Cardi B Demands the Spotlight on ‘Invasion of Privacy’

Cardi B is from the school of hard knocks, and she doesn’t play around. The Bronx native proudly declares on “Get Up 10,” “I started speakin’ my mind and tripled my views / Real bitch, only thing fake is the boobs,” and with this no-nonsense, no fake airs, mentality she has stormed the scene. She follows in the bold tradition of unhinged rappers like Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, who flip the script in hip-hop, assuming the usual gangster posturing of male rappers, and presenting it from a female perspective. As successful as those other rappers were, Cardi B has surpassed them in scope, becoming the second-ever solo female rapper to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100. She has appeared regularly on VH1 series “Love & Hip Hop: New York,” and infiltrated the fashion industry, working with MAC Cosmetics and designer Marc Jacobs. Now she has released her debut, “Invasion of Privacy,” and the album is as bold as you might expect from its title.

This is the rap game, and the more hood you sound, the more the seriously you’ll be taken. Cardi’s first utterance not only compels you to take her seriously, but taunts and threatens you into it. She spits her lines in a feisty, nasal, Bronx stammer with each syllable oversaturated with unfiltered, unapologetic attitude. She tells her rags-to-riches story, commanding street cred and calling out all the haters that doubted her. She disses those who said she was “too ratchet,” and makes sure to pronounce her spite in as “rachet” of a voice as possible. It’s the same elevation of lowbrow art that typifies mainstream hip-hop, but hammered home with an especially shrill verve and uncompromising audacity — taking everything that’s ghetto, inflating and supersizing it all, and delivering it with an unabashed bombast, as if to say, “Here’s what I think about your standards,” “You know you like it,” and, “Who’s laughing now?”   

“Get Up 10” is a production informed by hip-hop history. The studio treatment is contemporary, but the furnishing nods subtly to the past. There’s the piano over hard drum machines that formed the backbone of countless classic New York tracks. There are bits of scratching, and the “Whoo” interjections that date as far back as the ‘70s. Next up, the album launches suddenly into dim-lit, codeine-soaked trap, with “Drip.” The guest verses from Migos are tightly grooved in the group usual framework of stuttering high hats and funky cowbells. Trap has always been a predominately southern affair, and Cardi’s Bronx flow in this context adds some fresh variety. She flows with the typical, slurred trap triplets, but with her trademark pronouncement. The phrase, “came through drippin’” rolls off like the hypnotic nonsense that rappers like Gucci Mane effortlessly employ to make tracks instantly infectious.

“I Like It” is a clear standout. Cardi is half Dominican, and she brings her Latin flavor to the table here. The song recalls the phase of hip hop in the early aughts when Ricky Martin was around, and Spanish seeped its way into countless hip hop hits, like R Kelly and Jay Z’s “Fiesta.” The hard beat and slickly situated sample are immediately inviting, and the flashing sounds during the chorus add edge and excitement. It’s a considerable feat to cram so many pop elements into a track slightly over four minutes long, and have them segue elegantly without seeming forced. This song accomplishes it swimmingly.

Guest appearances throughout the album are generally effective. On “Best Life,” Chance the Rapper offers his versatile flow, singing and rapping in ways that sound like he’s, at times, laughing, fuming, pursing his lips, and relaxing. Kehlani’s singing on “Ring” is smooth and mellifluous, adding a welcome bit of pop shimmer, and making one wish she might have also featured on tracks where Cardi’s strained singing parts leave much to be desired.     

Cardi shines brightest over hard beats that bring out her edge, and complement her ferocious braggadocio and bluster. “Bodak Yellow” is a song that deserves its success on the charts and its two grammy nominations. The verses build up to razor-sliced snares and pounding bass hiccups, prompting an onslaught of throbbing sub-bass. The beat is at once gritty and polished, and the way Cardi hovers over it with her menacing delivery makes for a wild ride. Rapping, more than any other vocal style, derives much of its instinctive appeal from rappers’ idiosyncratic meter and intonation. Such is the case during the chorus of this song, when Cardi raps, “I make MO-ney moves.” She brings this back later, in “Money Back,” pronouncing the titular phrase in the same manner, having owned it so indisputably that she can now pay homage to none other than herself. At another moment, she delivers the phrase, “Lips like Angelina,” with an inflection so bizarre alien, and unprecedented that it defies any attempt to trace it back to its source of inspiration. Modern art purists, who yearn to free creative expression from all traces of recognizable forms, would be pleased. “Money Back” finds Cardi, again, especially in her element, with an over-the-top beat that befits her aggression. Hard high hats that hammer like a ticking time bomb, and machinegun-rhythm kick drums equip the track with the energy of hardcore techno.  

On the final track, “I Do,” Cardi declares, “I do what I like, I do, I do,” neatly encapsulating her approach with her characteristic directness. Such is the case that even her name is subject to her whims. Regarding her moniker, she has stated, “the ‘B’ stands for whatever […] depending on the day.” Judging from her catapult to fame, and her unprecedentedly wide success in her genre, it seems to be working for her. The last year and a half have been a historic moment for women’s empowerment, and in this context, the brash, impertinent reclaiming of hip-hop’s “Get Money” philosophy, articulated in a fierce, feminine voice is newly relatable and appealing. “Invasion of Privacy” is a testament to this phenomenon, and a promising debut that will surely resonate.   

Invasion of Privacy’ is available April 6 on Apple Music.