homophobic Migos lyrics.) 

 

Still, as she memorably notes during “I Do,” Cardi is unstoppable, hardly the one-hit wonder she seemed so primed to become. Delightful but never superficial, Invasion of Privacy makes for one of the finest hip-hop debuts in recent memory and assures us that Cardi is here to say. If “Bodak Yellow” indicated the birth of a star, then Invasion of Privacy signals the solidification of one. 

 

- APRIL 9, 2018

 

This piece also appeared in The Daily.