A quick look at the US charts reveals exactly who you’d expect to be on top. After four weeks in the charts, the all-conquering Taylor Swift single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ is still in the peak position. The US number two, however, is a little more interesting. Cardi B, a rapper, reality TV star and former stripper, is sitting in the second position with the hip-hop hit of the summer, ‘Bodak Yellow’.
To Brits, Cardi B is something of a mystery. For Americans, her story is now something of hip-hop legend. Here’s the short version: At the age of 19, Bronx native Cardi B was living with her abusive boyfriend and his mother, after being fired from a job at her local supermarket. She left and got a job at the strip club and began documenting her life in online videos, riding the Vine wave to internet fame before turning to music via a stint on the reality TV show, Love & Hip Hop: New York. Her first mixtape, ‘Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1’, picked up a huge amount of attention upon its release in 2016, and was followed by ‘Bodak Yellow’, under Atlantic Records, in June this year.
Throughout, Cardi B has proved herself one of hip-hop’s wittiest and most astute artists, if not the most badass rap artist in the US. Here’s how:
She’s proud to be an underdog
Cardi B doesn’t really give a shit what you think about her. She knows she’s underestimated, but will not let that stop her from getting her voice heard. During her time on Love & Hip Hop: New York, she said: “They always think I’m just gonna be the stripper that’s never gonna make it nowhere. But you know what? It’s cool, because I’m the underdog.” Two years later, she’s rivalling the biggest popstar in the world for chart domination.
She’s not ashamed of her past
Cardi calls her time on the pole a life-saving experience. “You know it really saved me from a lot of things. When I started stripping I went back to school,” she said in an interview in 2016. “I was living with my ex-boyfriend who was beating my ass.” Stripping got her out.
She’s now nominated for ‘Hustler of the Year’ at the BET hip-hop awards 2017, the only woman in the category, against competition from Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar and DJ Khaled. “I feel like I deserved that award even when I was stripping,” she told radio show Breakfast Club Power. “I used to work seven days a week… Now sometimes I’m like, ‘I’m so tired’, but then I’m like, ‘Would you rather be here or would you rather be shaking your ass for eight hours in heels?’”
She’s speaking up for women of different backgrounds
Cardi B wants to expand our understanding of ‘who’ can be a feminist, stressing it’s not just a privilege for the university educated. In an Instagram post, she said: “If you believe in equal rights between men and women – that makes you a feminist. I don’t understand how you bitches feel like being a feminist is being a woman that has an education, that have a degree. That is not being a feminist.
“You discouraging a certain type of woman, that definitely doesn’t make you one… There’s only a definition for a simple word. The problem is that being a feminist is something so great and y’all don’t want me to be great, but too bad. I’m gonna encourage any type of woman. You don’t have to be a woman like me for me to encourage you and support you.”
She’s got no time (or money) for haters
When she was writing ‘Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1’, Cardi B wanted to put out a quality product for free, and that meant ditching the idea of paying expensive collaborators to write with her. “I wanted to focus on myself – and I’m cheap… Do I really wanna pay these artists to write a song with me for a mixtape? No. I’ll save that bit of shmoney for my album,” she told DJ Vlad. “I never really wanna bother nobody. The people that are on my mixtape are the people that are like, ‘I really like your mixtape. I think you’re gonna go far’… The people on my mixtape are the people that believe in me.” The risk paid off – the mixtape went mad, and now she has Drake calling her up to perform at OVO Fest.