This week, Cardi B became the first female rapper to take the number one spot on Billboard's Hot 100 chart since Lauryn Hill's “Doo Wop (That Thing)” in 1998. She's also the first Latina to top the chart since Shakira in 2006 with "Hips Don't Lie." That's right: The summer hit "Bodak Yellow" is crashing into fall as the most popular song in the country, ahead of artists like Taylor Swift, Charlie Puth, and even the inescapable single "Despacito."
Born Belcalis Almanzar, Cardi B is a Dominican and Trinidadian native of the Bronx, New York. She's unapologetic about her past — she's open about the fact that she dropped out of school to escape her abusive boyfriend and become a stripper — and she also isn't interested in changing how she speaks. She proudly boasts about using and discarding men to make her way to the top, a female flip on the script usually followed by the rappers in a male-dominated industry.
And then, after years of mixtapes and building buzz on social media, with one single, Cardi B made history. This is a moment. Yes, it's a win for the 24-year-old, but it's also a win for women, for women in hip-hop, and a win for brown women, especially.
America's love affair with Cardi B began with a hilarious Instagram full of catch phrases ("wash poppin?!") and two seasons of Love And Hip Hop New York, where viewers embraced her larger-than-life personality. (It's been hard for me to ever say the word "foreva" the same again after this scene.) But after years of hustling as a dancer and mixtape rapper, it was this past summer when Cardi shot from rap hopeful to certified star thanks to "Bodak Yellow." Women, especially rejoiced in lines like: "I don't bother with these hoes/Don't let these hoes bother me/They see pictures, they say goals/Bitch I'm who they tryna be." In other words, exactly the kind of lyrics we all love to mouth when we need an extra dose of confidence — or simply want to emphasize that, well, we're bad bitches.
So when her impossibly catchy track with its simple beat but infectious flow (I dare you to put on "Bodak Yellow" and not bop) hit number one this week, we all cheered for Cardi B. As my friends and I like to say, after witnessing her come up over the years via social media and reality TV, it feels like one of our own family members has finally made it. That's in large part thanks to how relatable Cardi is. Perhaps most enticing about her brand is the fact that she's managed, so far, to stay completely true to who she is. Whether she's performing on stage, answering questions in an interview, or wearing a Cinderella dress at Rihanna's Diamond Ball, she's still a "regular, degular, shmegular girl from the Bronx," as she likes to say — no over-the-top costumes or industry-appeasing pop songs needed (sorry, Nicki).
Earlier this week, I attended an Atlantic Records reception toasting her new number one status, and watching Cardi's excitement as she looked at her plaque and took in the crowd, her voice cracking with tears as she made a few jokes, I got a little teary eyed myself. During a time when brown women, in particular, feel pressure to conform or shrink themselves, it's encouraging and inspiring to see a woman with brown skin, a huge personality, and a way of speaking that some might look down upon succeed. And not only succeed, but surpass American's former blonde-haired, blue-eyed favorite on the Billboard charts. No shade to Taylor, but that is an accomplishment girls like me can't help but be proud of.
Of course, one could argue that I shouldn't say this is a major girl power moment; some might say that perhaps Cardi B is not the best role model for women, or debate whether or not she's even a feminist, due to her penchant for the word bitch, augmented body parts, and lyrics about men buying her things ("I'll let him do what he want/He buy me Yves Saint Laurent" she declares in "Bodak"). But part of believing in equality of the sexes is supporting a woman's ability to do the same exact things that men do, which in hip-hop has long meant men bragging about the many ways they disrespect women, as well as the actions they were often forced to take because of the circumstances they were born into. (Poverty, addiction, broken homes...) Now, Cardi B is doing exactly the same. Doesn't her defiance of society's expectation of what a feminist should look and sound like make her exactly that: A feminist?
Cardi herself defended her brand of feminism back in 2016, when she responded to critics with an Instagram video: "If you believe in equal rights of men and women, that makes you a feminist," she said. "I don’t understand how you bitches feel like being a feminist is a woman that has an education, that have a degree. That is not being a feminist. You discouraging a certain type of woman, that definitely doesn't make you one . . . At the end of the day, I'm gonna encourage any type of woman. You don't have to be a woman like me for me to encourage and support you and tell you yes, bitch, keep on going."
But in addition to topping the Hot 100 being a historic moment for Cardi and women in general is its significance for women in hip-hop, specifically. Not only is this a long time coming (19 years!), but because successful, mainstream female rappers are few and far between, the landscape is very competitive, and we rarely see them support one another. With a few exceptions (see the epic "Ladies Night" remix in 1997 featuring Lil' Kim, Missy Elliott, Left Eye, Da Brat, and Angie Martinez), we usually see female lyricists going head-to-head: There was Queen Latifah versus Foxy Brown back in the day, Khia vs. Trina, Lil Kim. vs. Remy Ma, and the list goes on and on, including that little tiff you might recall between Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj this past year. And often, even if there isn't an actual feud happening, we just assume every woman that's a rapper has some beef with another. In fact, many have even tried (looking at you, Charlamagne,) to fabricate or instigate feuds between Cardi and other artists like Nicki.
Yet after reaching that number-one spot, Cardi tweeted "Every single female rapper congratulated me today." While not every female rapper congratulated Cardi publicly (Foxy Brown has remained mum, though she doesn't typically tweet much, nor does Lauryn Hill), plenty did — including, yes, Ms. Minaj. And it was a delight to finally see more than one woman in hip-hop uplifting one of their own:
So congratulations are definitely in order to Cardi B, for not only making music history, but also, for bringing together the women in a notoriously divided industry and offering up a little hope for all of us brown girls. I, for one, am proud of you and your money moves. Fingers crossed Bodak Yellow stays number one on the charts...foreva.
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