“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.
How did your collaboration with Fashion Nova come about?
I really wanted to do a clothing line for myself. I wanted to do clothes and create everything, you know? But I’ve never been in this business, it’s really new for me. So I was like,”Why don’t I just partner up with Fashion Nova?” They have been doing it and they gave me a offer so I wanted to see how things go. Me and Fashion Nova we’ve been friends for a very long time. It’s almost like a family thing and it’s like, hey why not?
What do you love about Fashion Nova?
I like their quick fashion, you know what I’m saying? There are so many things that I like. When I was growing up they used to sell similar clothes to Fashion Nova but right now in New York City, there’s not a lot of quick fashion stores and the real estate is too high for stores to keep up. Fashion Nova is also a small business and they deliver real fast. That and that it’s fitting for my body. I’m a very thick and I’m a short thick girl, and not a lot of high-end clothes fit right. Fashion Nova fits my body to the T. It’s like they know my body.
You’ve mentioned Fashion Nova has the perfect jean fit. Can you describe that fit in your own words?
They fit me perfectly. It fits like a damn glove.
What piece in the collection is the most you?
My favorites are definitely the jeans jackets and also the suits. Everybody knows I’m really good with suits. That is definitely me. And you know, I was really iffy about dresses but I think I picked good dresses and everything. Definitively the jackets though, that is really my thing.
What piece from the collection is perfect for Hennessy?
All right, so there’s like leather red jacket that almost looks like crocodile skin. It’s totally Hennessy, like it’s something that I definitely see Hennessy wearing. And there’s also a puffy jacket with a skirt that’s definitely Hennessy. You know Hennessy is very like street style.
What piece would you like recreated as a mini version for Kulture?
The leather jacket totally. My daughter is so tiny and chunky. (Laughs) I can’t even fit her in pictures ’cause she’s so small and chunky.
What’s it like moving from music to now design?
It makes me nervous because, here’s the thing: I like to sell and I like to prove to people that work with me that I could make items and products that sell. I love Fashion Nova and I want to show them it’s a look and I can move shit. I want to show the world that anything that got my name on it could sell, I can move it, and that’s something that is very important to me to prove myself. That’s why I told Fashion Nova that the brands got to be good material and it has be planned out. You cannot just be like a pig that is like “ha-ha-ha.” That’s why we been working on this shit for like five months you know.
How important is it to have a fast-fashion retailer that caters to women of color?
It’s very important for a fashion retailer to cater to women of color because first things first: women of color, we are the women that got the most voluptuous bodies. I feel like a lot a high-end clothing companies, they don’t cater to women like me. They don’t cater to curvy women like me. I’m not even that curvy, I’m like, you know average, I’m not the girl with the small waist and the big butt and thighs but still. I don’t like that and I feel like women of color are the ones that influence fashion. Whenever we name drop a clothing line or a brand people automatically want to wear it. When people see us wearing stuff in music videos, people automatically wanna wear it.
What were your influences for the line?
What really influenced me is things that I would like to wear. I also see things online that are trending. You always got to see what’s trending and what’s on right now. That’s what influenced me like, what’s something that I would wear, me, Cardi? What’s something that my sister would wear, what’s something that like I would see a celebrity be like, “Aight, aight, that’s cool, that’s cute!”
Who are some of your style influences?
Uh, everybody. (Laughs.) I like Lady Gaga, I like her style. I like Rihanna’s style. I like Missy Elliot’s style, Lil Kim’s style, she’s always such a good influence.
You joked on Instagram about your Fashion Nova line, “Wanna know how rich people like me stay rich? By staying on a budget.” What other budget things do you do that are better than expensive stuff?
Oh, okay. Let me tell you something, right now. I am the type of person that if I’m not flying with more than three people, I’m not taking no fucking jet. Like, a lot of people be believing that like, I use to take a jet everywhere. You know like, let’s say if I’m going to Atlanta, right? A regular Atlanta trip is about five hundred dollars. Maybe a thousand dollars if you buy the flight the same day. Why would I take a fifteen thousand dollar jet flight? Just to go to Atlanta? Let’s say I’m going to LA, right? Why would I pay two, three, why would I pay sixty-fifty thousand? To just go to LA? I may pay thirty thousand to go to LA on a jet when it’s just a security guard and me when I could pay literally less than six thousand for seats. That’s something I budget a lot. And you know, what? I budget everything now that I’m in a certain tax bracket. I gotta pay a lot of taxes, so it’s like everything I budget myself. I’m tryna make sure that everything is getting written. I’m making sure that everything is balanced out with the money I spend. It’s enough money for me to spend and enough to pay my taxes.
The midterms just happened last week and you’re a political junkie. Do you have a take on the results?
Yes, I have a take. I’m very happy that little by little we’re making progress. To see that the Democrats are taking over that house, you know. When Obama was president I feel like people were so happy we had such a good president and he was a president of color. We were just so happy we forgot about the other branches. You know what I’m saying? So while everyone was happy that we had Obama, I feel like the Republicans were plotting like, “Oh, okay, but watch next election what’s gonna happen.” And that’s exactly what happened. While we were so happy about Obama being president they were plotting to take over the House in the next election. It was the Republicans but we just won the house. Now we taking over, baby, you already know what’s good.
You have your Fashion Nova line launching on at midnight on Thursday, November 15th. What else is going on in the world of Cardi B?
A lot. You know just this past week I was overly booked. I was so booked that my body shut down. I had to literally take a three day vacation away from people. I had to get away from anything like the studios and stay away from the internet because you know, I don’t ever want to stop. The audience, the general public, they don’t hush, they don’t sleep, they always want to see something. I feel like I got to keep up with it but I finally took a small break. Right now, I have Fashion Nova coming out. I got my music video for my single “Money” is coming out. On top of that, I’m planning to release a new project in December or January. It’s all going to be very good and amazing.
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 Gets Candid
Even if you’re among Cardi B’s 34 million Instagram followers, and have tuned in daily for your fix of her raucous, unfiltered videos on social media, you might want to pause for a second to consider the number of life-changing events she’s cycled through in the year or so since becoming hip-hop’s breakout female star. It was “Bodak Yellow,” the single she released in June 2017, that, within three months, made Cardi the first solo female rapper to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart since Lauryn Hill, in 1998. That same summer, Drake invited her onstage during his OVO Fest, in Toronto, and then in September, she married the rapper Offset, of Migos, whose own career was in overdrive. Pregnant with her first child by October, she threw herself into recording the songs and videos for her debut album, Invasion of Privacy. This past April, she launched the album and revealed her baby bump on Saturday Night Live; in July, she gave birth to her daughter, Kulture Kiari. Meanwhile, Invasion of Privacy topped the charts, and she and Drake tied for the most nominations at the 2018 American Music Awards. She has movie offers on tap and a 2019 tour in the works, and is a contender for the next Super Bowl halftime show. At 25, Cardi is not only the first female rapper in history with three Hot 100 No. 1 singles but she’s likely the first to juggle sudden global fame with a newborn.
“When I got pregnant, I was fucking freaking out,” Cardi, born Belcalis Almanzar, told me recently. “Everybody around me was like, ‘No, this never happened before. Every artist that had a baby, they already put in years in the game. This is your first year. You’re going to mess it up. How are you going to make it?’ ” She was sitting on a brown suede sofa in her grandparents’ modest walk-up apartment in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, polishing off a salad that her abuelito, as she calls her grandfather, soon cleared from the wooden stool she was using as a table. Nestled against the velvet pillows, she tucked her bare feet under her and slid her ever-present phone beneath her thigh. “While I was pregnant, I kept telling myself, I can’t wait till I’m back out there. I’m going to look hot, and I’m going to be that bitch.”
In 2013, while working as a stripper, Cardi began posting funny, off-the-cuff monologues to social media that soon led to a spot on the VH1 reality series Love & Hip Hop. Her candor, then as now, is her secret weapon. She speaks her mind, in a thick New York Latina accent; on platforms known for their artifice, she comes across as hyper-authentic. Recently, demonstrating that her post-baby breasts had been lifted with tape for an event, she announced via Instagram that she would be getting them done, for the second time. “I’m not even going to call it surgery, I’m just going to say a ‘titty renovation,’ ” she declared. In both her songs and posts, Cardi rolls out several facets of herself. In some, she’s the snarling vixen, taking to task her naysayers and the truant men in her life; in others, she’s every woman’s ballsy BFF, dispensing tips on how to game the system and make money moves.
On this rainy September afternoon, however, that brash, braggadocious Cardi was on a break, while new mama Belcalis was in the bosom of her family. In a few hours, she would head into the studio to work on “Money,” the single she was struggling to finish, and, in two days, she would fly to Milan Fashion Week, where she’d sit front row at Dolce & Gabbana in head-to-toe animal print and matching furry sunglasses. (Cardi’s stylistic interests run the gamut: In November, she’s releasing the first of several modestly priced clothing lines for Fashion Nova.)
But today, Cardi’s face was makeup free, and her short tousled black wig a touch askew. She was dressed in a striped T-shirt halter dress and appeared delicate and tinier than her enhanced Jessica Rabbit–like curves might suggest. Save for occasional gurgling sounds and the car seat leaning against a wall, there was little sign of Kulture; a diaphanous curtain divided the public space from the bedroom where Cardi’s grandmother was minding the baby. While Cardi and Offset have teased the appearance of their daughter in videos showing them FaceTiming with her from a club or whispering to her in bed, their own pictures of the tot had yet to surface. Still, she was very much the topic of conversation. “Four weeks after giving birth, I was supposed to start rehearsals for a fall tour with Bruno Mars, and I couldn’t even squat down,” Cardi said, explaining why she decided to drop out. “People don’t really talk about what you go through after pregnancy. Like, they don’t tell you that you get stitches down there or that your first two weeks you’re constipated. Or that you get contractions because of breastfeeding. I wasn’t expecting that. When Kulture was born, I felt like I was a kid again; everything was making me cry, and I needed a lot of love. I be feeling like, Do babies know who’s they mom? I feel like babies love whoever is giving them the milk, and I want to give the milk the whole time. I want her to know me.” She paused to let this sink in. “I feel better now, but sometimes I just feel so vulnerable, like I’m not ready for the world yet. It’s weird.”
She and Offset plan to raise Kulture in Atlanta, his home base, where he has a house and they keep their matching Lamborghinis, plus Cardi’s new Lamborghini SUV, though the New York City girl that she is, Cardi has never learned to drive. “When I got married with my dude, we still had a lot of doubts, because our relationship is not like everybody’s,” she said. “He was always traveling, and I was always traveling. We’re artists. So I used to see him, like, twice a week, and, you know, he’s known for having different women, and I’m known for, like, not taking shit from guys. But we really loved each other, and we was scared to lose each other.” As she tells it, they had talked about marriage, and one day, in the middle of an argument, she suggested they go ahead and do it. “And he’s like, ‘You’re playing around.’ And I said, ‘I’m for real.’ ” So they got the license and had a secret ceremony in Offset’s bedroom, dressed in sweatsuits. And yet, without a ring, it didn’t feel real, she recalled, and anyhow, it had been her dream “for a guy to get on his knees and ask me to marry him. And he was just like, ‘I will never get on my knees. Fuck outta here.’ ” But he did, surprising her onstage during a concert in Philadelphia a few weeks later, with the eight-carat teardrop diamond that now adorns a hand bedecked in rhinestone-encrusted nail extensions.
The baby wasn’t planned, and Cardi asked Offset what she should do. “You think my career’s going to be over?” she wanted to know. “And he kept saying, ‘I don’t know how you don’t see it, but you so hot right now, nothing could get in your way. You just have to work hard and put out a poppin’ album. I think you should keep the baby.’ ” Offset has had three other children with three different women, and, as Cardi is the first to tell you, Internet trolls are hungry to feed her worries with rumors of his infidelity. “Every single day there’s rumors about me and my dude. And it almost drives me crazy, because I start to believe them. I don’t have no proof. I don’t have receipts. But I just got to know my man. We practically on the phone 24 hours a day. If I can’t find him, I’m going to find his friend. Somebody going to answer the phone. But I cannot be feeling insecure, to a point that I would drive my dude away, because these people want that to happen.”
On the subject of social media, she’s received seasoned advice from none other than Kris Jenner. Though Cardi is naturally shy and prefers the familiarity of old friends and family members, she accepted Jenner’s invitation to come over one night in August. “I said I’d go there for an hour,” she recalled. She stayed for seven, finding it easy to talk to Jenner, her boyfriend, Corey Gamble, and Kim and Kanye West. “Kris told me, ‘People are going to talk badly about you, but it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re making money,’ ” Cardi recounted. “And it’s true. If you read the online comments, it seems like everybody hates the Kardashians. Each and every one of them. But how can that be true if everything they sell sells out?”
I asked if she feared losing street cred once she became a mother. “You don’t lose street cred,” she said, “but people want an illusion that female artists are available. They fantasize less when they know they actually somebody’s wife. And then imagine having a baby.” Cardi, however, continues to be outspoken about her sexuality. On her anniversary, in September, she complained on camera about not getting any action (though not in those words) as the shot panned to Offset asleep on the bed. A week later, she captioned another Instagram post, of her performance at the French lingerie brand Etam’s runway show in Paris: “Your lingerie collection was sooo sexy i wanna fuck my man in all the pieces!” And yet, according to Cardi, she’s begun censoring herself in ways she’d never considered before. “I can’t rap about certain things, because I don’t want to insult my husband. And when I want to do a music video, I can’t use a male model and do crazy things.” The same goes for Offset, though: “He knows better than to do certain things in music videos. I’ll beat his ass.”
That’s likely not just bluster, as Nicki Minaj learned during their now-infamous New York Fashion Week dustup at a party—just nine days after Cardi’s scrap in a Queens strip club with two sister bartenders, one of whom may or may not have had an affair with Offset. “The shoe heard around the world” is how one celebrity site dubbed the Minaj episode after Cardi threw her platform sandal at the fellow rapper, following a shoving match that left her with a noticeable bump on her forehead. The Internet exploded. Fashion insiders tsk-tsked; a few designers privately distanced themselves. Women lamented that females were still being pitted against each other. Meanwhile, Cardi’s fans, the #BardiGang, went to battle with Minaj’s, and each rapper took to her own social media channels to make her case. Their beef will no doubt have new chapters by the time you’re reading this, but the encounter was not even two weeks old when I broached it with Cardi. “For a while now she’s been taking a lot of shots at me,” she said of Minaj, jiggling her leg. “I spoke to her twice before, and we came to an understanding. But she kept it going.” Her breaking point came when she saw that Minaj had liked, and then unliked, a tweet disparaging Cardi’s mothering skills, something Minaj has denied. “I was going to make millions off my Bruno Mars tour, and I sacrificed that to stay with my daughter,” Cardi went on. “I love my daughter. I’m a good-ass fucking mom. So for somebody that don’t have a child to like that comment? So many people want to say that party wasn’t the time or the place, but I’m not going to catch another artist in the grocery store or down the block.”
We were interrupted by the sounds of Kulture fussing before she entered the room in the arms of Cardi’s grandmother. Spying Mama, Kulture wriggled and kicked her squishy legs, and smiled as Cardi planted slurpy kisses on her lips. “She just want milk!” Cardi exclaimed. “Let me tell you. It’s like, whenever she wants, she has to get it.” Soon her grandfather joined the scene, and Cardi wrapped herself in a fuzzy baby blanket. Since Migos has been on tour with Drake, she prefers to spend time at her grandparents’ home, surrounded by doting relatives. “My baby. That’s all I give a fuck about right now,” she continued. “I’m thinking about how my money’s going to last so this girl is 21 and put in college. I’m thinking about investments. I’m thinking about five years from now and about the craziest shit like, How am I going to discipline this girl?” She pulled up the nursery music video “Baby Shark” on her phone and handed it to her grandmother. “See, that’s why I like to be here, instead of out there by myself in Atlanta. Because it’s everybody around her.”
Cardi remains close to both of her parents and to her sister, Hennessy, a burgeoning influencer. (Cardi’s name comes from her nickname, Bacardi.) She was born in the Bronx, to a Dominican dad who drove a cab and a Trinidadian mother who worked as a cashier. In middle school, when everyone else was into Pepe Jeans and Rocawear, Cardi wore lots of hot pink and furry jackets, just like the title character in the Disney Channel show she loved, That’s So Raven. Her mother was strict, forbidding Cardi from sleepovers at friends’ houses, so Cardi rebelled, skipping afternoon classes to party. She also joined the Bloods. “My mom tried to stop me from all of that,” she recalled, “but I still did it. I joined a gang. If she had let me out as often as I wanted to, I probably would be dead or got my face cut up. Or been a teenage mom.” She plans to follow her mother’s example with Kulture. “Really, no sleepovers?” I asked her. “I’m going to be very strict,” she insisted. “Like, you can have whatever you want, but you can’t do whatever you want.”
By 19, Cardi was living with a boyfriend and enrolled at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. She took courses in political science and history, subjects she still keeps up with by watching the news and documentaries. “For some reason, I’m really fascinated with the Holocaust. People were so naive back then to believe certain things. But then, we in 2018, and there’s people that believe that our problems come from a certain group of people. It just baffles my mind.” To pay for school, she worked as a cashier at Amish Market in TriBeCa; her manager advised her that she could earn much more stripping at the New York Dolls Gentlemen’s Club across the street. She taught herself pole tricks by practicing in empty uptown subway cars on her way home from work at 4 a.m. At first, she recalled, she would cry with shame whenever the faces of her parents would “pop up in my head, watching me when I danced.” But the money freed her to get her own apartment and ditch the boyfriend, who she has said was abusive. Soon, she was remaking herself. Noticing that Russian girls with fake boobs drew the most customers, she augmented her own; ditto her butt, after she switched to a club favoring women with “huge, humongous asses,” the likes of which she’d never seen, and learned that the new boyfriend she was in love with had cheated on her with a woman who was similarly enhanced.
At the same time, Cardi started developing a fan base on Instagram that, in 2015, she leveraged into a scene-stealing Season 6 on Love & Hip Hop as the bawdy comic relief. Singing had always been a passion, since her days at the Renaissance High School for Musical Theater & Technology, in the Bronx, but she had never had the means to pursue it. “I was just, like, over my dreams,” she said. “To me, it’s all about money. I gave it a try when I could afford it.” She’d released one of two mixtapes, Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1, before she signed to Atlantic Records in October 2016. Then came “Bodak Yellow,” followed by Invasion of Privacy. In her fifth month of pregnancy, Cardi was in the studio every single day, fighting off intense bouts of drowsiness. “She was a ferocious worker, unreal,” recalls Craig Kallman, the chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records. “I think she wanted to show women around the world that you can have it all. And I think she’s showing that.”
Over the album’s 13 tracks, with guest appearances by the likes of Migos, Chance the Rapper, and SZA, Cardi flaunted her range, from urgent street hip-hop to vulnerable ballads to swaggering Latin pop. Pitchfork called her “a born star who’s grown accustomed to being told to dim her light for the sake of others. Each new triumph rejects such a ridiculous premise, and each naysayer has seemingly only granted her more power.” On the opener, “Get Up 10,” she raps, “Look, they gave a bitch two options: strippin’ or lose/Used to dance in a club right across from my school/I said ‘dance’ not ‘fuck,’ don’t get it confused.” Going back to her roots, she collaborated with the Latin trap king Bad Bunny and the reggaeton star J Balvin on “I Like It,” an update of Pete Rodriguez’s 1967 hit song, which quickly became a beach-party anthem. “What is magical about Cardi B is her dexterity and her temerity to push the boundaries of how you perceive a hip-hop artist,” Kallman told me. “She is from the streets, and she’s going to continue to make great street records for her core fans. But at the same time, she can rock at the top of the pop field with the best of them.” To wit: her pulsing verses on Maroon 5’s chart-topping single “Girls Like You,” and her recent collaboration with Selena Gomez, Ozuna, and DJ Snake on “Taki Taki.”
“I have to take a shit!” In a former mansion on the Upper East Side, Cardi, standing in a bathrobe, was getting ready for her W shoot. At this, the room cracked up. She had come straight to the set from Philadelphia, where, the night before, she and Kulture had gone to visit Offset on tour. Cardi was being photographed by the artist Mickalene Thomas, channeling Latina glamour queens of a bygone Hollywood era such as Maria Montez, Chelo Alonso, and Rita Moreno. Like Cardi, said Thomas, “They were all powerful women who claimed a space for themselves, in an industry that wasn’t exactly inclusionary.” In photographs, collage-based paintings, and domestic interiors, Thomas has drawn on art history and popular culture to explore black female sexuality and power. She wanted to reveal Cardi in an unexpected way. “On many levels, she portrays herself through a male gaze,” said Thomas, whose first major solo museum show in Canada opens November 29 at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto. “I wanted to see if she could transform herself and go beyond the prescribed notion that’s expected within an industry that wants to only perceive and present you as one dimensional.” Cardi, as it turned out, was surprised to realize that she had never been shot by a black photographer.
Nearly two weeks later, Cardi had her first public solo concert since giving birth, for an audience of 60,000 in Central Park. The occasion was the Global Citizen Festival, a musical event aimed at ending world poverty, and Cardi was brimming with energy from the moment she exploded onto the stage. Dressed in a red bra and red fringed pants, with long blonde tresses that fell to her knees, she twerked and strutted confidently as she ran through several of her hits. She was nervous, she admitted, and out of breath because it was asthma season. “That was a lot of energy—we need to tone this down, for my health,” she said in the middle of her set, dispensing with the teleprompter to give a short speech about active citizenship. While there had been numerous calls to action by the politicians and celebrities who had preceded her, Cardi stood out for the humor and spontaneity of her delivery. “I’ll keep it real. We Americans, we’re spoiled. We have the right to vote and nobody can take that right from us—unless you’re a criminal!” She ended with “Bodak Yellow,” but not before introducing a video message from one of her icons—former First Lady Michelle Obama. As I watched her jab her arm at the screen to focus attention on Obama, I couldn’t square the person I was seeing onstage with the Cardi who had told me, “I’m the person who has to prove everyone wrong, constantly. Constantly.” Clearly not for much longer.
Cardi B and Offset: A Hip-Hop Love Story
Inside the lives of two chart-topping pop stars as they prepare their greatest collaboration yet: A baby girl
By VANESSA GRIGORIADIS
One humid afternoon in Atlanta, Cardi B, the new princess of hip-hop, wakes up in an endless white mansion flanked by tall trees. This is her fiancé’s castle – he’s Offset from Migos – and there are enough six-figure cars parked outside to form a small-town parade. By the curved dark-wood door, his friends smoke blunts in tracksuits as bright as British guardsmen’s jackets. Cardi, 25, and Offset, 26, are buying a new home shortly, and building a dream house too. But for now, this is the spot.
Waking up late, Cardi pads around the house barefoot in a yellow cotton dress pulled tight over her swollen, nearly seven-and-a-half-months-pregnant belly. She eats a salad, manages the feat of typing on her phone with three-inch rhinestone-encrusted fake nails, and relaxes into a leather chair. Half zoning out, half watching Avatar, about a different princess and her race to save a far-off moon, she lets out a deep sigh. We are in the late stages of Cardi’s pregnancy and she’s finally wrapped the promotion for her first album, Invasion of Privacy, which topped the charts and set a record for the most first-week streams by a female artist on Apple Music. The exhausting pace of the past months – spent recording songs, perfecting a raft of lush videos and hiding her belly from the paparazzi – is receding now. All she needs to do is enjoy the next seven weeks before she becomes a mom.
But being Cardi, she can’t quite do that. In her songs, she may seem like a 24/7 bad bitch, but today, her face scrubbed clean of makeup and unbrushed, Rapunzel-like blond wig hanging to her waist, she’s a curious combination of raunchy extrovert and angst-plagued introvert. Right now, she’s worrying about the upcoming baby shower for the girl inside her tummy, which she still hasn’t planned. “I’ve got to buy mad flights for my friends from New York,” she says, jiggling her leg, a childhood habit that she indulges in when she’s nervous. “I haven’t even sent the invitations.” Her eyes dart around the room. “I forget everything.”
She’s saying this to a couple of members of Offset’s extended family who have dropped by for a visit, one of them carrying an infant in tiny white, spotlessly clean sneakers. They listen and nod along, then try to boost her confidence. “You got it like that, you’re a ballplayer,” one says to her. “Ballplayer, my ass!” Cardi replies, shaking her head. She closes her eyes, contemplating her to-do list.
Then they spring open. “I want a lit baby shower,” she declares, waving around a bejeweled finger that catches the light of a grand chandelier hanging behind her while echoing an earlier thought. “My baby shower’s not starting at no 5:00. My shit is going to start at 9 p.m. because that’s how I celebrate, that’s how Caribbean people celebrate.” She lets out one of her trademark cackles. “I don’t like baby showers that be at 5 p.m. in the backyard, eating, cooking hors d’oeuvres. Nah.” She gets a mischievous look on her face. “Shit, I might even drink some red wine. Red wine’s healthy, right?”
Offset’s family was laughing, but this makes them stop. “Don’t let Mama see you drinking that red wine,” says one of them, referring to Offset’s mom. “She’s going to have a fit.” Cardi laughs, but then appears to think this over. She’s going to be a mother. She has responsibilities to assume.
In the year or so since she’s become hip-hop’s breakout star, Cardi has come to represent the best of what we value as a country: She’s our irrepressibly cute, sexy, silly, filthy-mouthed Binderella who bootstrapped her way from the streets to celebrity. Once positioning herself as little more than a “regular, degular, shmegular girl from the Bronx,” she’s transformed into a multimedia artist with powerful facets to her personality both on and off the stage. She’s a Caribbean queen purveying the Latin-trap sound (see her Top 10 hit and song-of-the-summer candidate “I Like It”); she’s an ex-stripper with butt injections who’s after your money; she’s a possible former member of the Bloods and such a city girl that she never got a driver’s license and says today that she still carries a knife.
Growing up with a cab-driving Dominican dad and a strict Trinidadian mom who worked as a cashier, Cardi, born Belcalis Almanzar, rebelled early, fighting with her mom and misbehaving at school. By 19, she was living with a boyfriend who, she says, abused her. Stripping “saved me,” she has said, meaning the money made her independent. She started hosting parties (her job was to “get things turnt up”) and gathered 80,000 followers as a hot girl with a wicked sense of humor on Instagram. She leveraged her role on VH1’s Love & Hip-Hop to launch a rap career, which took off with the release of “Bodak Yellow” last June. “I built the fan base,” she declares, whipping a few blond locks over a shoulder. “No record label, no money, nothing can make you. You make yourself.”
Even with her wild success, guileless personality and castle-dwelling lifestyle, Cardi in conversation still comes across as someone who might pull a knife on you if need be. She expresses genuine indignation toward people who look down on her for her accent and lack of education, and complains about trolls on the Internet: “These people who want to take food out of my mouth, and my future child’s mouth and my parents’ mouth – for what?” And when she looks back at her past, it’s not through rose-colored glasses. She resents growing up without money and the limited choices that institutionalized poverty offered her, and uses that energy every day to propel forward her music and her dreams, especially her dreams for her baby.
The baby – that’s all anyone is talking about here today. Bounding over with a beaming smile, Offset hands Cardi his phone, where his mom is waiting to talk to her on FaceTime. She wants to discuss whether Cardi should fly with Offset to New York soon, or if flying late in pregnancy is dangerous for the baby, and also, by the way, has she gone shopping for furniture for the new house yet? Cardi listens, nodding her head, polite, but when Offset hangs up the phone, she stares into space.
Born Kiari Kendrell Cephus, Offset has a rap sheet that includes gun and drug charges and an eight-month stint in jail, and has fathered three children with three different women. But the world knows him from Migos’ platinum albums and the crossover success of “Bad and Boujee” (which he chalks up to “people wanting the real shit!”). Wearing a tight white T-shirt and multiple diamond chains wrapped around his neck, and speaking in a tender tone, he is dapper and handsome, a lady killer to Cardi’s sex bomb. When I ask if he has a jewelry addiction, he says, “I don’t have an addiction, I have a fetish.”
Furniture has been moved out of the first-floor parlor room in this home so he can hang dozens of his outfits, paired with shoes, because he can’t fit all his clothes in an upstairs closet; Cardi rolls her eyes at this and says, “He’s a boy.” His hands are also cut up from a vicious accident with his green 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat two weeks ago. Six stitches cover the front of a palm. When Cardi first saw him after the accident, covered in blood, she thought he was shot and almost lost her mind.
Their romance is a hip-hop love story – a first date at the Super Bowl in 2017 (“That’s a power move,” Offset told Rolling Stone), followed about eight months later by his marriage proposal, on his knee with an eight-carat engagement ring, onstage during a Philadelphia concert. A couple of months later, there was a slight derailment in the tunnel of love: An iCloud hack allegedly caught Offset in a compromising position with another woman, but he and Cardi made amends, and he inked a new tattoo of Cardi’s name on his neck. (Cardi defended her decision to forgive him, in part, by telling a magazine, “I ain’t no angel.”) In April, Cardi publicly debuted the baby bump on Saturday Night Live in a form-fitting white dress, followed by a video posted online of her jumping around backstage yelling, “I’m finally free!”
As the lovebirds chat, Cardi absentmindedly caresses Offset’s arm, and later she says, “People want to make fun of me, saying I’m the fourth baby mom,” but “I know I’m not having a baby with a shitty-ass man.” Offset explains, “We really love each other. She’s real. I wanted real. I also wanted successful.” He isn’t threatened by his fiancée’s success, as some men might be. “My mama was the man of my household,” he says, adding, almost as a proclamation, “Guys, fellas! You’ll lose your wife trying to stop them from being the best they can.” These days, Offset is trying to take a page from Cardi and become more open and engaging in public, instead of portraying himself as hard. “That’s what I need to work on – my charisma in front of people,” he says solemnly.
Motherhood, the circumscribed world of diapers and bottles and putting up play swings – Cardi is looking forward to crossing into it. She has a strict mom, Offset has a tough mom, and she grew up with a Caribbean vision of motherhood that involves tending closely to your child and trying to keep them from “eating in the streets.” Of course, she’s nervous, too, about her new responsibilities: “I’m scared I won’t be that kind of mom,” she confesses.
Was the baby planned? Well, no. Late last year, Cardi began to be grossed out by food and not feel quite right. She and Offset had had some sexy pillow talk about making a baby, but she didn’t mean it – not right now. When a home pregnancy test came back positive, she immediately FaceTimed him. “He was like, ‘What? Are you sure?’ ” she says. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ And then he just started smiling really hard.”
At first, she kept the pregnancy quiet, talking with Offset about what to do. “He said, ‘What do you mean, what are you going to do? You’re going to keep it.’ ” She was consumed with worry. “A lot of successful women have kids, and a lot of successful artists have kids, but not at the peak of their career,” she says. And when she told her close friends and her team, they were apprehensive. “It was like, ‘You can’t do this. This might fuck up your career,’ ” she declares, resting her hands on her lap.
Making Invasion of Privacy became a logistical puzzle. Even as Cardi was trying to sync competing demands – keeping club appearances and concerts she’d already booked, starting work on the album, lining up directors for her videos – word leaked to Atlantic, her label, that she was pregnant. “The media didn’t even let me tell people, and I hated that,” she says. “I really wanted to tell them [Atlantic Records] myself, to sit down with them and tell everybody that I am pregnant and I have a plan.”
The label recommended that Cardi record far from New York, to avoid the distraction of friends and family. At four months pregnant, she says, she entered a studio in L.A. but was too drowsy from pregnancy hormones to concentrate. “We were making green juice and coffee,” she says. “I used to tell God, ‘Please don’t make me sleepy.’ ” After confessing her pregnancy to her engineer, she asked him and producers to tag along with her, to where she had prebooked appearance dates, to record on the fly. “All of the creative team kind of followed her around the country, from L.A. to Miami to Atlanta to New York, back to Atlanta,” says Craig Kallman, the CEO of Atlantic Records. Some nights, she’d sleep in the studio; others, she would try to get a good night’s rest to maintain her health for herself and the baby. “I was blown away by her stamina,” Kallman says, plus “her inner strength and her creative instincts.”
Offset consulted with Cardi each step of the way. She has broken up with her manager Klenord “Shaft” Raphael, who is suing her and her new team for more than $10 million. She’s not embarrassed about using “co-writers”: Pardison Fontaine, who wrote the main verse of “Be Careful,” is a “dope-ass artist,” she says. Offset helped with Invasion of Privacy, he says, by, among other things, calling Chance the Rapper to collaborate on “Best Life.” “She doesn’t want to call and ask, ‘Can you do this song?’ You don’t think she’s shy, but she don’t like asking for no feature or no song, nothing. But I don’t give a damn.”
Invasion of Privacy is the great album that Cardi didn’t really need to make, converting her huge personality into hooks, laugh lines (“Only thing fake is the boobs!”) and whispers about wanting a man who’ll take care of her heart. It’s the music version of her Instagram – all killer, no filler. Offset says their artistic instincts are mostly aligned, though he loves Auto-Tune, she hates it. She doesn’t want to pretend, doesn’t want to assume a generic voice. “She wants you to hear the struggle, so you feel it,” he says.
Offset’s musical ambitions are vast. He’s considering putting out solo tracks this summer, including collaborations with 21 Savage and Metro Boomin. He wants the legacy of artists he idolized growing up: Michael Jackson, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown and Prince, plus Lil Wayne and Lil Boosie (now Boosie Bad-azz). He was a standout dancer as a kid, putting on Jackson’s dress shirt and socks to entertain his mom, and even performing behind Usher and Whitney Houston in music videos shot in Atlanta. “Everything has to be tight,” says Offset. “It’s got to be a masterpiece like Michael Jackson’s, the same way he treated his music, his dance moves, his stage presence, his outfit, his hair, makeup, whatever it was.”
When I ask each of them what they do for fun, they laugh. They aren’t into clubs (“Too much bull,” says Offset), or cooking (amply clear from a kitchen filled with takeout containers) or even binge-watching TV. What music do they listen to? Their own, mostly, both to enjoy it and to meditate on how to make it better. The previous week, Cardi even tweeted that she was amazed that Donald Glover and Childish Gambino look so much alike, not realizing they’re the same person. “When you look for him on Apple, his covers are not his face, so how the fuck am I supposed to know him?” she says today of Gambino. “Everybody’s judging me and calling me stupid, and it’s like” – here comes the heavy Caribbean accent – “ ‘Fuck ya, leave me alone.’ ”
Summing up their lives together, Offset says, “We work. With a day off, we’ll be in bed all day, just enjoying each other’s company. It ain’t about going to no movie, no dinner, nothing. We can go eat McDonald’s or Wendy’s. She might want a chocolate Frosty.” He adds, “We done so much bizarre shit with each other – rings and cars and chains. We got that out of the way.”
Offset runs away and Cardi’s back on her phone, handling her business with her talons and jiggling that leg up and down. If Atlanta is her new home, she’ll make it work, though she sometimes feels trapped in the castle, since she doesn’t know how to drive. But “my boo is very down-South,” and she needs to respect that. Offset doesn’t like the weather or the pace in New York, and wants to build an empire down here, not necessarily a Jay-Z-and-Beyoncé-style music empire, but one primarily made of straight cash. Cardi says they’ll invest in anything that “makes our money work,” like apps, Subway franchises or nail salons.
We talk about the news for a while: She’s disgusted by President Trump and wants her fans to vote in upcoming local elections. “Every artist has explained how harmful he is,” she says. “He has made divisions in this country – he almost made a crazy civil war between the blacks and the whites. He has proven himself to be a madman so many times, and proven himself to be disrespectful to women, and that still hasn’t gotten him impeached.” Then she adds, “Clinton got impeached for cheating on his wife, and it’s so clear that this nigga has sex with so many porn stars, and he’s just been shown to be a dickhead, and it’s like, ‘Nope.’”
This leads into a conversation about gun laws, which Cardi thinks should be stricter and involve mental evaluations, though she supports the right to bear arms. “God forbid, the government tries to take us over, and we can’t defend ourselves because we don’t have no weapons.” She adds, “How do you think American colonizers went to Africa and it was so easy for them to get those people? Because they had guns. No matter what weapon you have, you can’t beat a gun.” She shrugs. “They have weapons like nuclear bombs that we don’t have. So imagine us not having any weapons at all.”
This is straying far from baby talk, so we discuss how she’s going to deal with the infant on her upcoming tour (she will be opening for Bruno Mars for seven weeks beginning in September). Cardi is not sure about breast-feeding – she says her breasts are overly sensitive and she can’t imagine how she would deal with a little baby “milking” them – but she wants her kid to be with her constantly. “What I envision is my tour bus has my own personal room, and I just want to be with my baby,” she says. “Only time I don’t have my baby with me is when I’m getting my hair done, makeup done, performing.” She adds, dreamily, “I don’t want to miss one second. I don’t want to miss no smiles, I don’t want to miss no new movement, I don’t want the baby to confuse me and the babysitter.”
Cardi wants to be the same woman she is today after giving birth. “Just because I’m a mom, my street credibility’s not gone, my sex appeal’s not gone,” she declares. But how will she open her life up on social media, as she does, with a kid? She’s unsure. “I’m iffy about it,” she says of showing her kid online. “My feelings get hurt when people online talking about family members. I think I’ll kill somebody if somebody talking about my child like that.”
Cardi may not have planned her baby shower, but she has plans about how she’ll treat her child. Her mom was too strict, she thinks, and that’s part of why she rebelled. Cardi and her daughter are going to be best friends. She’s going to teach her English and Spanish, and wants her to start learning French by the time she’s four, and she’ll be a little genius. Maybe she’ll take ballet lessons, though toe shoes can mess up your feet. She’ll definitely put her in kid boxing lessons. “I don’t want my kid to get picked on and she don’t know how to defend herself,” says Cardi. “I have a little brother and I always put in his head, since he was two years old, ‘Somebody hit you, you kick, you kick, you kick.’ ”
And when the baby gets older, Cardi will tell her about her mom’s crazy life. “I’m going to tell her everything. Everything,” she says, beginning a long soliloquy addressing her unborn child. “You have a choice. I could maintain you. I could spoil you if you go to college. Or if you want to be independent, go ahead. When you a teenager and you 18, 19, you can’t get no job that pays you more than $200 a week.” Her voice starts to rise. “You want to become a stripper? ‘Cause I became a stripper ’cause I ain’t have no choice. You gonna be getting your ass smacked by niggas that have less money than you, less of an education than you, but they going to feel like they better than you because they feel like you need them. You want to live like that?” She sits back, satisfied by the rant. “That’s how I’m going to talk to my kid.”
Soon she pads across the living room in bare feet, making her way over to a beige chenille couch. Then she lies down on her side and neatly places a lime-green fleece blanket on top of her small shape. “I used to tell myself I would buy a house before I turn 25,” she says, before she dozes off, dreaming a million new dreams.
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