With 40 years of hip-hop history since its birth in the Bronx, you could be forgiven for worrying that rappers might have started to run out of new things to say. From rags to riches, from parties to shoot-outs, from pharmacology to fashion, from dark nights of the soul to black nationalism, the central tropes of rap may as well be set in stone at this point. Faced with this immobility, it can be tempting to wonder if one day, the masses will simply find the whole thing too predictable to bother going on with and move on to something different and new.
It takes 30 seconds of listening to the first song on Cardi B’s debut album, Invasion of Privacy, to dispel such doubts for good. Not because Cardi has discovered new topics — she starts off “Get Up 10” rapping, in impeccable rhymes where each line slams shut on the same stressed vowel, about the same rise out of poverty that rappers have spoken on for decades. But her voice sounds like no one else’s, and it rings with a pride that’s as distinctive as it is gritty. Lit up by Belcalis Almanzar’s fresh delivery, all the old themes shine like new, and they stay brilliant for the whole 68-bar verse before the hook finally drops.
It doesn’t matter that the format of the song — pianos simmering in isolation before being stoked patiently into an inferno of bass booms and hi-hats — is lifted wholesale from Meek Mill’s own previous album opener, “Dreams and Nightmares.” Produced by Atlanta 808 master Southside, the instrumentals are a match for Meek’s original beat not just in pacing but in power, and Cardi commands a listener’s attention with a measure of gravity worthy of Meek himself. Gripped tightly by Cardi, then hurled at the ear, practically every line deserves to be quoted: like all true poets, she defies paraphrase.
Bitches hated my guts, now they swear we was cool;
Went from making tuna sandwiches to making the news.
I started speaking my mind, and tripled my views:
Real bitch, only thing fake is the boobs.
Get money, go hard, motherfucking right:
Never been a fraud in my motherfucking life.
Get money go hard, damn fucking right:
Stunt on these bitches out of motherfucking spite.
You gon’ run up on who, and do what?
Just cause I been on the road don’t mean I been on the run
And you gon’ have to learn to hold your tongue or hold the gun.
I went from rags to riches, went from WIC to lit, nigga
Only person in my family to see six figures.
I don’t trust no nigga, I don’t fear no bitch;
Whole life, been through some fucked-up shit.
I walked into the label: “Where the check at?”
Cardi B on the charts, ain’t expect that.
Where that bitch that was claiming she a threat?
I’mma put a Louboutin where her neck at.
Blunt, brazen, and beautiful, it’s Bronx poetry at its finest — in other words, it’s original rap that you can’t look away from. Cardi started from the bottom and then she started stripping; now she’s reached unthinkable heights, and more eyes than ever before are fixed on her figure. Some watch with bitterness, and still others with respect, but so long as the one who views her with the most determination is the artist herself, her rise, like hip-hop’s own, won’t be stopping anytime soon.