Cardi B is the new American Dream. Her rags-to-riches story is a product of living life out in the open, the answer to the question of how to be famous in the modern age. The Bronx-born MC parlayed a stripping residency into a social media empire before landing on reality TV, where she soaked up the spotlight as an aspiring
Invasion of Privacy is an emphatic response to those skeptics. The album is showy and upfront, at once brazen and vulnerable. On her assured and outspoken debut, Cardi shuffles from pop-rap to designer trap to sing-song ballads and strutting promenades. She is rap’s answer to Tiffany Haddish: funny, curious, and absorbing. Cardi’s rants can be as biting as they are mesmerizing, as much an invasion of your space as they are an immersion into her world.
Forged in the same fires that wrought Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” intro, the explosive “Get Up 10” sets the tone. The take-no-prisoners screed is an opening salvo of epic proportions, lining up foes to drop them, digging a stiletto heel into the throats of her challengers. Cardi raps with fire and force, a born star who’s grown accustomed to being told to dim her light for the sake of others. Each new triumph rejects such a ridiculous premise, and each naysayer has seemingly only granted her more power.
Cardi is a great talker, but her voice itself is its own instrument. It wraps around each word; her accent and inflections forge each syllable into a snap, making every utterance feel novel. She wields her voice like a weapon, and she can
Her writing is often convincingly diametrical: She is one thing and her beau/hater/adversary is another, but it’s the relationship between those two things that conjures the imagery: “This that collard greens, cornbread, neck bone, back fat/Get it from my mama, and you don’t know where your daddy at.” Her practiced abrasiveness is a defense mechanism constructed over time, so when she raps things like, “’Fore I fixed my teeth, man, those comments used to kill me/But never did I change, never been ashamed,” she’s showing you the inside of her armor.
In addition to honing her natural tendency toward pithiness, Cardi is becoming a complete MC. She plays clever word association games like mixtape Lil Wayne (“I came here to ball, is you nuts?”) and finds her place among New York’s more dynamic and prolific punchers like Cam’ron and Jadakiss. Cardi is quickly improving as a technician, closing the gaps in her writing and tightening up her flows. Even more impressive than her sharpened rap skills, though, is her rapidly expanding range.
On Invasion of Privacy, Cardi emerges as a first-rate song-maker, crafting mousy indictments and cautionary tales as easily as club gyrators and flex anthems. She effortlessly covers quite a bit of ground, dressing down no-good boyfriends, considering her come-up from pissy elevators to walking red carpets in tailored gowns, or rallying twerkers everywhere to spontaneously pussy pop for guap. She raps with the transparency of someone who has shared the ugliest aspects of her life with strangers online, but her songs now have the curatorial instincts of a specialized Instagram feed. The Chance the Rapper-assisted “Best Life” rehashes early career controversies and remixes an iconic Tupac poem into an origin story. “Be Careful” fires warning shots for a cheating boyfriend (or fiancé). Amid the larger-than-life showboating on “Money Bag”—where she, among many other things, parks a Bentley truck in a Versace driveway—Cardi lets slip the lingering effects of poverty: “I been broke my whole life, I have no clue what to do with these racks.” Everyone dreams of a life on top, but there’s no guidebook for how to handle it when you get there.
If there was ever any pressure to live up to “Bodak,” though, Cardi never shows it. Instead, she takes every opportunity to force-feed her doubters crow. “I like proving niggas wrong, I do what they say I can’t,” she raps gleefully on “I Like It,” as she flips boogaloo into Latin trap. Cardi’s raps have always exuded confidence and charm, but with Invasion of Privacy she seizes her seat on the rap throne through punishing, unrelenting taunts. She’s fully self-aware and seemingly unstoppable. “The coupe is roofless, but I get top in it/I’m provocative, it’s my prerogative/80K just to know what time is it/Cardi rockin’ it, go buy stock in it,” she proposes on “I Do,” a freeing Murda Beatz-produced closer with SZA that champions independence. She exceeds her hype and does so casually.
The production on the album is sumptuous and varying. A record daring enough to produce the buzzing “Bartier Cardi,” the R&B-infused “Ring,” and the quiet prowler “Thru Your Phone,” Invasion of Privacy never shrinks away from a potential risk, delivering hugely satisfying payoffs. With Latin trap sensation Bad Bunny and reggaeton star J Balvin in tow on “I Like It,” Cardi reworks Pete Rodriguez’s classic into a cross-cultural block party, bilingual and welcoming. Similarly, the Project Pat-sampling “Bickenhead” reimagines the original as a get-money anthem, leaning into the same inflections and cadences, but with a female-focused Cardi spin.
“I started winning when the whole world was doubting on me! Think imma lose with my little baby counting on me?” she tweeted after she revealed she was pregnant on last week’s “Saturday Night Live.” It’s a bar that could’ve easily found a home on this album. Invasion of Privacy embodies that tenacity and that relentlessness; plainspoken and raw, with just enough polish. Such a fighter’s spirit is endearing, and, to a certain extent, galvanizing. She took an unconventional path to get here, and yet everything seems to be going according to plan. Cardi never had any interest in converting her haters to fans; she’d rather just show them all up, and her debut is her greatest and grandest kiss-off yet. Bet against her at your own peril.