Cardi B is here to stay, but will her approach evolve?
I’ve been a little apprehensive to write this piece due to the floodgates that will likely open, but I’m gonna step out on faith in the readers here. I truly enjoy Cardi B as a whole. The music, the personality, the reach, the hustle, and I have to list personality twice because we focus on the inner beauty here at Elevator. Anyways, while I did love Invasion of Privacy and the fact every song felt like it could prosper as a single, what was lacking was a true in-depth look at Belcalis Almanzar the person.
I was hoping her rollout toward the next album we knew was coming would go a little further into her inner self, only to receive the enjoyable yet predictable “Money.” It’s dope, don’t get me wrong, and the way she subtly throws shots at the haters throughout the video is creative and clever. There’s just something missing.
She’s a superstar already, with a monumental rookie campaign and an album many regarded as one of the better releases of 2018. It broke records but what it lacked was a real narrative. It was a collection of some really good songs, which worked well. I feel the fact it didn’t necessarily tell a story hasn’t been focused on as much because it was her first album and she puts out so much of her life on social media. However, given how fickle fans can be I feel they will be looking for it soon.
With crossover pop appeal, the clear ability to churn out hits, and not a bad verse on a feature to date she has the ability to be relevant for quite some time. However, having already received criticism for not writing her lyrics and being a woman in the rap game the scrutiny is a force and she still has to prove her mettle as an artist. When it comes to her performances on songs, she flows well and has a pleasing voice. Live is when you see the real deal, but her presence and energy makes her sets worthwhile.
Take her Coachella performance for example. Incredible accomplishment and it felt like the world was happy for her. We all tuned in, elated as she twerked to her heart’s desire. If you really listened like me, though, you walked away a bit unfulfilled. I fear the same way people adored SZA when she dropped CTRL before turning on her a year later and saying she can’t sing, could be what happens to Cardi if she doesn’t compensate with relatability. Relatability is very tough when you reach a certain status, though. You can talk about how hard life was all you want, but if it doesn’t appear that way now then fans don’t necessarily connect.
In a lot of ways, I liken her to Drake. Both got their starts in entertainment and though they both had a clear love for music throughout their lives, they went a different route before their careers could take off. Both have fielded ghostwriting critiques, both are record breakers commercially, and both find difficulty in being discussed among other rappers due to their intentional appeal.
The difference between the two is Drizzy’s vulnerability and story within his music cannot be denied. Whether you like him or not, he gives us himself. Sure, a mixed race Canadian who got his start on a popular teenage drama before bursting onto the scene as a rapper doesn’t come off as the “rough comeup” story that we know and love. Yes, many consider ties to the streets as a necessary prerequisite for being taken seriously as a rapper and his only became known after he was already popular. However, his difficulties with women, divorced parents, fame and embracing the hate are fully laid out. He’s the biggest artist in the game right now so relatability is difficult, but the effort is there.
Cardi’s come-up has already been known. We know she was a poppin’ stripper, followed by a hilarious stint on reality show Love & Hip-Hop. We know about her difficulties with husband Offset and how much she loves baby Kulture. Yet, the most vulnerable content we’ve truly gotten from her would have to be “Get Up 10” and “Be Careful.” This isn’t a complaint, because I am genuinely unable to name a Cardi B song that I don’t like. It’s more so a suggestion and a wish. I obviously, am no expert, but looking at the people who have lasted long nowadays yield the reality that they have evolved musically and given more of themselves to the fans than hilarious Instagram Lives and incessant, contradictory headlines. Although the trip to Puerto Rico to get that post breakup sex was completely understandable.
Of course, there’s more to this than Cardi herself. The way her label and management brand her is crucial, especially as a woman in the rap game. Her alleged lack of writing also makes it difficult to convey her true self if the words aren’t coming directly from her. Nowadays to break into the game you unfortunately feel the pressure to mold yourself to the sound of others. It’s not as impressive being the musical outlier, though I feel we are inching back toward that. If you’re too different in this era, you will be shunned. If you’re too lyrical or conscious and the beats don’t bang, people write you off. It’s not as cool to be a smart or deep rapper.
If you look at Cardi’s music prior to the gold mine that was “Bodak Yellow” in a way it’s almost playing yourself to expect her to sacrifice commercial jams for lyrical deep cuts about her childhood or mental health issues. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right? Wrong, to me. No example of fixing what wasn’t broke stands out to me more than the late Mac Miller.
Mac came into the game a teenager, rapping his ass off alongside the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Action Bronson, Schoolboy Q and Wiz Khalifa. His content was very drug heavy, but in the blog era of rap it was a perfect fit. Even with the musings about getting high outside and enjoying life, there were signs of the Mac who we grew to know and love more recently.
Projects like The Divine Feminine and Swimming were a totally different sound. Rather than making dope songs and injecting some of his emotion or innermost insecurities into them, he used the complications in his life to create timeless music which touched the soul. It’s hard for me to get through Swimming without tearing up, and that was even before his unfortunate passing. It’s not like he never had this ability within him, but as life ran its course he turned to the music as a form of therapy.
I believe Cardi B does have this within her. I hope so think the results of this drama with one third of Migos could yield some true heartfelt content if she steers into the skid and lets her scars open up onto the paper or notes app of her iPhone. I fear if this doesn’t occur, she will be pigeonholed by the critics even if she continues to do numbers. Commercial success isn’t enough for people nowadays. The accessibility to artists through social media has created this unwarranted desire and entitlement to invading artists privacy. Cardi, I love you and I want to continue to. Give me a little more to love.