By Trey Alston
Despite dethroning Taylor Swift‘s “Look What You Made Me Do” from the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 in September 2017, Cardi B‘s “Bodak Yellow” felt like some cosmic joke. The track, which was the first No. 1 from a female rapper since Lauryn Hill‘s “Doo Wop (That Thing), seemed to set Cardi up to be the next internet rap star, in the vein of Trinidad James, to make an astronomical amount of noise before her 15 minutes would swiftly expire. Instead of her momentum fizzling, the clamor around her grew through the end of the year, bleeding into 2018 thanks to follow-up singles “Bartier Cardi,” in December, and “Be Careful,” in March. Other elements were mixed in, chiefly some well-timed features on G Eazy’s “No Limit” and Migos’ “Motorsport.” A perfect storm was brewing for her industry takeover, but her debut studio album would have to succeed where most debuts, especially those by internet sensations, failed. Invasion of Privacy needed to be authentic, tenacious, and adventurous.
It released on April 6 and brought about an earned explosion of interest and critical praise for Cardi. It’s an album that’s defined by the notions of truthfulness, transparency, sexual liberation, and craftsmanship. Over the course of thirteen tracks, Cardi’s debut packs a trifecta of snarky punchlines, charisma, and lively energy that normally escapes newcomers in at least one of the three categories. She sounds like a rap veteran operating without fear or uncertainty. It sounds timeless, unrestrained by contemporary conventions, and is a testament to the two years spent honing her sound on her two Gangsta Bitch mixtapes.
“Get Up 10” transfers the crown from Meek Mill to Cardi B for the best album introduction of the past decade (previously “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)” held the title). From the get-go, the tone of the album is established. Visceral images about poverty barrel into the mind as she raps about the night-and-day differences of her new life. But there’s a pressing urgency to her rhymes, a commitment to plead her truths to inspire and reflect instead of brag. Her emotions can be felt through the brutal emphasis she puts on curse words, but it’s important to know that this ferocity isn’t synonymous, in her case, with anger. It’s excitement.
From the ashes of the somber opening blooms an album that finds footing in various worlds across its multiverse. Invasion of Privacy is a vast album with drastically different beats, with each track being able to be separated into its own individual world. Overarching notions like sexual freedom and emotional clarity materialize and connect these disparate realms together. A stunning detail is that these ideas are given room to breathe and never overstep each other. She layers fresh waves of sexual braggadocio on “Money Bag” — where she talks about her sexual ability — and her newly-sculpted body just before on “Ring,” where she circles an emotional breakdown at the prospect of a tumultuous, infidelity-ridden relationship.
“I Like It” expertly mixed the realms of reggaeton, trap, and salsa thanks to its fusion of Cardi B’s charisma, Bad Bunny’s energy, and J Balvin‘s serene delivery. In an oral history for Billboard, label executives revealed that the four-minute collaboration took over six months to congeal after being first suggested by the CEO of Atlantic Records. Cardi always felt that the song needed a little bit of this, a little less of that. That’s perfectionism in the works. But these kinds of decisions are largely responsible for Invasion of Privacy sounding as polished as it does, helping it to transcend time.
An enduring, nagging thread through Cardi’s year has been the reportedly unfaithful behavior of ex-husband Offset. Nevertheless, she chose to work on their relationship, she didn’t choose to accept infidelity. Invasion of Privacy spoke directly to Offset, and, by extension, the rest of the world, with its centerpiece “Be Careful.” The commanding song strips away the album’s fascination with 808s and striking adlibs for a decidedly more intimate, up-close conversation with her then-partner set to the backdrop of an interpolation of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor.” It’s a striking claim of agency, of a scorned woman’s power, demanding that her partner get his shit together, or get to stepping. Her lyrics were poignant, striking icicles in the veins of partners everywhere who were the victim of similar situations, or for the victimizers who put their partners in that state of mind. When she abruptly ended things with Offset in December, fans were quick to note that she appeared content, even happy in her announcement while Offset, on the other hand, appeared dejected in subsequent public appearances. Maybe “Be Careful” was a declaration and foreshadowing of this ending.
In all, Invasion of Privacy was exactly as authentic, tenacious, and adventurous as Cardi needed it to be to elevate her prestige. Because of it, she’s entered the sanctuary of worshipped rap elites such as Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake. The album’s overbearing confidence immediately wins you over, even if you hadn’t listened to Cardi’s music beforehand. It’s won over, not just the industry, but the world as well.