Cardi B live-streamed the completion of her debut album, “Invasion of Privacy,” on Instagram in a moment which signaled a fulfillment of the endless possibilities going viral can manifest. Cardi, a Bronx native born Belcalis Almanzar, preached hoe gospels in 2013 and translated those gospels into two mixtapes, “Gangsta B***h” Vol. I and II before surfacing to the mainstream with the colossal “Bodak Yellow” and a flurry of chart-topping hits to follow. It’s understandable, then, why she looked exhausted yet relieved when completing her debut. Bare-faced and heavy-eyed, Cardi spoke to her fans on IG Live, expressing a combination of gratitude and relief. A star who has molded traditionalist hip hop’s rules to her own liking, Cardi’s debut feels more like a victory lap than a conquest for super stardom.
The 13-song album is a glamorously barbed missive against all opposition. In a lean 45 minutes, “Invasion” jets through a mix of bad b***h anthems alongside more melody-driven pop songs. It features a heavy list of collaborators that maximize her new mainstream zeal; an expansion on trap beats like “Bartier Cardi,” featuring 21 Savage and “Drip,” featuring Migos, has proven she can effortlessly run laps on her tracks. It’s the melodic pop-rap songs like “Best Life,” featuring choir boy Chance the Rapper, that come off more as TED Talk than rags-to-riches motivational uplift. Chance’s optimistic gospel rubs Cardi awkwardly but converges Cardi’s rags-to-bags story in lighter tones. The collaborations never eclipse or ventriloquize Cardi into poses of what Cardi should be. Cardi remains in situ. Her collaborators are natural fits that offer an assist for Cardi to be “Cardi,” like on “I Like It,” featuring Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny and superstar reggaetonero J Balvin. “I Like It” winds up Pete Rodriguez’s boogaloo classic, “I Like It Like That” and unwinds it with an explosive pop-trap beat equivalent to a strong tequila sunrise. It’s harmless Latin pastiche that steers away from the dull and frothy pastel synths of tropical-house, veering into the bombastic hues of Latin-trap.
“Invasion’”s slower, more self-reflective moments garner Cardi’s greatest strength of authenticity. The confessional “Be Careful” samples Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor,” which takes Hill’s “cult of seriousness” and fashions it into a jumpy mid-tempo pop song that reads like one long text message. She sounds defeated yet refuses to bow down, “Be careful with me/ You gon’ gain the whole world, but is it worth the girl that you’re losin’?” The Hill sample itself is far removed from the original song’s despair, and on “Be Careful,” it becomes bouncy and daunting, pensive in its rage.
It isn’t until the second-to-last song, “Through Your Phone,” that another guard drops, revealing Cardi singing in a sweet and remarkable surprise. Her voice, dulcet and wounded, carries a simple melody that’s backdropped by the voice of another woman in anguish: “Beyonce on my stereo, ‘Resentment’ on repeat.” Her verses etch volatile scenarios, “Smash your TV from Best Buy/You gon’ turn me into Left Eye.” Like a melodramatic novela, “Invasion” zooms into the crevices of Cardi’s Binderella story, ultimately focused on triumph.
In an interview for Beats 1 with Ebro, she described locking herself up in the studio to rewrite and perfect her flows and verses. It’s a transparency of mastering the craft of rapping that is rare in a genre that propagates the myth of the naturally gifted rapper. Cardi demonstrates that it’s a talent that can be honed and sharpened. Accusations of ghostwriting immediately stuck with her because of how micro-documented her pivot to rapping was, making it easy to trace any enhancement in her rapping. Cardi bites the bullet and persists. “I waited my whole life just to shit on n****s/ Climbed to the top floor so I can spit on n****s,” she spits on album opener “Get Up 10.” The line’s abrasiveness is juicy and Cardi shreds doubts of her capabilities and authenticity so satisfyingly. The ghost writer being the death of authenticity hasn’t plagued Cardi. Instead it has emphasized her keen honesty to talk about things that are deemed to be shameful. Now when she spits the delivery it is smooth, barbed with a confidence and bravado coming from the school of “money over everything” with alumni like Lil’ Kim, Kelis and Rihanna who follow that flight.
In “Bickenhead,” a feminist reimagining of Project Pat’s “Chickenhead,” Cardi rides and bounces to the tune of pussy poppin’ arithmetic. You can pop that p***y: At work, at church, on the pole and on the stove — p***y poppin’ can unlock channels of cash flows. Lil’ Kim and Rihanna, like Cardi, want the cold, hard cash. Cyber cash like Venmo or Bitcoin won’t do. They want it on them in racks, cash to be worn and for cash to wear their faces. In her essay, “The Prosperity Gospel of Rihanna,” Doreen St. Felix writes about cash in relation to black women as “an expression of a bad b***h’s increasing girth against social enclosure.”
The torrent of cash is never debilitating even at its most disorienting, (“I been broke my whole life, I have no clue what to do with these racks,” Cardi honestly states in “Money Bag”), its the appearance of a man that proves to be nuisance. In the SZA-winged “I Do,” Cardi B lays bare her thesis: “Here’s a word to my ladies, don’t you give these n****s none/ If they can’t make you richer, they can’t make you c*m”. Money is not a phallic replacement or envy, but a way for a bad b***h to fortify one’s own gravity and maintain balance in a world that seeks to leech off women like Cardi.
Cardi B is now expecting her first child with boyfriend Offset from Migos and another series of public doubt clouds her. “Will her young career remain at its heights and continue to succeed as a mom?” is the popular chorus. Her response: “I’m a schmillionare.” Cardi does what she wants because she wants. Cardi, like Beyonce, smashes the limp conception of pregnancy and children as career death. And “Invasion of Privacy” exemplifies a merciless grip against every single doubt. A taloned nails on 7th grip that ceases to budge.
Verdict: “Invasion of Privacy” is music to dance to. From bad b***h anthems to preachy motivational speeches to sentimental movements, they all make you move. Its less of a anchored statement piece of a debut that shows or tells you who Cardi B is — because you probably already know her. The album doesn’t distort or meme Cardi, instead it’s Cardi instrumenting everything herself molding a debut that lets Cardi — Cardi.
Best Tracks: “I Do,” “Money Bag,” “Through Your Phone”