‘Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrpp!” said Cardi B on the The Tonight Show. Host Jimmy Fallon didn’t know where to look. Was this a joke? Her track Bodak Yellow had topped the US charts for three weeks in October 2017 and Fallon was doing a “getting to know you” interview. Although his questions were bog standard (“Where does your name come from?”), her responses were anything but. Delivered in a thick Bronx accent, they were punctuated with sing-song exclamations (“Owwww!”, “Hmmmwowowow!”). Cardi’s demeanour was effervescent but Fallon looked confused as she leapt off-script. His glance into the audience said it all: what just happened?
Like many, Fallon was guilty of underestimating Belcalis Marlenis Almanzar. To be fair, before Bodak Yellow she was better known for snatching wigs on VH1 reality show Love & Hip Hop – releasing one of the biggest and best rap albums of 2018 was definitely not supposed to happen. Bodak Yellow changed the script: it is a brilliant track that earned pop cultural momentum from the novelty of Cardi’s melodic, withering flow. But what made Invasion of Privacy a success a year later, the novelty worn off, was evident in the Fallon interview: her sheer force of personality, steely realness shot through with a bolt of humour.
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Against the backdrop of a police siren, she broke down her rags-to-riches story on opener Get Up 10: from growing up poor to making money from stripping to the reality show grind. “Real bitch,” she stated, “only thing fake is the boobs.” This kind of line – funny, unapologetically flawed and instantly quotable – flashed throughout the album. And while peers like Nicki Minaj were rapping about their godlike status and underlining their importance in the rap firmament, Cardi’s raps about starting from the bottom felt relatable and aspirational: “Went from small-ass apartments to walkin’ red carpets / Pissy elevators, now every dress is tailored.”
Invasion of Privacy went deeper still: as well as its post-Bodak Yellow trap bangers (Bickenhead, Money Bag, Drip) and pure pop (summer hit I Like It), she betrayed a surprising vulnerability. This was no more evident than on the poppiest trio of songs where the theme of romantic, digital betrayal loomed large. On Thru Your Phone (“I went through your phone last night / Found some things I didn’t like”), she threatens to create revenge porn of the woman her lover is cheating with – the immediate white-hot anger of the betrayal, papering over terrible hurt, is all audible in her voice. On the Lauryn Hill-referencing Be Careful she raps about “liking pictures, not returning texts”, and on the irresistibly melancholic Ring, guest star Kehlani sings about WhatsApp messages read but not replied to (“You used to be on my line / On my tick all the time”). This year, no other artist has summed up the dazed disorientation of online love better.
The fact that her real life spilled out into gossip magazines (via her marriage to Migos’ Offset – now over – their pregnancy, and her tiff with Minaj) only added to the idea that Cardi B was for real, and for us. Brrrrrrrrrp indeed.
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