by Chris Martins
Billboard Hot 100 (three weeks), Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (six weeks), R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay (10 weeks), Streaming Songs (two weeks)
Cardi B should be on top of the world. If her Instagram account, TV appearances and recent magazine profiles are to be believed, she should literally be on top of a pile of money on top of a table on top of a neon bearskin rug. It has been just over a month since her surprise hit, “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves),” gave up its three-week reign atop the Billboard Hot 100, and in that time she has turned 25; played the Barclays Center arena (twice) alongside rap’s biggest stars; taken home five BET awards, including best new hip-hop artist and Hustler of the Year; killed a verse alongside Nicki Minaj on Migos’ “MotorSport” (which cracked the top 10 on the Hot 100); and gotten engaged to Migos’ Offset, who gave her a $550,000 ring with an enormous custom-cut raindrop diamond. (A few weeks after this interview, she’ll also pick up two Grammy nods — best rap performance and best rap song — for “Bodak Yellow.”)
So when I find Cardi in a quiet, book- and brick-lined nook at Los Angeles’ Carondolet House — an Italian villa-turned-events venue where she has been posing for photos all day — I’m surprised to see that she looks, well, miserable. When I ask her how she’s doing, Cardi looks up from the sandwich she has been poking at and squints until I come into focus.
“Oh, terrible,” she says, her expressive face gone hangdog. “I have such a bad headache. Oh, my God. It’s pounding.”
For all of her social-media antics and quotable crudity, Cardi B is not a cartoon. She’s just really real. And whatever stress-induced, wages-of-fame pain she’s suffering from at the moment, Cardi’s eager to say how happy she is to be here and enthusiastically answers my questions (in between, that is, long pauses to knead her temples). She says topping the Hot 100 was “like winning the lottery.” She claims the strip club-themed surprise party her label Atlantic threw her was “more special than my birthday.” She’s so humbled by the fact that airport employees have been congratulating her that she mentions it twice. “And it’s not like a congratulation everybody has had,” adds Cardi. “Like, ‘Oh, you had a baby,’ or, ‘you graduated.’ It’s No. 1 in Billboard.”
The first solo female MC to top the chart since Lauryn Hill did with “Doo Wop (That Thing)” in 1998, Cardi is also quick to praise her predecessor: “Lauryn Hill is like a goddess. For me to be in the same sentence with her, and one day a new female rapper to be in the same sentence with me…” She throws her hands up and slaps them down on her chartreuse tuxedo dress. She’s also proud of “Bodak” unseating Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do,” though she flatters Swift as she expresses the sentiment. “I really like that song, but it do make me feel good because Taylor Swift is freaking Taylor Swift — [being on top] is what she’s known for, and it felt like I was doing it for the culture.” (Swift, for her part, sent flowers to her conqueror.)
“Cardi is the people’s champion,” says Atlantic president of black music Michael Kyser. “She doesn’t know how to play industry games — she’s six months removed from the Bronx projects.”
Actually, Cardi has rented a condo in suburban Edgewater, N.J., for about the last two years. But she arrived there after a boot-strappy rise from those Bronx projects, parlaying a lucrative stripping career into social media fame, then reality-TV stardom, then club appearances where she could kick back with her clothes on and make far more than she did disrobing. (Hence the “Bodak” hook: “I don’t got to dance, I make money moves.”)
Cardi had trouble getting artists, DJs and labels to take her seriously as an MC when she left VH1’s Love & Hip Hop: New York at the end of 2016, but Atlantic’s executives were surprised, and thrilled, to learn her onscreen persona wasn’t a front. “When I met her,” recalls Atlantic chairman/COO Julie Greenwald, “she was the same person you saw on social media and TV. There was no sugarcoating or ‘I’m taking a major meeting, let me become someone else.’ She walked in as Cardi B, completely in control of her own destiny, a definitive boss. As a woman who is also a boss of a big company, I was so impressed by her.”
Cardi’s gift of gab, combined with her Bronx accent, propelled her lingo into the meme mythosphere. (At one point during our interview, she seems to channel Popeye, drawling, “I yam who I yam; I’m not somebody, like, standard.”) But to paraphrase a Jezebel recap of Love & Hip Hop, she seemed real in not one, but two worlds — social media and reality TV — that are so often blatantly fabricated.
Even in a banner year for authenticity in hip-hop — with rappers from Lil Uzi Vert to Logic, JAY-Z and Kendrick Lamar speaking their individual truths — Cardi B stands out. She’s a striver, diligently applying herself to get ahead, and giving herself full credit for it. “This is my work ethic: I do not want to raise my future kids where I was raised, and I know the only way to do it is working, working, working, working, working,” says Cardi. “I don’t want to live in a small Bronx apartment. I don’t want to have three kids that got to share one room. I don’t want my kids to go to school and get gang-affiliated. I don’t want to do welfare. I don’t.”
That’s a sentiment any proud 9-to-5-er can identify with, and “Bodak Yellow” gives it a glamorous sheen — which is why, apart from it being a bona fide banger, it became so much more than just a novelty song. Cardi, who is of Dominican and Trinidadian descent, says she has never been a “YOLO person,” and that making a better future for her eventual children motivated her even at 19, when balancing community college with full-time employment at an Amish Market deli became untenable and she started dancing. Being an entertainer wasn’t new to her. She went to the Renaissance High School for Musical Theater & Technology, where she did talent shows and was cast in musicals, though she’d get dropped for neglecting her grades in favor of socializing — which is when she would rap over popular songs for laughs from her peers.
These days, one of her favorite things to do is check the Billboard charts with her fiance. Offset climbed a few with Migos in 2017, of course, but also scored a Billboard 200 top five with his 21 Savage-Metro Boomin collaboration, Without Warning. Along with “Bodak,” Cardi’s G-Eazy/A$AP Rocky team-up, “No Limit,” hit No. 7 on the Hot 100. (She’ll also be competing with Offset for best rap performance at the Grammys — Migos were nominated for “Bad and Boujee.”)
Despite being an inveterate New Yorker — “I have 100 percent Bronx pride, like it’s a country, like I am the Bronx” — Cardi thinks she and Offset will move to Atlanta, because “guys from down south don’t move here.” And, besides, they want a “big crazy” house. And despite having washed her hands of reality TV, she’d consider the potentially bountiful offers from various cable channels to show their wedding: “Why not? Money talks.”
As for her longtime plan to have a baby at 25, the age that she is now, that will have to wait. She’s too addicted to making hits. After watching “Despacito” dominate this year, she feels emboldened to pursue a sound inspired by her background: hard-boiled East Coast hip-hop mixed with Caribbean rhythms and Spanish lyrics. She has a collaboration coming, “La Modelo,” with Puerto Rican singer Ozuna, a Latin trap luminary.
In the meantime, she’s still adjusting to stardom. She’s shocked, she says, “when women come up to me like, ‘I am a freaking senator,’ or, ‘I’m a doctor.’ It’s like, ‘Damn, y’all like me? I look up to y’all!’” Giving it some more thought, she adds, “It’s not that people want to be like me, but some want to say the things I say and can’t, because they’re afraid. I say it for them.”
For example, her take on the fashionable destination city of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, where she filmed the “Bodak” video in May: “Shit. America right now is a mess, but you still got to love it due to certain freedoms they give us. It be so strict in other countries. I had to be covered up all the time and…” Her thigh-high boots creak as she leans forward. “Do you know you can’t watch porn in Dubai?” How do they control that? “I don’t know, but they do,” she says in a whisper, as if Dubai itself might be listening.
As her headache rears up, Cardi’s thoughts turn to the “bad energy” that comes with fame: “a lot of fake people, a lot of people throwing you hate, trying to discredit your work, a lot of men always talking shit, the drama, the pain, the tears, the sweat, the stress. It’s annoying. I suck it up. I cry sometimes. I get very upset.”
When that happens, she visits her grandmother’s Washington Heights apartment, where the woman has lived for 30 years. She comes from a family of “jokesters,” and her humor carries her through frustrating moments. Like this afternoon’s press obligations — when a friend in her entourage catches Cardi using her long, sparkling fingernails to pop a zit on her forehead, she makes as if she’s dropping it in her mouth, just to gross her girl out. How do you sum up a woman like Cardi? She, at least, has a fittingly original coinage to describe her brand: “genuine-tivity.”
The Politics of Being Cardi B
She isn’t perfect, nor does she claim to be, but the rapper is learning, growing, and proving with her sophomore album that she and her powerful voice are here to stay.
BY MARJON CARLOS AND PHOTOGRAPHED BY STEVEN KLEIN AND STYLED BY KOLLIN CARTER
It feels like a lifetime ago, given the breakneck pace of the news and the steady erosion of our political system, but it has only been a year since rap lightning rod Cardi B sat down with Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders in a Detroit nail salon in the summer of 2019. The polymathic force—former stripper/onetime reality star/raptress/ wife/mother/hellion—converted the salon into a backdrop for an earnest conversation around the most urgent issues facing Americans today: job creation, police brutality, a livable minimum wage, and workers’ rights. The scene was full of obvious asymmetry—Cardi’s glamour-puss persona played irreverently off Sanders’s mensch—but in many ways, it was just two New Yorkers talking about the issues of the day, with all the camaraderie of the politicking found at any Dominican bodega that dots Cardi’s native South Bronx neighborhood.
This wasn’t the first time that Cardi, born Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar, had spoken out about politics; in fact, the voluble rapper, who experienced meteoric fame after the release of 2017’s chart-topping “Bodak Yellow,” can’t keep herself from doing so. Whether imploring fellow celebrities and influencers in unprompted Instagram videos to use their platforms to speak out against President Donald Trump’s draconian rule, or expressing her infatuation with the New Deal in a 2018 GQ interview, Cardi never minces words. She is a lifelong history buff—a gangsta with a thing for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Still, her decision to sit down with the senator immediately courted controversy, turning the comments section of her Instagram into a battleground of dissent. Nearly every time she speaks on such topics, a rush of online naysayers balk at the self-described “regular degular schmegular girl from the Bronx” making a foray into politics: “You need to stick to rapping, sis, you obviously don’t know what you’re talking about,” one commenter wrote. Fox News panned Cardi’s and Sanders’s meeting of the minds, slut-shaming her for her former work as a stripper while ignoring the fact that the current resident of the White House was once embroiled in an alleged affair with a porn star. But as Cardi declared in the 2019 song “Clout,” “Public opinions from private accounts / You not a check, then you gotta bounce,” referring to the verified check marks on social media platforms. Which is to say, Cardi will not be quieted by bots, avatars, critics, or trolls.
Nearly a year later, in early July, I’m on the phone with the rapper, who is in L.A. prepping the first video of her long-awaited sophomore album. The topics covered in her prescient heart-to-heart with Sanders are now playing out in real time. COVID-19 has sent the U.S. economy into a recession and triggered mass unemployment (“A lot of my family caught COVID. A lot of people around me lost their jobs,” Cardi says). The Republican-controlled Senate’s response has left millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet with a mere onetime $1,200 stimulus check. All while unarmed Black men and women are being killed by the police in the streets and in their homes with impunity. Oh, and the presidential election has been whittled down to just two candidates, with “Uncle Bernie,” Cardi’s nickname for Sanders, having conceded to former vice president Joe Biden in April.
Cardi B Breaks Houston Rodeo Attendance Record, Cites Selena Quintanilla as Inspiration
Cardi B recently broke the attendance a record at the Houston Rodeo, and she’s thanking the late Selena Quintanilla for giving her courage to make it happen.
Wearing a pink and blue sequence cowgirl outfit, the “Please Me” rapper performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at NRG Stadium Friday (March 1), breaking an attendance record once held by Garth Brooks. Cardi’s performance drew a record 75,580 fans — only three more concert-goers than Brooks’ previous record.
On Saturday, Cardi posted a video on Instagram from backstage at the rodeo, where she credited the success of her performance to the late Queen of Tejano.
“I was so nervous to perform in front of 70,000-plus people, but when i saw this picture, like, out of all the outfits that she wore, for me to see this picture with this outfit — this was the inspiration for ‘Please Me’ — I knew I was going to be alright,” the rapper said, pointing to a photo of Quintanilla hanging on the wall.
Cardi concluded the IG clip by shouting out her love Quintanilla before singing and dancing along to the singer’s hit song “Como La Flor.”
Cardi’s record-setting Houston Rodeo performance coincided with the release of “Please Me” music video with Bruno Mars, where she and the crooner meet up at an after-hours taco spot in Los Angeles.
In the “Please Me” video, Cardi is wearing a revealing black and purple outfit resembling the one Quintanilla donned during her iconic performance at the Memorial Coliseum in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1993.
Cardi B Explains the Midterm Election Results and the Best Jeans for Your Ass
“I could buy designer, but this Fashion Nova fit.”
Cardi B is telling me about her new collaboration with Fashion Nova, but the phrase she uses most often during our interview is: “Get away from the baby!” It’s hard to explain exactly how that relates to the rapper’s new collection with the urban fast-fashion brand, but here goes. Cardi is working hard for us. “The audience, the general public, they don’t hush, they don’t sleep, they always want to see something,” she says. So Cardi doesn’t sleep either. She’s a new mom, she’s released or appeared on two song-of-next-summer worthy singles in the last month, and, as of midnight on November 15, she’s releasing a collection of clothing for “bitches with ass like me,” says Cardi.
So while we talk, Cardi is multitasking. She’s watching her nieces, nephews, and four-month-old baby Kulture Kiari Cephus. It’s 3 p.m. and she explains in between bites that she hasn’t eaten since 7. “I’m sorry,” she says, “I’m so fucking hungry.” Even over the phone, I can see the woman who’s charmed the pants off late-night hosts, has ascended to superstardom in the span of a couple years, and who Frank Ocean recently called a “symbol of women all around.” She makes a point to apologize and explains the disturbances as her “germy” nieces and nephews try to get close to her baby before barreling back into the answer she was giving to a question.
Cardi sees her debut Fashion Nova collection as an opportunity to represent women of color in fashion. “I feel like a lot a high-end clothing companies, they don’t cater to women like me,” she says. It’s also expected to sell out in minutes. But that’s not the only reason for Cardi to celebrate. She’s also celebrating that the Democrats took back the house in last week’s midterm elections. “Now we taking over, baby, you already know what’s good!”
So much is good when you talk to Cardi B. Below, you’ll find out why budgeting for taxes is the key to staying rich, come to terms with lackadaisical Obama-era Democratic voters, and find the perfect jean jacket, leather jacket, snakeskin jacket, and suiting that’s Belcalis Almanzar-approved.
New Music: Up
The Politics of Being Cardi B
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