So, here's the thing: Cardi B is not stupid. It should go without saying that someone able to engineer a fruitful career almost entirely of her own desires—as a dancer; then an Instagram sage and comedian; and finally, as an actor and the resident real one, down to ride for her sister and friends on the Love and Hip-Hop franchise—from very little and with very little help is commendable. When taking into account that these opportunities, as small as they may have been as individual accomplishments, were merely the building blocks to her ascent as a rapper, Cardi's a damn near new media genius. Her patience and determination reaped a great reward: her breakout mega-hit of the summer, "Bodak Yellow." And for her eager and endlessly supportive fans—a vast majority of which are Black women, Latinx women, Black Latinx women—"Bodak Yellow" signifies her reaching a once unattainable, perhaps even inconceivable, milestone.
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The song is proof of Cardi finally hitting her mark. Gangsta Bitch Vol. 1 and Gangsta Bitch Vol. 2 were experimentations, Cardi still feeling out her groove. And while there were some hits, like "Foreva," Cardi's rap career was still largely derived from and caught up in her social media personality, staying in the contained pockets of the internet that Cardi fit most comfortably within. But with "Bodak Yellow," she lets go of the gossip and drama. For all intents and purposes, "Bodak Yellow" is autobiographical, a tale of the Bronx girl's unlikely, unprecedented come-up. That journey can be rough, and Cardi isn't keen on sugarcoating. In fact, Cardi forgoes sweetness altogether—from beginning to end, bar after bar. On "Bodak Yellow," she comes out swinging, refusing to stop 'til she's had enough. The track is at once a celebration and a time capsule of sorts—wherever Cardi ends up next, good or bad, she made it out, seemingly unscathed.
In The FADER's cover story on Cardi B, Rawiya Kameir describes her vivaciousness as a necessary tool and not a bonus byproduct of her negotiations with fame. "It's not quite that Cardi is unfiltered," Kameir writes. "There is very much a filter, actually, a strategic self-censoring that keeps private the things she doesn't want to share. But when it comes to the mechanics of existing, and thriving, as a human being, she's unashamed, unpolished, unapologetic—a stream-of-consciousness genius." What's so scandalous about Cardi, then, isn't always what she's saying, in the literal sense, but her unflinching audacity. And on "Bodak Yellow," a song as much about the realities of wealth gain and retention as it is about cuffing and uncuffing mans with ease, she shines as a rapper who stands on her own two feet, unafraid, unrepentant, and, of course, infectiously catchy. "I'm the hottest in the street, / Know you probably heard of me," she recites, building up the momentum of the track. I mean, if we're being honest... She is right, isn't she? And you know where she at, you know who she be.
Sitting shy of 27 million views (and counting), the video for "Bodak Yellow" features a Cardi in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a joked-about hotspot for Instagram models and other women who work as entertainers of varying degrees. Instead of running away from presumptions about the life she and other women like her live, Cardi embraces the hood lore and internet gossip head-on, two flawlessly manicured fingers up. Yeah, she's in Dubai, riding camels in some nude stiletto Louboutins. Yeah, she's in the club, shisha (or hookah, for the Americans), flavored smoke billowing in the dark private section's air. Sure, she's wearing a latex bodycon minidress with matching thigh-high heeled boots, maybe even casually petting a tiger. So what? She'll still put her hand up on her hip, collect a check from Mona Scott, flex in some Yves Saint Laurent, graciously gifted to her. "Bodak Yellow" is Cardi at her peak—sexy, lethal, deliciously uncouth. You can't help but smirk as she boasts even of oral surgery, an often unnoticed luxury. ("Got a bag and fixed my teeth, / Hope you hoes know it ain't cheap.") And she floats on "Bodak Yellow" so seamlessly that people forget the instrumental's original owner, a person who Cardi's autonomy is more than an affront to. (Good riddance.)
Where others in her position may have tried to reinvent themselves and produce a crisper, refined image, Cardi is perfectly content being who she is. Or rather, who the world thinks she is, tropes and all. Granted, Cardi's brand, if you so wish to call it that, is hinged on her supposed realness, her lack of hesitation in any circumstance. That carries its own weight; of expectation, of an always-on Cardi, a personification of what people imagine a woman of her background and experience to look and sound like. Her being so transparent about her life's journey is it's own double-edged sword, too. It means that if she decides to be gaudy, she has to go all the way with it, jewels and highlight and flowing, frosted glasses galore. And if she was going to make moves—like, really real, life-changing, paying-Mama's-bills moves—they had to be monumental. Bloody moves, if need be, without so much as a second thought. Capital-shifting moves with sustainable, multiple revenue zeros. Moves far, far greater than any snarky expectation for the 24 year old just trying to make it.
And when she's not stressing over bills—her own, as well as those of her closest loved ones—Cardi is reveling in her wins and keeping her promises. Still real, still gutter, still as bad as she wanna be; Cardi really made it. She asks naysayers, the outright ones and the not-so-outright ones, to share their two cents with their chest and in her face, to not cloak their hate in nothing but what it is. "Say lil' bitch," she confronts, rallying up anyone in her vicinity. "You can't fuck with me if you wanted to." And no matter where you are when you hear it, everyone up on Cardi will scream it, too. The world is hers. For now, anyway. What more could she ask for?
Amani Bin Shikhan is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter.