No one in pop culture has had a better summer than Cardi B.
In just over two months, the Bronx rapper has taken the music world by storm. Her wildly popular debut single “Bodak Yellow” is a hair’s breadth away from topping the Hot 100. She performed during the pre-show at the VMAs and left critics wondering why she wasn’t on the main stage. The biggest names in music are co-signing her: Janet Jackson is dancing to “Bodak” on her new tour, Beyoncé granted her backstage audience during Made in America, and Rihanna invited her to last week’s Diamond Ball, where she stunned in a powder blue gown. The following day, Cardi was one of the top nominees for the BET Hip-Hop Awards, alongside Kendrick Lamar and DJ Khaled, incredible company to keep in such a short amount of time.
Cardi’s meteoric rise to the top of the game is impressive; it’s incredible considering that she was starring on Love and Hip Hop: New York just last year, throwing shoes at her ex’s ex-girlfriend during the reunion. VH1’s flagship franchise insists it’s about people in the rap industry making moves and finding love, but most of the stars across the three active series do neither. At best, they are rappers or singers who were successful at some point and are using the show to recapture what minor relevance they once had. At worst, they have accomplished absolutely nothing and are using the show as a launchpad. Unsurprisingly, the lift offs are very few and far between. Despite the cast’s boasting of their dubious achievements, only R&B singer K. Michelle has broken from those reunion couches to tangible success. Even still, she hasn’t reached Cardi’s level.
That’s not to say LHH isn’t lucrative. Cardi could’ve easily remained on the show and parlayed her rowdy, filter-free personality into becoming the franchise’s highest-paid star. Cardi, however, had bigger plans for herself. Unlike many of her former co-stars, Cardi understands that reality television is fleeting and does not make for a prospering career. She left the show in December and went into the studio, released a second mixtape, and started appearing on stage with rappers like Lil’ Kim and Remy Ma. Instead of fizzling out or playing it safe, she put in serious work (as she raps on “Bodak”, “two mixtapes in six months” is no joke) and is reaping the rewards.
Before VH1 starts breaking out the promos using Cardi as a case in point, she is clearly the exception to the rule. She is a perfect storm of actual musical skill, relentless work ethic, industry connections (her boyfriend is Offset of rap supergroup Migos), and an irrepressible personality. What makes Cardi’s success even more satisfying to watch is that she hasn’t changed with her success. Cardi is unapologetically hood, repping her Bronx roots and unashamed of her past as a stripper. She can believably pull off couture glamour without sacrificing any of her spirit. She will likely go through some polishing as her profile grows and she releases more music, but she doesn’t seem the type to be snuffed out by the industry – she’s experienced worse.
Even if Cardi B tops out at #2 – doubtful since she’s still growing on radio – her glow up has been one of the year’s most delightful stories. You have to admire how, through sheer force of will, she has broken free from the trappings of the ratchet reality TV bubble and attained such unprecedented mainstream success. She’s fought for and earned every stream, download, and radio play. She deserves to be #1, and with all of its lip service about hard work and talent being rewarded, the culture needs her to be.
So, click the YouTube video below and stream away.