Are we even talking about the fact Cardi B released an album? Instead of turning up reviews of her hotly anticipated debut album, Invasion of Privacy, a quick search of her name through Google News turns up stories of her pregnancy announcement on SNL. A few days from now, she will make more headlines during her Coachella performance, likely for an impassioned performance of “I Do” alongside 2017’s other favorite rising star, SZA. In a strange twist of fate, Cardi B overshadowed Cardi B. “I'm my own competition/I'm competin' with myself (brrr)” she says mid-way through “Best Life”. No one plays the game quite like Belcalis Almanzar, thanks to her natural charisma and incredible story.
Cardi B’s unique situation makes Invasion of Privacy such an enticing record to consider before you even take a listen, set on a stage she built on her own. For a celebrity who built her brand off of letting people inside her world, the title shows a marked shift in her thinking. Interviews with Rolling Stone and newer Instagrams reveal a Cardi B grappling with the additional scrutiny that comes with fame. From her beginnings to this fateful video, we witnessed a major character experience her start, the rising action, and the climax, and the changed person it has left her.
For one thing, the humor that made her meme-able is in much shorter supply here than on her previous mixtapes. To her credit, Cardi released those records before she felt she had anything to prove. That new self-awareness brings a jadedness to her work, but it in no way inhibits her pyretic personality.
Instead of humor, Cardi is packing hubris, charged and ready on opener “Get On 10”. “I started speakin' my mind and tripled my views/Real bitch, only thing fake is my boobs” she discloses, her business savvy just as sharp as her self-deprecation. A smasher of a track, “Get On 10” confirms Cardi wants to do us proud. With her perfectly pun-able name, she twists her moniker into all sorts of ways (“Bartier Cardi”, “I Like That” (“Run that shit like cardio”)), never not plugging away even on her own album.
The rest of Invasion… is all expertly cultivated, from the sounds referenced (“I Like That” and its Latin swagger, “Bickenhead”’s ode to the early 2000s, and “Be Careful” in its homage to Lauryn Hill) to the featured acts. Couldn’t be a Cardi record without her Migos, with whom she easily joins on “Drip”. YG lends a husky whisper to “She Bad”, and her partnership with SZA is exactly the hit you expect it to be.
At times, it feels a bit crowded, especially on “Best Life” and “Ring” where Chance the Rapper and Kehlani respectively steal the show. Louis Vuitton makes mistakes, and sometimes Cardi B runs out of things to say. “Bartier Cardi”, though it rips, repeats its extensive chorus five different times. “Money Bag” stomps forward with “Bodak Yellow”’s flow and sound, and in my opinion, last year’s favorite record pales in comparison to the strides she makes on Invasion… The vulnerability on display in the standout “Be Careful”, where Cardi B shows off a soft singing voice and a softer side, is a perfect example. “Best Life”, a supposed ode to la dolce vita, remains grounded from true liftoff by a simple fa to re chord that haunts the beat. And though the features list is crowded, the popularity of these guests speaks to Cardi’s character. The same way Charli XCX warped pop music by teaming up with everyone in the past year, Cardi brought together a solid roster of today’s finest and brought forth their talents.
“Bickenhead” and “Be Careful”, in their homage to acts of the past, represent current culture’s obsession with refashioning the past to suit the future. Some find it groundbreaking, others too derivative, but it’s most certainly timely; by keeping time on her side, Cardi does her best promo. Neo-nostalgia, if you will, tying herself to the past in order to establish her ethos.
She might be using ghostwriters, but she’s also going through her Facebook files and old Tweets looking for snippets of Cardi B the world can give back to her. “#CardiBIsSoProblematic" is the hashtag/I can't believe they wanna see me lose that bad” she says, referencing issues stemming from the controversies which accompanied her rise. Cardi clearly reads the news, as evidenced by her support of Colin Kaepernick and branding herself a feminist. Since her story is part of the news, she feels well-versed enough to give her piece on it. Though she’s certainly made her missteps along the way, they are also missteps we often ignore in other artists, particularly men, including her own fiance. Invasion of Privacy forces this conversation by forcing listeners to face the critiques they level at Cardi that conspicuously miss other men.
She’s far from the perfect rapper, or person for that matter, but she never exactly promised either. Competing with herself, Cardi promised a self-earned victory, and she delivered. It’s called Invasion of Privacy for a reason. If you don’t like what you see, it doesn’t even matter: she made you look anyway. B