By Biba Adams
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
“Phenomenal Woman,” by Dr. Maya Angelou
(AllHipHop Opinion) There are few women in the hip-hop industry today that embody the essence of these legendary lines as much as Cardi B. She is typically described as a former stripper turned rapper and social media personality. But, in truth, Belcalis Almanzar is just a woman who was able to translate years of pain into pure joy and success. She is a polarizing figure. There are those who deride her swift journey to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, the first solo rapper to claim the top spot in almost 20 years. The last female rapper to enjoy that level of success was Lauryn Hill with “Doo Wop (That Thing).” And, even more recently, Cardi broke Ms. Hill's record by staying at No. 1 for a third consecutive week in 2017.
Hill is a legend who remains a prototype for what a successful female rapper is supposed to be. Beautiful, but understated. Natural hair and dark skin. Held her own (and usually outshined) her male counterparts first as a member of a group, then on her own. She remains “The Queen” that backpackers hold up against every woman who has come behind her. But, Lauryn was only one story. She was brilliant, she was a high school cheerleader from a two-parent home. She took acting lessons as a kid.
But for every Lauryn, there was always a Cardi.
A native of the Bronx, the Dominican/Trinidadian rapper was a stripper. It’s a profession that she has made no apologies about. Cardi brags a lot about her history, both professionally and sexually. She is a self-avowed hoe, and her brash sexual positivity has made her famous. Only two years ago, she started making rap songs and rode the wave of her popular Vine and Instagram accounts, along with her stint on Love & Hip Hop all the way to the top.
Whereas Lauryn was and is brilliant and beautiful, she also existed in a world that no longer exists. 2017 is the year where the President of the United States is a reality star who lives on Twitter. If it can’t be quoted, it probably wasn’t said. Cardi appeals to this sensibility, she has been called the Queen of Quotes. Her Instagram posts are full of them, like “A hoe don’t get cold.” Even her hit song is just punchline after punchline, “I don’t bother with these hoes, don’t let these hoes bother me.” She speaks in meme and that is her primary appeal. She may not be the female rapper we need, but she is the female rapper we deserve.
"Cardi B may not be the female rapper we need, but she is the female rapper we deserve."
Still, more than that, Cardi B. is embraced across both sides of the hip-hop aisle because of her “authenticity.” She is unapologetic in the way that only a Dominican girl can be. She has no filter. She didn’t pretend that she was born with a fat a**, big boobs, and straight white teeth. Instead, she tells the whole world about where she bought all of them. It is an honesty that is refreshing and endearing. She’s the embodiment of an African American Dream, where a girl gets picked up out of the hood and turned into a princess.
So here she is. An “around the way girl” who has unseated Lauryn Hill as the female rapper with longest-running Billboard Hot 100 single ever. What does it say about the state of hip-hop? What does it say about Cardi? What does it say about us? One thing it says is that times have changed, and hip-hop has changed. The artform is no longer under the dominion of purists who put lyrical prowess over everything, and evolution is always good.
“Bodak Yellow” might be the first of many hit singles, it might not. That is left to be seen. There isn’t a lot more music floating around right now from our girl, and that’s a red flag (pun intended). But, even if there aren’t more hits to come, Cardi B has made her point. That Black Girl Magic isn’t one size fits all, it isn’t just for the “natural” girls with big afros and quirky sunglasses. It’s for hood girls with long weaves too. Her success is the success of all black women, phenomenally.
“I need an around the way girl.” -LL Cool J
Biba Adams is a writer and avid reader. Currently based in NYC, she is a native of Detroit, Michigan. Follow her on social media @BibatheDiva