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Cardi B
Invasion Of Privacy Tara Joshi , April 10th, 2018 08:23

Funny, caustic, vulnerable and sharp: a debut that matches the hype

The place of women in the hyper-masculine world of rap remains hard won. Legends like Rick Ross still admit to not signing women to their labels because they might sleep with them, the industry is still happy to promote male rappers with abusive backgrounds, women are incessantly referred to in purely pornographic, dehumanising terms, and women rappers who do make it are repeatedly pitted against one another as if there can only be one (futile naysayers are still trying pointlessly to start beef between Cardi and Nicki).

The point of all this is to say that for a woman to get to the currently ubiquitous level of Cardi B requires exquisite talent and tremendous resilience. Her debut album, Invasion of Privacy, is thankfully brimming with both (and perhaps even more thankfully, Cardi understands what her current rap peers do not: the power of conciseness, because we do not need another 25-track hip-hop album).

Her delivery style at best gives delicious mile-a-minute tongue-twisters, enhanced by that distinctive New Yawhk-Latinx accent. The brash vitality of the way Cardi B spits is genuinely thrilling and potent. The content of her bars is perhaps a more nuanced discussion, with claims of ghostwriters emerging just before the album dropped - but as Cardi noted in response: “Ghostwriter, co-writer, I don’t give a shit! Ask your favorite rapper about their ghostwriter!” This is a pop album as much as it is a trap and hip-hop one (producers include Benny Blanco, of Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber fame, along with DJ Mustard and 30 Roc), and possibly points to a future where the authenticity of a rapper isn’t based solely on them writing all their own lyrics (but this, perhaps, ought to be a separate discussion).

Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that the subject areas covered are clever: straight-talking, owning masculine hip-hop tropes by seizing sex, money and power, but also serving as a call to arms of self-love for women (“I left that nigga on ‘read’ cos I felt like it”, SZA delightfully intones on exquisite album closer ‘I Do’, before Cardi spits, gloriously, “Pussy so good I say my own name during sex”).

Indeed, femininity often has to be weaponised in order for women in the rap game to rise up: Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Nicki Minaj are all hyper-feminine, sex-positive figures. On the surface, that’s the space that Cardi has been occupying since her emergence in 2016, too – the covers of her Gangsta Bitch Music tapes find her powerful and sexual, trap music’s thot, with men at her bidding. It’s imagery that takes ownership of the male gaze in exactly the kind of way that riles up a certain ilk of hip-hop bro – and suffice it to say, at this point Cardi has her fair share of haters among them (“My little 15 minutes lasted long as hell, huh?”, she goads on ‘I Do’).

But something becomes clear across Invasion of Privacy that has perhaps been lost in the narrative of her thrillingly great bangers (‘Bartier Cardi’, ‘Bickenhead’ and ‘Money Bag’, incidentally, are all huge). While she’s all about being that sexually charged bad girl (“damn daddy you fine as hell / I hope your wallet got condoms in it”, she almost snarls on YG-featuring ‘She Bad’) Cardi has always dealt in vulnerability too.

‘Her Perspective’ on her first mixtape heard an abusive partner yelling at her, and while there’s nothing so viscerally raw on the album, there’s still a softer power at play here, be it confronting the falseness of social media on ‘Best Life’, or the Bossa Nova-tinged ‘Be Careful’, or even the disarming pseudo-delicateness of rap ballad ‘Thru Your Phone’. The latter two deal with an unfaithful partner, but rather than getting sanguine or sappy these are songs that flit between devastating vulnerability (“Everyone was right about you now / and it’s killing me”) and caustic, hilariously vengeful rage (“I’m gonna make a bowl of cereal with a teaspoon of bleach / gonna serve it to you like ‘here you go, nigga, bon appétit’”). Going through her man’s phone is possessive - she’s not claiming perfection - but the invasion of privacy, it transpires, was warranted.

Of course, these themes of infidelity and intrusion gain more resonance in light of her recently revealed pregnancy with her fiancé, Migos’ Offset. The number of times Cardi references Beyoncé on the album feels telling: another half of a music power couple with an unfaithful partner, who has used her art to control the narrative, rather than allowing the media to.

Invasion of Privacy finds a rapper in her prime, cleverly shaping her own stardom and - hopefully - carving out a path that continues to usher female MCs into the mainstream. Shamelessly sexual, caustically comic and with breathtaking flow, Cardi B stands proud as one of trap’s finest. It feels apt that the album closes with a SZA collaboration - here are two powerful women in a deeply misogynistic industry, confident in their vulnerability, embracing a feminine power, and coming out triumphant.

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