Back in Bodak: On Cardi B, Vulgarity, and Feminism
Said little bitch, you can’t fuck with me
If you wanted to
Belcalis Almanzar comes out guns, or rather, tongue blazing in the opening bars of her triple-platinum hit single “Bodak Yellow.” She raps with a rich timbre, accenting almost every word with distinctly Bronx-ese elocution. Almanzar’s savvy cadence is engineered with catchphrase after catchphrase, short, choppy lines not too complex but not too simple as to be forgettable.
With “Bodak Yellow,” the 24-year-old better known by her professional handle, Cardi B, penned herself into history books. In a staggeringly short period of time, Cardi found herself No. 1 on the Billboard charts and in conversation with female hip hop powerhouses Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot, Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj. According to Billboard, Cardi is the first solo woman rapper to top the charts since Hill’s 1998 hit “Doo Wop (That Thing).”
While it may seem premature to evaluate the scope of her achievements so early in her career and before she’s had the chance to shake the “one-hit-wonder” label, Cardi’s milestone is groundbreaking in that she has mastered the formula for success in the internet-age.
I’ll let him do what he want // He buy me Yves Saint Laurent
No matter the platform, words have always been Cardi’s weapon of choice. Not coincidentally, “Bodak Yellow” is like one of her famed Instagram clips musicalized: self-aware, sharp-tongued, braggadocious, and as always, deathly savage.
For Cardi B, her unapologetic vulgarity and endearing flamboyancy have been instrumental to her rise. Cardi’s more than 13.4 million-strong “Bardi Gang” on and off Instagram considers her the quintessential homegirl: relatable, casually wise, and refreshingly brash.
Back in 2013 during her stripper days, Cardi started recording herself riffing on anything from fuckboys to her near-death experience from butt injections. “You fucked it? You liked it? Okay, then you’re my man and I’m your girl,” she says in one of many videos where she imparts no-nonsense advice to her social media posse. If a man offers to buy you a car, take the car. On her account, Cardi preaches her brand of feminism founded on taking advantage of opportunities, or in street vocabulary, hustling.
“Ever since I started using men, I feel so goddam powerful,” she says.
With a penchant for broaching taboo topics like sex, money, and power, Cardi asserts herself among rap queens like Salt-N-Pepa who have consciously taken control of female sexuality from their male counterparts. Facing criticisms of everything from her promiscuity to her lack of intellectualism, Cardi has reinvigorated the state of women in hip hop.
Look, I don’t dance now // I make money moves
With a fairy-tale career arc from stripper to reality TV star on VH1’s Love and Hip Hop to platinum artist, Cardi B defied skeptics who deemed her Instagram celebrity status and dancer-past as disposable fame.
But to the naysayers, she tells it how it is. Speaking to Vibe’s Marjua Estevez, Cardi reveals that stripping put an end to days spent hungry and depressed in an unhealthy relationship when she was reliant on the ex-boyfriend for a roof over her head.
“I’m not gonna lie and I’m not gonna ever hate on the game, but it paid my bills,” she says. “It also lifted my spirits when I needed some lifting. Yes, went through a lot of sh*t. But I made a lot of money doing it, and there were times when being at the strip club was better than the alternative.”
By being open about past abusive relationships and presenting the strip club as place where women take control of their lives to escape their burdens, Cardi changes the relationship between feminism and sex.
“That shit really make you feel powerful,” she declares in a different interview for a New York Magazine cover story. “It’s the power of the pussy. It’s just like you’ve got to finesse it.”
Cardi simultaneously pays homage to and separates herself from her predecessors by remixing Lil’ Kim’s 90’s gangster-rap legacy without the role powerful men played to mold and exploit her sexuality with Minaj’s entrepreneurial and carefully-plotted branding. In short, Cardi B is, and always has been, in control.
My pussy feel like a lake // He wanna swim with his face
As a boys club, the highly misogynistic world of rap forces female rappers to compete with the aggression of stereotypical masculinity while exuding femininity and sex appeal.
“The history of hip-hop has always been male-dominated,” says Margaret Lee ’19, manager of BROADScast, a radio show run by the women of Broad Recognition, an online feminist publication at Yale. “it’s always been an outlet for frustration and rebellion and women are rarely seen as those kinds of voices especially coming out of the Bronx in the late 70s and early 80s. Activism during that time was not female-centric.”
With “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi doesn’t just put a playful, personal spin on Kodak Black’s “No Flockin”; she transforms an indicted sex offender’s beat into a feminist anthem that makes it acceptable for women to talk about power. In typical fashion of pop culture figures on social media, Cardi emphasizes the forceful conflation of sex and wealth in hip hop by dedicating multiple consecutive posts to her flashy jewels or designer footwear.
These expensive, these is red bottoms // These is bloody shoes // Hit the store, I can get ’em both // I don’t wanna choose
Honestly, don’t give a fuck // ‘Bout who ain’t fond of me // Dropped two mixtapes in six months // What bitch working as hard as me?
Cardi’s charm is in her arrogance and fearlessness, attributes that have allowed her avoid being overshadowed by the men in the industry thus far. Her defiance and love for belittling those who have underestimated her make her someone to root for.