Watching the slow change in music (or the whole of popular arts and entertainment for that matter) in the current surge of feminism has been one of the most interesting narratives of the past few years. With movements like #MeToo and albums likeLemonade serving as catalysts, it seems more and more strong female artists are taking the lead in creating critical art in 2018. Not that there haven’t been strong female artists throughout history, we just seem to be at a local maximum of sorts in our recent trajectory of art history.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder Cardi B’s hard-hitting banger “Bodak Yellow” was an absolute smash last year with critics and the masses alike. The hook was undeniable. Cardi’s delivery was commanding. And the lyrical wordplay was top-notch boastful boss rap. That all combined to make Cardi B the second female rapper ever to take a single to number one on the Billboard chart with a solo performance.
Following such a major breakthrough is an incredibly difficult task. But on Invasion of Privacy, Cardi B combines the uncompromising confidence of “Bodak Yellow” with just enough pop appeal to create a no-filler collection that will undoubtedly have a lasting impact. In a streaming climate that says “quantity over quality” (think Migos’ Culture II or Yachty’s Teenage Emotions or Rae Sremmurd’s upcoming triple album), Cardi’s 48 minutes and 13 tracks on her album debut are a welcome show of constraint and focus. Each track offers something emotionally, lyrically, or musically that would allow it to stand as an individual track, or even better as part of the whole. Perhaps of all the songs, “Money Bag” is the most disposable as it depends on a similar hook to “Bodak Yellow”. But even then, Cardi’s humor never misses.
What’s so impressive about this debut is how much of the legwork Cardi successfully takes on herself. Even with excellent features from Migos with the infectious gang vocals on “Drip”, Kehlani with one of the sweetest R&B hooks of the year on “Ring”, and Chance the Rapper on the optimistic pop rap track “Best Life” (not to mention the equally welcome offerings from SZA, YG, 21 Savage, and Bad Bunny and J Balvin), Cardi is never upstaged by her collaborators and never uses them as a crutch, but instead writes witty and hard-hitting bars to match or outshine the veterans.
Cardi also excels at being vulnerable about the hardships in her life, especially those relating to broken or hurting relationships, which proves to be an excellent complement to her more villainous side. From the intro track “Get Up 10”, we hear about Cardi’s struggles in her pre-rap years: “Look, they gave a bitch two options: strippin’ or lose / Used to dance in the club right across from the school / I said ‘dance’ not ‘fuck’ / Don’t get it confused / Had to set the record straight ’cause bitches love to assume.” But despite the past, Cardi has a message of self-love as she continues, “Look myself in the mirror, I say we gon’ win / Knock me down nine times, but I get up ten.”
Relationship troubles (with fiance Offset, or otherwise) take center stage on “Be Careful” where Cardi’s unfaithful significant other causes her to question herself: “You even got me trippin’ / You got me lookin’ in the mirror different / Thinkin’ I’m flawed because you inconsistent.” But Cardi breaks up the emotionally-heavy and the boast-heavy superbly halfway through the album with an homage to her Latin roots on “I Like It” which features Bad Bunny and J Balvin and samples Pete Rodriguez’s 1967 song “I Like It Like That” on what is potentially the best party track of the album and could easily join the current surge of Latin pop and rap led by “Despacito” and “Mi Gente”.
However, the pain and hurt of unfaithful relationships return. And this time, Cardi shows she’s not above revenge tracks on“Thru Your Phone”, which covers similar ground to “Leave That Bitch Alone” off her EP Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 2. “I seen y’all little group texts / Where you all like to brag about your hoes / And you can tell your little bitch / I screenshotted all her naked pics / Oh, you wanna send nudes to my man? / Wake up and see your boobs on the ‘Gram.”
Whatever it is that attracts us to blunt, vengeful gangsta rap, Cardi B has perfected it here. And whether that is a healthy response to the types of social changes we see in 2018 with #MeToo and other such movements, I can’t say for certain. But Cardi B has proved herself to be someone not to mess with in the rap game, and it’s exciting to see her at the top of her game on Invasion of Privacy.