B is for Bloody Shoes: Cardi B’s invading your privacy

The famous red-soled stiletto (incidentally, stiletto heels were named for a 15th century Italian dagger) makes for a fitting image. Here’s a rapper who fought ruthlessly to get her due and make bank in a field that still discredits women — more so a black woman, more so an ex-stripper who speaks her mind. A stiletto says glamor and G’s but also says, “I worked so hard for this; I’ll kill you for this.”

Cardi B — Bronx-born, famous first as a reality TV star, a stripper before that — gained worldwide prominence last year with “Bodak Yellow,” which had the distinction of being the first solo #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 by a female rapper since Lauryn Hill’s Doo Wop (That Thing) in 1998.

It’s a distinction that speaks first of the unbridled force of her flow — cleverly written, briskly delivered, instantly memorable. It speaks also of how, despite a surplus of talent, we’ve made so little room for female rappers in the mainstream in the last two decades. On “Invasion of Privacy,” Cardi busts her way in and demands your attention, proving easily she’s no one-hit wonder.

The album opens with a declaration of intent. On Get Up 10, Cardi fills us in on her personal history and where it’s taken her today. “Bitches hated my guts, now they swear we was cool / Went from makin’ tuna sandwiches to makin’ the news / I started speakin’ my mind and tripled my views. Real bitch, only thing fake is the boobs.” It bulldozes through misconceptions about the rapper and sets the stage for what’s to come.

 

There’s much to be said about Cardi’s flow — its wit, its cadence, its power to draw blood — it makes the record. She plays storyteller, comedian and pot-stirrer alternately. Her vocal inflections are what propel the record’s myriad whip-smart quips.

 

There’s much to be said about Cardi’s flow — its wit, its cadence, its power to draw blood — it makes the record. She plays storyteller, comedian and pot-stirrer alternately. Her vocal inflections are what propel the record’s myriad whip-smart quips. On Thru Your Phone and standout track Be Careful, she eviscerates cheating men (“Gave you TLC, you wanna creep and s*** / poured out my whole heart to a piece of s***.”). She postures on tracks like Bickenhead and Money Bag (“How you gon’ suck yo’ man dick with my name in yo’ mouth?”).

Cardi makes strategic use of her collaborators’ talents throughout, giving them the space to display their skill while showing off her own versatility as an MC. Kehlani slinks effortless between Cardi’s more vulnerable verses on Ring. Chance the Rapper turns in some of his best guest work on Best Life (“Remember when my hands had ash like Pompeii? Now they hold cash, won’t Peak like Dante.” MAN!). Even J Balvin gives a good turn on reggaetón bop I Like It. I, for one, am here for 2018’s música latina comeback.

 

Throughout the record, she tells the truth about the people around her, but also about herself so you can’t say nothing to her. She does what she likes and she’ll come for you when she wants to. Like she warned you at the start: Don’t get comfortable.

 

With just a couple of mid-tempo moments, the album goes full-throttle all the way to closing kiss-off track I Do. The song ends the album where it began. “I’m a gangsta in a dress / I’m a bully in the bed / Only time that I’m a lady’s when I lay these hoes to rest,” she raps before SZA comes in with the hook.  

“Invasion of Privacy” is a debut worth remembering for that — for how little it lets you rest between genre shifts and punch lines and for the way it shows us an artist just being this frank, this honest on her observations and convictions. Throughout the record, she tells the truth about the people around her, but also about herself so you can’t say nothing to her. She does what she likes and she’ll come for you when she wants to. Like she warned you at the start: Don’t get comfortable.

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