Leading up to the release of this debut album, Cardi B could be seen on her Instagram stories working late into the night, finishing its final tracks just days before it was due out. Tired, reportedly pregnant, without makeup and lit in her phone’s blue light, she again showed the unguarded realness that has made her rap’s most endearing new star. From her social media snaps to her complete lack of mystery, she epitomises the notion of “no filter” in every sense. As she says on the origins-story opener Get Up 10: “I started speaking my mind and tripled my views / Real bitch, only thing fake is the boobs.”
This lack of stage-school poise is a result of her decidedly earthy background. A former gang member and stripper from the Bronx who took a long, modern route to fame via reality TV and Instagram hilarity, she broke through last year with Bodak Yellow, a withering track that crushed her enemies with the calm, latent aggression of a boxer at the weigh-in. She’s since had another big solo hit (Bartier Cardi) and two notable guest spots: on MotorSport, alongside Nicki Minaj, Cardi’s fiance Offset and his fellow MCs in Migos; and on Finesse, Bruno Mars’ nostalgic revival of new jack swing. The block-party cheer of the latter showed she was capable of more than just verbal disembowelment, and her album continues to show off a rounded, emotionally complex human being.
Yes, there are still plenty of commanding, Bodak Yellow-style moments, not least the gigantic Money Bag, which rides a slow, caustic electro backing towards the album’s most eyepop-emoji punchline: “I don’t understand what this hate is about / How you gon’ suck yo man dick with my name in yo mouth?”
There is more cartoonish ribaldry throughout. On I Do, she announces that her “pussy so good I said my own name during sex”. Again referring to her vagina, she requests that her paramour “beat it like piñatas”. One man is so taken by her breasts, she says, that he compares them to Beyoncé’s infant twins. “Spread them asscheeks open, make that pussy crack a smile,” she demands.
And yet there is a political, even feminist element to all this. One look at the tastemaking Spotify playlist Rap Caviar will show you how overwhelmingly male the scene still is, and in their tracks, women are often reduced to mere “beasts” and “bad girls”, seduced into infidelity less for sexual pleasure than as a way to cuckold their partners in a war of masculinity. The common use of “thot” – an acronym for “that ho over there” – shows how depersonalised women often are. Like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Nicki Minaj before her, Cardi’s genius is to take the sexually available “thot” image and rehumanise it, reminding boorish men of women’s agency, wit and emotional reality.