It was my birthday, and I was getting yelled at because when someone asked what music I had on repeat, I answered “Cardi B.”
Record scratch, stop.
“Don’t say that!” my friend yelled.
But I’d said it, so then I got: “She is horrible, terrible, she is setting women back.”
My friend went on, for a very long time, documenting the many ways she thought Cardi B was an affront to all good things musical and cultural. She talked so much that I stopped listening and just sipped my wine. Finally, she asked what I could possibly like about Cardi. She yelled this, too.
I could have said a lot, gotten fancy and even given a feminist interpretation of what made Cardi B and her debut “Invasion of Privacy” so great. But I didn’t.
“When I listen to her album, I feel happy,” was all I said.
Happy is hard to come by these days. This has been a year that takes perverse pleasure in fucking with us every single calendar day. From sunup to sundown it sometimes feels like Armageddon has come. But actually, it’s just Tuesday.
Entertainment used to be a surefire way to tune out the fuckery. But because I do, in fact, believe that slavery was not a choice, entertainers have let me down spectacularly in 2018. Beyond Kanye, there was Bill Cosby taking his well-deserved perp walk. There was the minister eulogizing Aretha Franklin with a fire-and-brimstone rendition of the Moynihan Report that blamed every Black people problem on Black mothers.
It all—every single little thing—feels like a whole lot.
Cardi B, born Belcalis Almanzar, does not. She is not going to save the world with her music, but she has saved me from many a cranky mood. And 2018 has proven what a precious commodity happiness is.
“Invasion of Privacy” was released in April, after she had already reached the kind of fame few ever will with the single “Bodak Yellow.” While there is a lingering slowness to that song, most of the album is upbeat, perky even, in the special way that perk can live alongside shit talking. Guests including SZA, Migos and Chance the Rapper are Cardi’s accomplices as she shows off her confident, sometimes staccato, other times rapid fire flow.
The album is fun in a way that smacks of ’80s irreverence (as does the neon lettering and her outfit on the cover art). There is no political correctness, just bitches and pussy popping. The song “Bickenhead,” a reinterpretation of Project Pat’s “Chickenhead,” has an entire verse about how to pop it in church, at a stove and on the pole.
As unoriginal as the album’s subject matter may be—make money, buy designer gear, dump trifling men, show hoes up—“Invasion of Privacy” is refreshing. Because Cardi B is. She is a star in the Rihanna sense of the word, which is my favorite kind of stardom. It gives zero fucks in a rock star way, but made better with Black swag.
We have not seen a celebrity like Cardi B maybe ever. She will throw a shoe at Nicki Minaj at a New York Fashion Week party and then in her next public appearance, become the talk of Milan for dressing in head-to-toe animal print inspired by “The Nanny.” Cardi’s come-up, from the Bronx to strip club to Internet fame to Love & Hip Hop: New York to “Invasion of Privacy,” might read like a film script, but she pulls it off with an authenticity that seems impossible to fake.
While we were just trying to get through the drudgery of whatever-the-word-is for 2018, someone showed up cooing nonsensically like a pigeon and with a whole lot of talent. And as Cardi keeps releasing new tracks, like October’s “Money,” 2019 might be an even happier year.
More of Ayana’s Favorites:
TV Show: “The Good Place”
Podcast: “Revisionist History”