Rich with hit songs, millennial proverbs, and imminent Instagram slang, Cardi B’s debut album goes big.
“My 15 minutes lasted kind of long, huh?” Cardi B hounds on the final track of her debut album Invasion of Privacy. This line encapsulates the biggest theme of the album: Cardi is here to stay. What some called a meteoric rise following the explosive success of hit single “Bodak Yellow” turned into a star with its own gravitational pull—Cardi’s fire hasn’t burned out, and she hasn’t crash landed. This 13-track project proves it.
Before her rap career took off, I learned to trust Cardi B. The rapper born Becalis Almanzar was a truth-telling social media star and dancer rumored to appear in the upcoming season of Love & Hip Hop New York. Cardi’s crooked teeth and the signature cackle she let fly every time she said something she knew was funny as hell were enamoring. Yet part of me worried that some of that brutal honesty—like her once-crooked teeth—would be straightened and smoothed out on this new album. Invasion’s opening track, “Get Up 10,” quickly puts those fears to rest. She raps about her choice between dancing or school and mentions making tuna sandwiches, a reference to her days working at an Amish market before she began stripping. Her verses are earnest, and the star power is apparent.
“Bickenhead” with its nursery rhyme-style chorus as well as the tracks “Money Bag” and “Drip” harken back to the aggressive lyricism of her two previous mixtapes, Gangsta Bitch Vol. 1 and 2 and songs like “Lick” and “Pull Up.” One of the most superficial differences between this project and her mixtapes is the guest list: Migos, Chance the Rapper, 21 Savage, SZA, and YG all show up. There’s a nod to her Spanish roots on “I Like It,” which features Latin Trap artist Bad Bunny; her sensitive side comes out on “Ring,” featuring R&B star Kehlani. Instead of serving as a crutch, the guest appearances that dominate this debut project uplift Cardi’s talent. She raps like someone who doesn’t need help or validation from outsiders.
The crooning “Be Careful,” which was released as a single in late March, is an album lull. The verses are thick as molasses and don’t flow as smoothly. But it’s clear from tracks like “Be Careful” and “Thru Your Phone,” where Ali Tamposi sings a pop hook unlike anything else on the album, that Cardi isn’t afraid to experiment. With the pressure of success and several Billboard hits weighing on her shoulders, Cardi pushes herself. She’s not taking it easy just to please the audience. She’s thinking bigger, and that’s what’s going to give her the range to stick around.
Cardi B’s greatest service on this album is her visibility. She embodies power and personhood as a Black woman. In an interview with Cosmopolitan, she said the #MeToo movement failed to support women of color, and more specifically, women in sex work. If Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliot remind us that Black women are creative, multi-faceted, and sexual people on their own terms, then Cardi reminds us that power, aggression, and materialism are not exclusive to men. She isn’t trying to be political or relatable. She’s not your feminist icon. She’s not rapping for or about anyone but herself.
Invasion of Privacy may allude to Cardi’s transition into the limelight. On the cover, her glasses reflect what appears to be a loading screen, and she touches on the backlash she’s faced since rising to fame in “Best Life.” But it isn’t until the penultimate track “Thru Your Phone” that she hints at a deeper meaning behind the album title. Here she talks about going through her man’s phone and finding out he’s been cheating on her. It boasts the album’s rawest lyrics: “I don’t wanna hear ’bout invasion of privacy/ had a feeling, it turns out you lie to me/I’m holdin’ back everything that’s inside of me/How you all fuckin’ with bitches that follow me?”
Invasion is full of bangers, imminent Instagram captions, millennial proverbs, and songs you just wanna twerk to—but what does a successful debut mean for Cardi’s future? Another line from “I Do” speaks to that: “Ain’t no more beefing, I’m keeping to myself. I’m my own competition, I’m competing with myself.” Cardi’s right to note that she’s in a lane all her own. After breaking records previously held by Lauryn Hill and Beyoncé she’s a bonafide superstar. Prodigious rappers who paved the way for artists like Cardi (think Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj) had tribes to help steer the way in their early days (the Young Money crew or Junior M.A.F.I.A.). Cardi has herself, and it’s a nod to progress. Binderella was able to get herself to the ball, no prince or fairy godmother involved. When the clock strikes midnight, she’s staying put.