Cardi B's Constitution
On April 6, 2018, Bronx rapper, Cardi B, born Belcalis Almanzar, released her highly-anticipated debut album, Invasion of Privacy. Capturing the attention of millions with her sense of humor, blunt honesty, and a come-up story fit for a star, Cardi B has amassed a considerable fanbase in her own right. Through Instagram, two mixtapes (Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1 and Vol. 2), and a stint on VH1’s Love and Hip Hop: New York, she’d emerged as a public persona long before her latest project went gold.
For some, Cardi’s boisterous personality and past as a stripper were damning traits that called her talent, intelligence, and respectability into question. But, for those of us who have followed Cardi B from the beginning, it was clear early on that this could not be further from the truth. In fact, it is her quick wit, brazen sexuality, and unapologetic spirit which make Cardi special. Her power lies within her embrace of authenticity and resistance to notions of respectable, “lady-like” modes of behavior. Emerging as a motivational icon, Cardi’s self-awareness and storytelling capabilities are, in part, what make her stand out in a heavily-manufactured celebrity culture. As Cardi puts it, the “only thing fake [about her] is the boobs.” In a short time, she has masterfully manipulated social media, humor, and social commentary by using her truth, cultivating a public persona that has earned her the adoration and support of millions. Today, the world is coming to understand Cardi as the comedic and musical force that she is. Starring in Amazon commercials and taking the summer charts by storm in 2017 with her hit single “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi’s career has already surpassed the low expectations of her doubters and her fame continues to reach new heights.
With this debut album, Cardi sets the terms of the public’s relationship to her. Invasion of Privacy is her musical constitution of sorts, a body of work which reflects the governing principles of her world and the musical formulas that have earned her success. Together, the album’s thirteen tracks establish what we already know and love about Cardi by setting the ground rules for her self-preservation. Here, she pushes back against the fame monster that wishes to claim her, denying invaders access to that which is precious and private. In this way, the album’s namesake is an apt allusion to the precarious work of asserting boundaries between oneself and the public.
In the United States, the right to privacy remains one of the nation’s most contentiously espoused principals, with many Constitutional Amendments working to define its parameters. In common law, it is understood that one’s privacy can be impeded upon or invaded, that privacy is a vulnerable thing to be defended. Invasion of Privacy acts as both a warning and a reaction to the breaches of security in Cardi’s life. The tracks reveal her recognition of the ways that celebrity status, relationships, and identity have made her vulnerable to all kinds of surveillance. Navigating infidelity, financial insecurity, trust issues, and the impositions of a racist, sexist, and classist society, Cardi confronts the people and things which have denied her full humanity. The album is her musical doctrine of jurisdiction. Her life, her image, and her music are, or at least ought to be, her own.
Resisting expectation while reserving her artistic range, Invasion of Privacy builds upon Cardi’s musical foundations, with radio-ready bops like “Bickenhead,” “I Do,” and “Money Bag,” alongside creative diversions from her traditional sound. The change in tempo and cadence of “Be Careful” and “Thru Your Phone” add an emotional weight to the album. Here, Cardi sings as we have yet to hear her, offering a look into her most vulnerable moments. On “Get Up 10,” Cardi is triumphant, listing all the obstacles she’s overcome to arrive at her moment, she revels in the failure of her enemies, rapping “knock me down nine times but I get up ten.” To her non-believers she asserts her disinterest in conversion. Cardi is not trying to persuade anyone to like her. “I got enough bras, y’all ain’t gotta support me” she quips. With “I Do,” Cardi is at her best and braggadocious alongside SZA who sings of leaving men on read because she “felt like it.” Opening the song as a woman reveling in her own power, SZA’s flippancy informs Cardi’s energy on the track. As far as Cardi is concerned, “bad bitches” are a gift from God that few can appreciate, and her life is a testament to this principle.
To those who called her a “one-hit wonder,” Invasion of Privacy dispels this estimation of Cardi’s longevity. The success of her debut alone asserts that Belcalis is here to stay. In her own words, her “fifteen minutes lasting long as hell.” If nothing else, her album is a testament to her endurance and resilience. Invasion of Privacy is consumed with questions of loyalty, power, money, sex, and love, in Cardi’s view. The album is her declaration of independence. A few days after its release, Cardi appeared on Saturday Night Live to perform her new songs. On live television she revealed her long-rumored pregnancy with her fiancé, Offset. On backstage film, Cardi exits the stage in glee. She exclaims, “I’m finally free!”