Vulture’s Dee Lockett writes enthusiastically about Cardi B, a 24-year-old Bronx rapper who, born Belcalis Almánzar to a Trinidadian mother and Dominican father, has made waves with her “Bodak Yellow.” Here are excerpts:
[. . .] But even as [Despacito] continues its record-breaking rise, another artist is having a very big summer: Cardi B, the 24-year-old Bronx rapper whose star power refused to be confined to Love & Hip-Hop.
She’s been rapping professionally for less than two years and with her debut single, “Bodak Yellow,” she’s already scored a Top 10 hit, and has become the first woman since Nicki Minaj in 2014 to get a solo rap song in that coveted slot. Her entry into the Top 10 this week at No. 8 caps off one of the fastest, most controversial rap ascents in recent memory. The former stripper turned reality star turned Instagram comedian turned whatever the hell she wants to be now has a legion of fans convinced her rap career is more than a fluke. We’re calling it: Cardi B is the Artist of the Summer, even if “Bodak Yellow” isn’t the Song of the Summer.
Cardi B’s hood fairy tale began with a meme, a catchphrase, and a mixtape. She initially spun a career out of a cheeky 2014 viral Instagram moment where she confidently declared, “a hoe never gets cold.” This moment was a launchpad for hundreds of profanity-laced, smart-mouthed adages that would follow over the next couple years.
While on Love & Hip-Hop New York, which she outgrew after two seasons, she turned her threat “If a girl have beef with me, she gon’ have beef with me forever” into the genesis for “Foreva,” the breakout hit from her 2016 debut mixtape Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1. Just this January, she followed it up with Vol. 2. [. . .]
In the music industry, attempting to convert such quick work into quicker reward burns out too many up-and-comers before they ever take off, which makes Cardi’s fast-track from local phenomenon to national obsession in a matter of months one of the biggest music stories of the summer. In May, Cardi’s vitality to the new guard of rap was validated in a BET Award nomination for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist — alongside winner Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj — proof her popularity had already exceeded a spot on XXL’s coveted Freshman Class (which snubbed her two years in a row.)
Cardi had signed a major-label deal with Atlantic Records off the buzz from her mixtapes and magnetic persona, banking on the hit potential of “Lick,” featuring Migos’ Offset (a.k.a. “this boy she’s dating”). From there, Cardi’s stardom has followed a trajectory foreshadowed in her independent-woman ethos: In mid-June, Remy Ma had Cardi B perform the classic women-only anthem “U.N.I.T.Y.” alongside Queen Latifah, Lil Kim, MC Lyte, Lady of Rage and fellow New York newcomer Young M.A. at Hot 97’s Summer Jam, giving Cardi her blessing to be initiated into rap’s next generation, effective immediately. The very next week, Cardi dropped “Bodak Yellow.”
It’s the kind of hit typically designed to work for men like Drake, a serial culture vulture, or New York rap guys like A$AP Rocky who’ve closed regional gaps with their Southern influence: The song lifts Florida rapper Kodak Black’s flow (credited in its title) and beat from his song “No Flockin,” and fires off quotables staking out her territory — “Said, ‘Lil bitch, you can’t fuck with me even if you wanted to’” — with barely a breath wasted in between. Its video, released shortly after, places Cardi in Dubai — when she’s not riding camels in the desert, she’s sitting on a throne.
What started out as a No. 78 sleeper on the charts has since jumped 70 spots in less than two months, largely credited to a deftly executed media blitz. Just a week after “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi snagged The Fader cover and spent all of July keeping up appearances at clubs (all shenanigans chronicled on her infamous Instagram). Then, in early August, with “Bodak Yellow” clogging New York radio airwaves and spreading, Drake affirmed her international reach by bringing her out to perform the song at his annual OVO Fest in Toronto to pandemonium — just about his highest stamp of approval; Migos also let Cardi take over their stage at a separate Toronto festival around the same time. [. . .]