Music
Tune in and turn up

4.5/5.0

Nowadays, to achieve hip-hop domination, a rapper’s rhymes need to be matched with a series of smashing singles, a social media presence most marketing managers would bend over backwards to replicate, and a style that makes fashion magazines salivate over every outfit. Cardi B is that unequivocal rap star, and her glo-up over the past 12 months has been somewhat monumental.

Ever since “Bodak Yellow” transformed her into a fully fledged Billboard Hot 100 topper, the world has waited with bated breath to see what her debut LP would sound like. Nine months and several delays later, she gives us Invasion of Privacy: 13 tracks of bullshit-free hip-hop from a woman who knows exactly what she’s here to do.

To date, we’ve been teased with a smattering of gigantic, shout-back singles that positioned Cardi at the top of her game. In an industry often shaped by machismo, “Bodak Yellow” and “Bartier Cardi” proved that rap music’s most fawned over talent could be a girl with agency and a killer flow to boot. In a rap age that sees the #MeToo movement overlap with a millennial audience shaping their own understanding of feminism and empowerment within the genre, Cardi B has become the ultimate poster woman: you can revel in her ‘Bronx-spun pin-up girl’ aesthetic, but respect this woman’s worth, because she’s more than capable of sending you down should you step out of line.

“Get Up 10”, the album’s opener, rejects the notion that Cardi doesn’t take this shit seriously – in fact, here she goes harder than many of her male peers have lately. Articulating lines with gunshots, “Where that bitch that was claiming she a threat? / I’ma put a Louboutin where her neck at” she lambasts, epitomizing the power of her glo-up perfectly. She might take a step back on “Drip” to let friends and collaborators Migos take center stage, her hook playing slightly into those overdone rap tropes, but Cardi doesn’t fuck about on “Bickenhead”. “Stupid ho, unimportant, unattractive, unemployed” she reels off, believing every damn word of it.

By this point, we realize that there’s no desire for Cardi to fall back on disposable pop-rap here, a sort of questionable subgenre that most women in hip-hop are unfairly shoehorned in to, normally by men afraid of talented girls stepping on her toes. Perhaps it’s her firecracker personality; her label clearly has the utmost faith in her, and you can hear the conviction in every verse.

The Chance the Rapper collaboration “Best Life” isn’t necessarily going to blow your socks off, but its summer ready, samba-trap styling is sure to be one fans will return to as the heat sets in. Featuring South American rappers Bad Bunny and J Galvin, “I Like It” is the closest Cardi gets to playing her pop card here, but it makes for a nice moment of respite from the confrontational line-up of songs that precede it. Side note, she also flexes her fashion knowledge here too, rapping about “those Balenciagas – the ones that look like socks.”

Her link-up with Kehlani is a smoldering, sexy R&B vibe where she takes a back seat, before returning to her relentless self on “Money Bag”. Here, she raps about having “lips like Angelina,” and toys with her cadence over quotable lines, left, right and center. If you look past the breathless YG chorus on “She Bad” too, we find Cardi bragging about wearing OFF-WHITE to church and asking Chrissy Teigen if she’d be up for a threesome with Rihanna, because she “know a bad bitch when [she] see one”. The line was swiftly picked up on by Teigen herself, who tweeted her reaction.

Cardi raps as if she knows people are out to get her. For every die-hard fan, there’s an industry naysayer doubting the legitimacy and worthiness of her success. While it would be easy to dismiss her as a stripper turned social media star turned reality TV personality chasing a rap career to hold on to her relevance, her bizarre come-up places her in a stronger position to reach the spot she undoubtedly deserves to occupy. Invasion of Privacy proves that, and while she’s hardy, she never shies away from addressing the idea of being fragile here either.

By now, we’ve all heard her gentle warning to Offset to play it safe on “Be Careful”, but “Thru Your Phone”, featuring a co-production credit from Benny Blanco, captures Cardi with her heart broken, plotting her revenge on a man who screwed her over. “I might just cut all the tongues out your sneakers / Smash your TV from Best Buy / You gon’ turn me into into Left Eye” she raps, making reference to the tumultuous past of the TLC star.

Throughout the record, there’s no hint at Cardi adopting some sort of enraged, obsessive or crazy alter ego, because there’s simply no need for it. In a game that sees so many women twisted by labels to become an almost unrecognisable version of their former selves (it’s something that Iggy, Nicki and Azealia were all forced to battle at some point), she’s had the power to stay true to herself. Nothing on Invasion of Privacy sounds like something Cardi B wouldn’t create. As she said herself, in an impassioned Instagram video earlier this morning, she’s managed to stay grounded.

She’s hardly re-writing the rap rule book here, but there’s something tantalizing about the way this 25-year-old girl from The Bronx delivers a rap record with all of its classic sentiments intact, to a pop favoring, post-Vine audience. Beneath ‘the whole package’ experience musicians feel inclined to deliver these days, this star has the weighty, worthy material to back up.

If anything, Invasion of Privacy proves Cardi B is the hyped up talent the world had hoped she would be. While it’s hardly the kind of earth-shifting, politically-charged record music snobs demand but shouldn’t command from an artist of her caliber, it makes for a riveting and wildly listenable debut LP. Now, nobody can touch her – but we’re pretty sure this hip-hop megastar knows that anyway.

For more of our reviews, read our take on Kali Uchis’ ‘Isolation’ right here.

Words by Douglas Greenwood
What To Read Next