Cardi B reasserts her “emotional gangster” with new song ‘Up’, a power anthem for 2021

Channelling a killer Ice Cube line popularised on her old show Love & Hip Hop, the rapper swaps the raw sexuality of 'WAP' for straight-up braggadocio

After being crowned ‘Woman of the Year 2020’ by Billboard magazine, due, in part to the astronomical success of her comeback viral smash ‘WAP’ (which also topped NME’s Best Songs of 2020 list), Cardi B doesn’t waste our time with new song ‘Up’. Its upbeat Southern beat is an instant rump-shaker, with the rapper dancing a storm in her glitzy new video, which was directed by ‘WAP’’s Tanu Muino. Alone, or with the colourful music video, ‘Up’ would be a stonker in the club if they were open.

From the opening line (“Once upon a time, man / I heard that I was ugly”), we know that the self-described “emotional gangster” that we loved on VH1 reality show Love & Hip Hop is finally back. After she’s interpolated that classic Ice Cube line (from his 1990 classic ‘Once Upon a Time in the Projects’), which popularised by her former castmate Mariahlynn, the thuggish braggadocio she’s pushed side over the years continues to reappar. Her old rapid-fire flow, reminiscent of her gritty 2017 track ‘Red Barz’, works surprisingly well over ‘Up”s simple hip-hop beat, proving that she still has plenty of fresh bars in her after her three years as one of pop’s favourite rappers. In a genre led by melody over lyricism, Cardi’s lyricism stands up many of her peers.

The world-dominating ‘WAP’, which featured everyone’s favourite hot girl Megan Thee Stallion, saw the duo criticised – to this day – for its explicit sexuality. Here, Cardi takes a step back from being so open about her sex life. Instead, the Bronx star tells everyone, “if it’s up then it’s stuck”, asserting her dominance over her rivals with a classic colloquialism for street beef, “stuck” meaning that the feud’s going nowhere. Witty one-liners such as “If I had a dick, you’d probably lick it like a lollipop / Hoes speakin’ cap-enese, hit ’em with karate chop”, ‘Up’ shows off that signature Cardi B humour than fans love.

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‘Up’ is refreshing to hear after ‘WAP’. As Cardi B steps away from the usual highly sampled production and focuses more on lyricism, this track makes you want to attack whatever 2021 has for us head-on, like the main character of our own action film. We’re now repeatedly seeing women in rap finally take over the genre’s nonchalant tone in greater numbers than before, setting the bar high for their peers, showing a generation of women how to be unapologetically them. Cardi B’s created a new power anthem with this one.

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