Cardi B is a feminist. That’s crucial to understand when reflecting on her newfound fame. She graced pop culture in 2013 with her hilarious tell-it-like-it-is Instagram posts about being a stripper without a hint of assimilating to perceivably acceptable norms of behavior. Then, in 2015, the viral social media star became an instant fan-favorite on the hit reality series “Love and Hip-Hop:New York” where she was admired for being unfiltered. It was just last summer that Cardi B’s journey to fame arrived at a peak when she released her record-breaking single “Bodak Yellow", a single that exacerbated her explicitly candid personality with “red bottoms” and “money moves”. Now, the Bronx native’s career has come full circle with the release of her debut album, “Invasion of Privacy”, and controversial events leading up to its release dabbled in feminist criticism. Yes, some time between “Bodak Yellow” and “Invasion of Privacy”, she became engaged to and later pregnant by her rapper boyfriend who allegedly cheated on her. And yes, she’s still with him. However, that’s the essence of feminism— the freedom of women to be themselves on their own terms— and Cardi B has certainly done that without giving a damn about what a hater has to say, which is literally repeated multiple times throughout her impressive debut album.
Cardi B’s own rise to pop culture fame has coincided with my personal feminist journey. Last summer officially marked the beginning of my path to self-discovery in which I thoroughly eliminated anything that was controlling my journey to black womanhood. Among those things were toxic religious dogma, archaic ideas of femininity from myself and family members, and traditional thoughts about my sexuality.
It was the summer of my freshman year of college, and I don’t remember a time before then in which I felt completely free. It was the first time that I regularly donned crop tops and ostensibly flaunted clothes that accentuated my figure. I also stopped ascribing to acceptable forms of respectability, and Cardi B helped with that. Her presence showed me and other black women that’s it’s ok to break with tradition and still be successful. Witnessing how it became a summer anthem and eventually led its way up the billboard charts, “Bodak Yellow” was sheer proof of that.
I initially thought that once I broke from traditional femininity that I would immediately be a failure. At least, that’s what has been preached to me throughout the years. Whenever things weren’t going right in my life, I received a lot of “see, that’s why you need to get closer to God” before receiving any logical advice to the problem. Thus, I thought my life was doomed once I distanced myself away from the church and embraced my sexuality in a way that’s not defined in Bible scriptures. I thought I would flunk out or, even worse, not have enough money to attend college. Getting diagnosed with cancer was also a thought in my mind. Additionally, I thought that somehow I would get pregnant, because I was taught that every sexual encounter leads to pregnancy (without considering the role of some form of protection), which continues to plague my thinking. And I think that people have perceived Cardi B the same way—waiting for her inevitable downfall because a former stripper couldn’t possibly follow up from the success of having a hit record. But if “Invasion of Privacy” did anything, it proved that Cardi B isn’t going anywhere.
Posing as a response to the ups and downs of her new career, “Invasion of Privacy” works within a feminist politic that includes the original definition of “respectability politics”. The often misinterpreted term was first coined by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in her 1993 book “Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920” and used it to portray how black women in the church used a moral code that was rooted independence. In an interview with For Harriet, Higginbotham explains how that independence wasn’t based on creating a social hierarchy, but instead it was centered on showing a society, in which lynchings and other acts of overt racism occurred on a regular basis, that black people, in this case, black women, were worthy of respect.
“Your definition of yourself, the worth of who you are isn't determined in these contexts of racial discrimination. If you believe that you are worthy of respect and if you live a life that is worthy of respect, then nothing anybody else can say about you can define you,” Higginbotham said in the interview.
Although, throughout the years, respectability politics has been inaccurately molded into a means of oppressing women who don’t fit the middle-class, Christian standard, Cardi B has reminded everyone what respectability really looks like and how it should be regarded by unabashedly proclaiming that she, the former stripper-turned-reality tv star-turned successful hip-hop artist who stayed with her man amid his infidelity and later became pregnant by him, deserves some damn respect. And three songs from the album evokes this sentiment in more ways than one.
In “Get Up 10”, which acts as a stream of consciousness for her reflecting on past experiences and current fame, Cardi B emphasizes that she isn’t a victim of controversy. She raps about how stripping, an often degraded profession, fueled her pursuit of a career in which she’s now “drippin’ in jewels”. The rapper also highlights the burdens of fame in dealing with fake friends and have a load of responsibilities. But I think the best theme of the song, which is exacerbated by the line “You gon’ run up on who and do what?”, is that Cardi B reminds people that she isn’t afraid to defend herself. And she’s not this helpless victim who just takes whatever negativity is thrown at her, either.
“Bickenhead” is the song I’d imagine every woman flaunting the lyrics to in the club. It’s an empowerment anthem that manipulates the definition of “chickenhead”, which is a term used to describe a woman who gives felatio for drugs or money. The derogatory term is one used to oppress a woman’sexuality and ultimately take power from it (because, after all, there certainly isn’t a term that describes a man doing the same thing). But Cardi B raps throughout the song that there’s no shame in women choosing to use their bodies for financial gain.
“I Like It”, one of my favorite songs from the album, mainly illustrates the various expensive things that Cardi B likes since she’s been famous whilst embracing her latin heritage.
The main reason why the song works within the feminist politic described is because she’s outright flaunting an identity that typically isn’t praised in the mainstream. Since the success of artists like Angie Martinez, Fat Joe and the late Big Pun in the ‘90’s, rap hasn’t really seen its share of Latinx artists. Cardi B, who’s an Afro-Latina, immediately showed the world her different identities and raps about how proud she is to be both. By bringing Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, and Colombian singer J Balvin (“Mi Gente”) to the forefront of this well-produced hit, Cardi B is showing the world that latinx artists are integral in the music industry although they’re not often heard in the mainstream. The sonically-pleasing trap beat with the latin rhythm in the beginning of the song is another way that Cardi B illustrates how latin music is deserving of respect.
“Invasion of Privacy” is an impressive debut album that is Cardi B’s epic response to naysayers. Throughout the album, she proves that she isn’t the one to be disrespected. Whether she’s owning her sexuality, calling her man’s infidelity out, flaunting her latin identity, or showing the world how hard she works, Cardi B embraced all the aspects of herself that make her a cultural icon through quotable and inspirational lyrics along with high-quality beats. Cardi B’s embrace of those things throughout the album have certainly empowered me in my feminist journey.