#Problematic: The Complicated Case of Cardi B
Cardi B (real name: Belcalis Almanzar), the Bronx-born stripper-turned-reality-TV-star-turned-hit-rapper who emerged from the periphery of pop culture to icon status back in 2017 with her aggressive, empowering breakout single, “Bodak Yellow,” might just be part of a feminist uprising in music. But not everyone thinks that. (In the words of one Twitter user, “ugh cardi b’s music is so good but she as a person is SO problematic”).
Cardi is no angel. Her lyrics, like those of many other rap stars, are self-aggrandizing, hedonistic, and (gloriously) profane. Her widely-publicized feud with fellow rapper Nicki Minaj was less than honorable. And her brutally honest social media posts, which are usually harmless and hilarious but have occasionally given way to offensive comments about LGBTQ people and other groups, have prompted many on Twitter and Instagram to condemn her with one of liberal social media’s most damning go-to insults: #problematic. Cardi B’s unfiltered personality is one of her biggest claims to fame, but the fact that she does not care what people think about her has had some serious consequences. She addresses some of the backlash on her track “Best Life”: “Cardi B is so problematic, that’s the hashtag/I can’t believe they wanna see me lose that bad.”
However, the strides Cardi has made in the music industry cannot be ignored. Despite coming from a disadvantaged upbringing in the Bronx, she capitalized on her technical rap skills and bold personality to rise through the pop culture echelons and eventually become one of the loudest voices in music. Several of her songs focus on this radical redefinition of the American dream, and her vivid rags-to-riches story is a large part of her appeal. It has translated to wild success. In 2017, she was the first solo female rapper to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 since Lauryn Hill in 1998. She also became the first woman in hip-hop to have three number one songs (“Bodak Yellow,” “I Like It,” and “Girls Like You”) on the Billboard charts. She’s broken streaming records on Apple Music and Spotify, and her debut album, Invasion of Privacy, has attracted commercial success and critical acclaim alike; TIME magazine recently named the album, which went platinum twice over, the best of the year. An impressive group of indie-famous female rappers like Noname, Tierra Whack, Cupcakke, and Rico Nasty have released outstanding records this year as well, but none of them have reached the same commercial success that Invasion has. Say what you will about how this is a microcosm of the music industry’s rampant misogyny, but the fact is that Cardi B has done something incredible. As a young Trinidadian-Dominican-American woman, she has managed to become queen of a notoriously male-dominated kingdom without sacrificing an ounce of personality or forgetting her roots.
Cardi B is aware of her potential for advancing feminism. Commenting on her own feminism, she told Vice that some people “think only Michelle Obama can be a feminist. But being a feminist is real simple: it’s that a woman can do things the same as a man. I’m equal to a [guy]. Anything a man can do, I can do. I can finesse. I can hustle. We have the same freedom. I was top of the charts. I’m a woman and I did that.” She makes a good point. The future of feminism is intersectional and diverse, drawing together women of all backgrounds and perspectives; one does not need to be as educated and flawless as the former First Lady to support equality. Cardi is far from perfect, and her offensive comments are not acceptable. Still, the messages of equality, financial independence, and body-positive empowerment that exist beneath the surface of her in-your-face lyrics—coupled with her overwhelming critical and commercial success as a female rapper—are too important to dismiss. Cardi B may not be Michelle Obama, but perhaps she doesn’t need to be. Her realness makes her a feminist icon in her own right.