Cardi B is no stranger to breaking the internet. She’s more than capable of dominating the conversation herself, as she did when she stood atop two exotic dancers on a stripper pole in 2018’s “Money,” or when she shared that questionable three-way kiss in “Up” at the height of COVID-19. Still, there is not much that eclipses a Cardi B release—except, occasionally, the words “featuring Cardi B.”
For a woman whose reality TV slogan was “If a girl beef with me, she gon’ have beef forever,” the Bronx rapper plays exceptionally well with others. With the just-dropped “Rumors,” Lizzo’s colossal new single, the Invasion of Privacy rapper can add another A-list collaboration under her baby bump. In the visual, the two are reimagined as goddesses, taking a cue from the muses in Hercules.
The Tanu Muino-directed video isn’t just Disney cosplay. It’s using the visual trappings of antiquity (columns and tunics) to communicate that Black people are the originators of pop culture. If that wasn’t clear enough, consider this frank one-liner from Lizzo towards the end of the song: “Black people made rock ‘n’ roll, yeah.”
In a post-”WAP” world, the most sought after collaborators are Black women, and Cardi B is changing the anatomy of a rap feature. What once functioned as a way to cross-pollinate pop and hip-hop audiences is becoming something very different at a time when Black women are dominating both genres: They’re major cultural moments and a celebration of the ways women empower other women.
Earlier this week, Lizzo shared a snippet of “Rumors” on social media, her first single since 2019’s Grammy-winning Cuz I Love You. “They say I should watch the shit I post, oh, goddamn / Say I’m turning big girls into hoes, oh, goddamn” she sings. A few days later, she teased the song again with a playful FaceTime call, renaming the as-yet-unnamed guest collaborator’s contact in her phone to “‘RUMORS’ Feat…” The singer joked that she was enlisting Harry Styles. But when a very sleepy and very pregnant Cardi B picked up (Sorry, One Direction fans), it was an indicator of the times: Rap stars are the new pop stars, and Cardi is the most calculated among them.
Like “Rumors,” Normani’s new single, “Wild Side,” is something of a comeback record, following the former Fifth Harmony singer’s big solo breakthrough single “Motivation” in 2019. And naturally, it also features Cardi B, who plays the provocateur to Normani’s usual innocence, demanding pleasure in a way that the 25-year-old singer has only hinted at.
In a recent interview with Allure, Normani said that the song helped her channel her inner “bad bitch,” and that she saw it as a coming-of-age moment. “I went to [songwriter Starrah] and said, ‘I want something really sexy,’” she said. “I just felt this sense of me coming into my own. I feel like a woman now.” Still, her slick innuendos benefit from the bodacious rapper’s ability to be direct. Who else could turn a J.G Wentworth’s jingle into a memorable bar: “It’s my dick and I want it now!” This is what Cardi does: By being unapologetically herself, no matter how raunchy, she motivates her collaborators to do the same.
But while the visual of Normani and Cardi draped in at least 40 inches of hair (mainly to conceal Cardi’s pregnancy) was a moment, it still pales in comparison to the collaboration that started it all.
Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of “WAP,” the song that infuriated conservatives and spread pussy power across the mainstream. “Wow, I can’t believe wappity WAP turned one today,” Cardi B recently wrote on Twitter. “What a record! @thestallion we should do it again sometime.” Unsurprisingly, Megan Thee Stallion seems willing to take her up on that offer. “Thank you for having me, I think the people deserve another collab,” the Houston rapper tweeted.
Cardi B has always been generous with who she shares her built-in audience with. But by featuring Meg on her song, she helped boost another woman rapper’s career on a scale that most of us had never seen before. In the year since “WAP,” the video has garnered nearly half a billion views and the song has gone platinum six times.
While it’s not far-fetched that the two could drop a joint project giving rap fans what we’ve wanted since the rumored Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown album, we are still not quite at our “Ladies Night” glory days of the 90s. But if there’s anyone who could coordinate one epic collaboration, it would be Cardi B. She not only mastered the art of features, but has elevated the act of choosing who she works with into something that feels intentional, and ambitious, for both parties. Rap collaborations used to feel like they were created in a lab (although DaBaby’s back catalogue of features prior to his homophobic rant suggest they still are). Now they feel like we’re inching closer to the return of posse cuts that included artists who not only orbited similar circles, but were all at the top of their game.
As Cardi says on “Rumors,” “[She’s] a Bronx bitch with some pop hits,” and if her work thus far is any indication on what Cardi’s next era looks like, she’s only going to get bigger and better. She’s doing what her predecessors could only dream of doing—and she doesn’t need a quirky Maroon 5 feature to be acknowledged by a wider audience. Now, acts like Maroon 5 need her.
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.