ALTHOUGH CARDI B COULD NEVER BE ACCUSED OF MINCING WORDS, it's hard to imagine a Twitter rant as blunt as her video for "Press," the tense, defiant track she released this spring. A steamy ménage à trois culminates in a blast that in turn gives way to a defiantly sexy perp walk, a police investigation complicated by very high heels, a jury that ends in a bloodbath, and, for good measure, a toilet-bowl collapse in prison-cell. "Pressing, pressing, pressing, pressing, pressing / Cardi need no more pressing," she rapes over a frenzied rhythm. "Come in, vest that is bulletproof. Murder sequence, Cardi made a mess. "She's the anti-hero of this ambivalent dream of revenge; as the bodies pile up, her tearful fans start looking foolish, and the haters— the papers, presumably?—It's proven right.
The video was released a day after the previous August Cardi B pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from a brawl at the Angels NYC gentlemen's club in Queens. If there was a reason to the timing, it might have been to say that Cardi was on court already. "I thought' Press' was fun, it was gangsta, and then because it wasn't as good as my other tracks, people were like, oh, it's a flop; oh, it's dying out," she says. "It's been a lot for me this whole year. I feel like I'm just so tired of winning men. I'm going to look for my name on Twitter, and it's like hate tweets, hate tweets, hate tweets. "It's early in the autumn afternoon, and Cardi is laid out on the green wooden sofa in her grandmother's Washington Heights apartment living space. She's just woken up, coming home about 3 a.m. Since filming a video for his track "Yes" with the rapper Fat Joe, on which she's invited. The song is a paean to some gritty New York — maybe the Bronx where both Fat Joe and Cardi grew up— fuelled by aggression and covetousness. ("My palm and my trigger finger itch, bitch," Cardi raps.) She wears only an oversized white T-shirt and underpants, a break from the regular grind of hair and nails and zippers and shoes. A giant tattoo of the peacock spreads over her buttock and down her leg. Her style has hewed to the quiet and elegant in recent times. She likes suits, partially because she enjoys the idea of wearing suits to surprise people. She wanted to deliver early-aughts J for the video, however. Lo vibes: Tarzan mini-skirt, white fur, white bikini top. Because she is a Red Sox fan, a white Yankees cap was refused. ("The underdog thing," she explains.) Last night's costuming remains just her long, silver Targaryen wig.
Cardi was raised in New York-Presbyterian, not far from this walkup whose halls are filled with Dominican cooking's warm smells. The mother of her father has been living here for 34 years, and it's the gathering place for the long time family. She has 10 aunts and uncles alone on her father's side, and 36 siblings, and she can recall so many nights when sleeping bodies crowded such thin floors. The building's neighbors, who knew her since she was a kid, hardly seem to be documenting her fame. The clamor itself sounds protective: it is spacious and quiet in its own apartment in New Jersey, an incubator for concern. “When I'm there by myself, a lot of thoughts go to my head, and when the thoughts go to my head, it just overwhelms me, and it puts me down, and it puts me on social media, and that drives me insane. So I just like to be where there's a lot of people so I won't be watching my phone. ”At this point her 16-month-old daughter, Kulture, grinning widely, walks through after her bath, accompanied by Cardi's aunt and her niece. Cardi squeals and gives her baby a hug, and the trio disappear behind a curtain that divides the living room from the sleeping areas. “Being a mom— how can I say it? Issues are a little bit more difficult to handle, but mentally it's fine. Yeah, I forget about the issues if I'm playing with my baby.
Perhaps Cardi's main question at the moment is how to maintain the incredible momentum that brought her from stripper to social-media sensation to reality-television star in less than five years to world-beating rapper. In almost two decades after Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)" after 1998, "Bodak Yellow," her breakthrough single from 2017, became the first number-one hit by a solo female rapper. The subsequent set of Cardi's debut studio, Invasion of Privacy, was critically praised and she won a Grammy for the best rap album, another first by a solo female rap artist. Musically, as compelling and surprising were her talents. Bearing in mind the ribald humor, truth bombs, and instant aphorisms of her Instagram videos— in which she brought unstinting candor, a Spanish— inflected Bronx accent, and mutinous grammar to whatever subject her fancy struck (mainly love, sex, cheating, and money)—maybe it should have been obvious that she would have been a quick study of writing and raping. "It's her voice that makes Cardi special," says Bruno Mars, with whom she worked on a series of hit singles. "She was blessed with a distinct and unforgettable voice and a sound that could set off a crowd. Her voice is explosive on the record.
Cardi is working hard on a second album, due to be released early next year, and the pressure is weighing heavily. "It was just me being myself for the first time," she says. "I didn't even care whether or not people would like it. I'm like this when I find out I was doing so well, is this a big number? It was like everybody, yeah, it's a huge number. So it's terrifying because it's like you've got your first album to top now, and then it's like that, oh. I wonder if people can respond to the new things, the new life, the new shit of which I now have to talk. It's changing culture. I feel like people just want to listen to twerk-twerk songs, but is that just a phase? Perhaps I need a sexy tune. I need a lot of songs from the turn-up. I need a slow song, a song of my own. And those are more complicated for me— I always need support while thinking about my emotions. Being feminine, time is difficult for me. So it's a lot of thinking, a lot of pressure. It's like a job.
Julie Greenwald, Atlantic Records ' chairman and COO, acknowledges that the bar is set high when a debut album reaches unprecedented multi-platinum success. "It's not the traditional rollout of the artist, where you run all the bases in the second or third place," she says. "Cardi launched her first album on an out - of-the-park home run, and she knows there will be a lot of people waiting for the next one with their arms crossed. But she's motivated beautifully. She did everything we wanted her to do with the first album that year— every radio tour, every TV show, every press interview. There was nothing provided. I think it's because people know she doesn't sing for something she isn't. She will continue to put herself in her music and her experiences. Now that's going to include motherhood, her journeys, her struggle to maintain her identity as a Bronx girl while living this fantastic life. She's going to show you all the stuff that makes you famous.
Certain strains also occur. Cardi is now 27, a mother and a wife who doesn't make it more difficult to pull off a fuck. And although in that first flush of fame it was her inability to self-censor that endeavored to her viewers, she now finds the truth of her life skewed or submitted for judgment. It was often uncomfortable. "I was really made by social media," she says. "I had millions of followers just off the way I talk when I got on Love & Hip Hop. Simply talking to me. And that's how I've been talking. But now social media makes it all hard. "She saw her marriage thrown under a microscope with Offset, the Atlanta rapper and leader of the Migos party. In December 2018, the pair broke off their relationship but came together early this year.
"Once I got into our problems with my husband— you know, he lied and everything— and I decided to stay with him and work with him, a lot of people were so angry at me; a lot of women felt disappointed with me," Cardi says. "But it's a joke in real life. When you love someone, and you avoid being with them, and you're sad, and social media tells you not to talk to that person because he's cheating, you're not really happy inside until you're talking. So, if you're coming back with them, how could you do it? You're letting us all down. Those who have been in marriages for years are not thinking about little arguments as if you left the fridge open when they say till death do us part. That's all that. A lot of people were like when I was pregnant with Kulture, well, he already has three children; why would you have a kid with someone who has three children? And it's like, how horrible is that? My father's got eight babies, and we're all getting along and it feels better, fuller. And with Offset, when they're in his house, I feel like his kids are just bringing a nice pop to life. In reality, I love it. This brings out another part of him I like to see, and I enjoy watching my baby connect with her siblings. The merrier the more.
Cardi and Offset are still trying to figure out how to live together in family life. They're never in the same city on a run for more than a night or two, and while they're looking for a dream home, they don't necessarily agree where it should be. In or near New York, she's most relaxed, but Offset never wanted to live there. "It's not convenient," he says. "We both have families of our own. But you're growing up. We are now much better at interacting. She's a lot of harmony. She feels like she can't be far away, and our jobs are nuts. Yet I believe it was more based on motherhood. I'm also asking her not to follow the post. But since before she was making music, she's been vocal about things— she's not ever holding on, she's not always nice. She's going to rap at the end of the day about the same shit that's what it's like being a woman.
"My point is, on social media, everybody behaves like relationships are fine," says Cardi. "It's nuts for me. There's always a woman talking about how she loves her husband, but her husband isn't financially stable, or she's having a problem with her mother, or sex isn't as good anymore. Everyone has issues. I believe in pardon. I've been praying there. We prayed on it for me and my parents. We had priests who had come to us. And we've just come to an understanding that, bro, against the universe, it's really us. For everything, he's got my back, I've got his back for everything, so when you lie, you're betraying the person with the most back. Why are you going to do that? We have come to an understanding that is simple. Monogamy is the only way I can do it. If you cheat on me, I'll pound your butt.
Born Belcalis Almánzar, CARDI has described herself famously as a "regula degula schmegula kid from the Bronx." Her father is Dominican and her mother is from Trinidad. She has always dreamed of being a famous rapper, a class clown. "I don't know what it is— I'm never going to know what it is— but people have liked to hear me talking since I was young," she says. "I've always been that guy, I didn't have a lot of friends, but people were happy to see me in the classroom because they thought I was funny. They were dying to hear from me a story. But the road, you know what I'm saying, distracted me from my dream. It's like, yeah, after school I might have been in a vocal class, but I'd rather just hang out with my friends, smoke weed, be around gangs and be with this man. I was distracted by that kind of shit. And it was so far-fetched to be an artist.
People started calling her Bacardi when she was a teenager, mostly to suit her younger sister, Hennessy, who was named for the cognac. (It wasn't until she was twenty-two that she became Cardi B, after Instagram kept shutting down her copyrighted name account.) At 16, she joined the Bloods. While attending a high school of performing arts, drinking seems to have prepared her for her career as well. Hennessy recalls what it was like to go out with her older sister: "We would go to parties in the house and the whole crowd would surround her in a circle. She'd have fun dancing, doing a headstand, or breaking. It was like a little concert of her own. So it's like she grew up to be who she really is. "However, for arguing with her little sister, Cardi was kicked out of the house shortly after graduation, and she moved in with a boyfriend. "He had no employment, and I had no job," she remembers. "His mother and I used to smoke weed, and it's like you're starving but you're high and you can't even eat sick food because you don't have the money to eat it."
She enrolled at Manhattan Community College Borough and got a job downtown as an Amish Market cashier, but she barely covered her expenses with the $290 in weekly earnings. As her English professor told her not to return — because of a pair of absences and a pair of tardies she had failed her college— she bawled and dropped out. The Amish Market then fired her for giving discounts— but not before she told her boss to walk across the street and ask at the strip club, New York Dolls. If Cardi claims she was rescued by stripping, that's what she means: "At that time, I just thought my life was coming to an end. I was like that teenager, I don't need anyone. But I was still being cheated by my boyfriend. He and I used to strike each other a lot in arguments. Women like to say,' I'm going to beat the butt of a nigga.' I hit my first husband before he hit me back and it just got out of control. Yet I began stripping, and I was making enough money to move out.
At first, she told her parents that she made babysitting money for a wealthy white family, but she adopted the profession over time. She finished her breasts at the age of 19 and started posting funny Vines and Instagram videos about her work, which gained her following and landed hosting parties for her lucrative gigs. Such early clips preview the Hustlers movie— in which Cardi plays a tiny scene-stealing role— by portraying the strip club as a place of opportunity and naivety. Refusing to be an object, she preempted misogynistic assumptions by being her own subject. "You are doing a good deed," she said in an early email to her prospective customers. "You give some shmoney to a young woman, and you give some shmoney to her children. You may get a bonus the next day. "She was working on her last shift on her 23rd birthday.
It didn't take long for Cardi to be celebrated for promoting an egalitarian feminism that acknowledges the hard decisions that women who aren't born into privilege must consider. "People always want to talk about feminism and help everyone," she says, "even if it doesn't suit what to support in your group. Many women who claim to be feminists just believe this should be reflected by a certain type of woman. Like yeah, you've got to have a college degree and you've got to be a fucking congressman, or Mother Teresa, or a holy Christian woman. No, you're not. Feminism is the freedom of an individual. And I'm here.
The anger of Cardi is well known, however she works on it. "I'm cool," she says. "I'm the kind of person I like now, if we're talking about things and settling issues, I'm going to do that." She's getting prepared to fend off grass-roots allegations about her old career. "I just hate people when you're like, well, you used to be a stripper, so you're a slut. I've never used to fucking people. The thing about it is, everyone hates you when you're considered to be a stripper fucking guys for money because you're playing the game. They make people think more than you should, and the next slut pays for it. I don't have any butt to send to people. You want me to do something? I want you to do it. You want my time, I want your money. So I'll just give you time. My phone number is disconnected until you start expecting more. Bye.
Cardi hasn't shied away from excoriating the treatment of women by President Trump, and in recent years, some of her most delicious rants have been assaults on either his policies or the troubling cultural shift she claims he has initiated. Since grade school, she has been an American-history buff and is particularly effective at hitting progressive talking points with insight and clarity. (See, for example, the Instagram video showing the difference between Trump and President Obama's government shutdowns.) She is a long-time supporter of Bernie Sanders and supported Sanders ' presidential campaign in August to create a video exchange between them from the Detroit Nail Salon. She is adamant about battling the violence of the police. She is concerned about the internet race-baiting. She has mixed feelings on gun control and is carrying a knife to defend herself. ("I'm from New York. We're not playing weapons," she says.) She's most concerned about the cost of education and health care. "It's like, why is this such a successful country, and for everyone we don't have Medicare? It's like, if they're sick, how will people work? People will pay fucking forever. And we don't have free schools that freak? That discourages people if you have to pay for it to go to school. Especially the way social media makes it feel like everyone is something's boss. Everybody can't be a boss. Citizens need some jobs to keep things going. Let's say for my work I'm going to school and my tuition bill is more than I'm going to get paid for. Perhaps I won't want to do that job. So, who's going to do that job? This discourages people from learning.
Melania can't help but recognize that she's a victim of the same technological forces that gave birth to Trump, but she can treat the president like a book as a social media provocateur par excellence. "I feel like none of these Democrats have a solid base of support— I'm going to say a base of fans, because it's almost like a base of followers, what Trump has," she says. "Trump knows how to get them to keep talking about him because he was an entertainer. All these little things he's doing, like getting into fights with Chrissy Teigen, it's just ways to get attention. And that's what I get. You like an artist who's doing crazy shit. But this person is responsible for our country. This person is responsible for our well-being. I want my government, like, to be highly holy when it comes to my country. That's the guy I'd like to see. I don't want a certain kind of people to hate my president. I don't want my president to complain or worry about what people think of him. I want my president to give me a really important response on stuff. I don't want to entertain my dictator. I'm actually not.
"One thing I like about Bernie," she says, "is that, you know, there's evidence that for years he's been doing this. Since years he's been caring for people. That it is within him, that he is a humanitarian. When I see some of his bills being like the candidates, oh well, they're not fine. Why isn't Vermont great if he's such a perfect person? Individuals aren't perfect, but the motives are good. He cares for minorities, of course. He's more concerned about getting Medicare to people because he knows they can't afford it. I don't think he's just saying these things because he wants to vote.
Cardi always wanted to have a child at the age of twenty-five, but she took care to wait until she had the means to care for the child. Touring and performing pose their own challenges: while Cardi can rely on support from her own mother, as her daughter grows older and more knowledgeable, it is more complicated. "Travel is hard on people, so I don't carry her if I go to a place and I won't stay for more than five days," she says. "But now it's getting harder because she's lying on my chest and she won't let me go, or she's seeing you on FaceTime and she's crying. Now it's kind of like a marriage, and it's hard to leave your little mate. "Sometimes her candor was turned against her about the difficulty of juggling a career in overdrive with the demands of motherhood. At the beginning of October, on Access Hollywood, she cataloged the pressures of simultaneously recording an album, creating a hip-hop talent contest (Netflix's Rhythm + Flow, which premiered in October), promoting a film (Hustlers), and designing a series of clothes for Fashion Nova, only to watch the TV show running a headline on her website stating that as a result of her split attentions, Kult had to watch it.
"I could shake my head, I could be the most ratchet-ever guy, I could fight tomorrow, but I'm still a great mother," she says. "I'm worried about my child all the time. I'm shaking my butt, but I'm doing business at the same time, I'm on the phone with my business manager saying, make sure a percentage of my check goes to the confidence of my family. I give so much love to my daughter, and I set her up for the future. I want to tell her that a lot of the things I've done in life— no matter what I've done, realizing that I wanted to have children made it harder for me to secure a good future for my family.
She and Offset recently talkedabout co-designing a children's clothing line. "And there's the CEO," she says, flicking her silver mane towards the bedroom. "Culture, right? I'm busting my ass right now so that when you're 18, you could have a good car, so you could go to school and have an apartment I could pay for. If my daughter wants to go to college, that's all right, but I want her to be the owner of anything she chooses to own. Just be a proprietor. Be the president.