Please Welcome Our New Overlord Cardi B
Sometimes, a perfect opening line will tell you, right away, everything you need to know about an album. Kurt Cobain on In Utero: “Teenage angst has paid off well / Now I’m bored and old.” Elliott Smith on XO: “Cut this picture into you and me / Burn in backwards, kill this history.” Robert Smith on Pornography: “It doesn’t matter if we all die.” Polly Jean Harvey on To Bring You My Love: “I was born in the desert / I been down for years / Jesus come closer, I think my time is near.” Cardi B on Invasion Of Privacy: “They gave a bitch two options: Stripping or lose / Used to dance in a club right across from my school.”
“Get Up 10,” the first song from Cardi B’s first album, is a small masterpiece of snarl, a rich repository of instantly iconic shit-talk. Here’s one line: “I started speaking my mind and tripled my views / Real bitch, only thing fake is my boobs.” Here’s another: “Get money, go hard, damn fucking right / Stunt on these bitches out of motherfucking spite.” One more: “I came here to ball, is you nuts? / I don’t want your punk-ass man, I’m too tough.” There are so many lines like that just on this first song — lines that look great on paper and sound even better when sneered out through that plosive Bronx honk. There are many, many people who insist on doubting Cardi B’s rap bona fides, whether or not she’s the brightest star to come along in a long time. After “Get Up 10,” those people should feel like they got slapped in the face. That was, after all, the intended effect.
Of course, for all its megawatt bluster, “Get Up 10″ is also a transparent bite of another monster album opener: Meek Mill’s “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro),” a 2012 anthem that’s been going through a recent renaissance with Meek’s unjust imprisonment and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl run. “Get Up 10″ is built exactly the same as “Dreams & Nightmares”: Same no-chorus construction, same portentous orchestral swells, same neck-snap beat drop at the moment that the song seems like it should end. But that’s the magic of Invasion Of Privacy. It’s Cardi B, a woman who overcame all possible odds to ascend to rap stardom on the pure force of her personality trying out every of-the-moment rap format and bending all of them to her will.
They don’t really make rap albums like this anymore. Back in the early ’00s, when record companies were just figuring out how huge rap stars could be, big rap debuts would attempt to be all things to all people. They’d have club songs and R&B-flavored love songs and songs for every conceivable rap region. They’ve stopped doing that, and that’s a good thing. More often than not, these attempts to engineer blockbuster albums would leech away all the personal idiosyncrasies that made the rappers special in the first place. It was like these labels had a format, and the rapper was just someone to be plugged into that formula. These days, the rap universe is a loosely connected network of tiny micro-scenes, and rappers aren’t trying to be all things to all people anymore.
But Cardi is different; she’s a newly minted rap star with massive, galactic crossover potential. She hit #1 on the Hot 100 with her first-ever major-label single. She has Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live and every mass-market pop-cult magazine basking in her reflected glory. She is a human soap opera who seems to generate new narratives or memes every time she opens her mouth. (Her latest delightful moment, as I write this: telling John Mulaney that he looks like the Pet Shop Boys.) She seemed ready to transcend music before she’d even started recording her first album. And so the label machine dusted off its old star-making machinery. It shouldn’t have worked. It did.
Seen from a certain perspective, Invasion Of Privacy is a masterpiece of pandering. It checks all the circa-2018 boxes. Cardi makes Atlanta trap alongside Migos, and then 21 Savage. She does West Coast bounce with YG on a DJ Mustard beat. She does starry-eyed posi-rap with Chance The Rapper. She does thoughtful, heartbroken relationship songs that build on the persistent hurricane of love-life rumors that always encircles her. Perhaps most brazenly, she recruits Bad Bunny and J Balvin to do Latin trap over a sample of Pete Rodriguez’s boogaloo classic “I Like It Like That.” She even goes back to the “Bodak Yellow” well on “Money Bag,” effectively biting herself. None of these things should go together. All of them should overwhelm a new talent, no matter how special. But Cardi B will not be overwhelmed. The machine will not absorb her. She will absorb the machine.
In her recent GQ profile, Cardi talks about how she’s working to lose her Bronx accent. I am delighted to report that, at least for now, she has failed. Cardi has a near-perfect rap voice. She’s riotously loud, and even on her quieter songs, she gives off that late-’90s Jay-Z sense that she has absolute contempt for everyone and everything around her, including the words she’s speaking. Every syllable snaps. And she’s also a fully formed personality. She’s got a whole lot to say.
Sometimes, Cardi’s money-talk boasts are psychedelic in their surreality: “Park my Bentley truck on my Versace driveway.” Sometimes, though, they’re almost shockingly small-stakes. She brags, for instance, about taking pictures with Beyoncé even though she could probably get Beyoncé on a song pretty easily. Along those same lines, her relationship songs are blunt and hard and refreshing. Invasion Of Privacy didn’t get its name because it’s some lament about how hard it is to live as a celebrity. It’s from a song about going through someone’s phone for evidence of cheating. And on songs like that, she gets vengeful: “I’ma make a bowl of cereal with a teaspoon of bleach / Serve it to you like, ‘Here you go, nigga, bon appétit.'” Talking about sex, she’s as brazen as prime Lil Kim: “Only real shit comes out my mouth and only real niggas go in it.” More than anything else, she is triumphant: “My little 15 minutes lasting long as hell, hanh?”
As an album, Invasion Of Privacy should not cohere. It’s not built to cohere. It’s built to touch as many areas of the world as possible, to sell Cardi to whichever audiences might be remotely receptive to her. It does that. It works as a pop-star power-move. But it ends up working as an album, too. It only has one through-line, and that’s Cardi herself. She is a human volcano, and the only real weak moments on the album are the ones where other people are rapping. Otherwise, this thing is a bulletproof onslaught of actual hits and potential hits. It’s the most assured and most fully realized A-list rap debut we’ve heard in many years.
Invasion Of Privacy is a hell of a surprise — not just because it didn’t need to be this good but because it didn’t need to exist at all. Before Cardi announced the album’s existence, it seemed plenty possible that Cardi could just continue cranking out earthshaking singles whenever she felt like it. Cardi’s ascent — stripping to Instagram stardom to reality TV to rap-conquerer status — is strange and new and impossible to replicate. Just in the past week, she’s proven how good she is at playing the celebrity game: The perfectly timed SNL pregnancy reveal, the lightly salacious GQ story, the expert ability to suffer Jimmy Fallon’s antics. She’s a star who couldn’t exist in any other age, so why attempt to shoehorn her into something as old-world as an album? It turns out that we shouldn’t have doubted her. She’s made something special — a document of a near-impossible come-up that itself works as a near-impossible come-up.
1. Saba – “Logout” (Feat. Chance The Rapper)
I need to spend more time with Saba’s Care For Me album, but it’s lovely — lush and thoughtful and casually virtuosic in an appealingly non-showy way. And on “Logout,” Saba outraps Chance The Rapper, and nobody’s done that since… well, actually, Cardi B just did it, too. So nevermind.
2. OMB Peezy – “Fuck My P.O.”
It’s an old story: A young man catches a case as a teenager and then finds himself haunted by the legal system long after he gets his life together. We’re seeing an extreme form of it with Meek Mill lately, but it’s affecting a whole lot more people. And OMB Peezy raps about it with instinctive vitriol: “Crackers talking ’bout my dreads, saying rapping ain’t a real job.”
3. Rae Sremmurd – “Chanel” (Feat. Pharrell)
Mase released his Neptunes-produced single “Lookin’ At Me” in July of 1998. Noreaga’s total monster “Superthug” followed two months later. That means that, as of three months from now, Pharrell will have been a relevant creative and commercial force in rap music for 20 years. That’s staggering. And his yelpy falsetto verse here is the best thing about a very good song.
4. BbyMutha – “BBC”
“Smoking Colorado dope, fuck your mid-grade dick / Burning money all week on my hot girl shit.” BbyMutha, from Chatanooga, has the same drawling snap in her voice as prime Gangsta Boo, and she talks her shit with calm authority. She’s the mother of two sets of twins, too, so when she talks about protecting her family, there’s maternal force behind it.
5. Fat Nick – “WTF”
The goofiest clown in a South Florida SoundCloud-rap scene full of goofy clowns, Fat Nick comes out with a slow-rolling, unpretentious banger that will be forever entwined with the video where he shoots emojis from assault rifles.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
— Luke Bonner (@LukeyBonner) April 6, 2018