It’s hard to think of an artist who’s risen as far as fast as Cardi B: She’s become one of music’s biggest stars in just the 10 months since “Bodak Yellow” dropped (and she was already famous thanks to her run on VH1’s “Love & Hip-Hop: New York”). To do that requires not only hot songs but a hurricane-force personality, and Cardi turns hers up every time a camera points in her direction: She’s brash, brazen, ambitious and X-rated, and delivers it all with a proud, Rosie Perez-level New York accent.
None of which would matter if she didn’t have the talent to back it up: She’s a powerful rapper with a forceful and distinctive flow and clever, piercingly funny lyrics (one of the many zingers here comes on the album’s first track, “Get Up 10”: “Went from making tuna sandwiches to making the news/ I started speaking my mind and tripled my views/ Real bitch, only thing fake is the boobs”).
But as the media tsunami around the already-gold-certified (thanks to the success of its advance singles) “Invasion of Privacy” amps up even higher — with high-profile appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and the Coachella festival and a week-long cohosting stint on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” in this month alone — the challenge is not letting the hype crush her very promising musical career. Controversy and ubiquity easily lead to overexposure and then backlash, which can make a star fall as fast as it rose. Making that challenge even steeper is the fact that Cardi’s in-your-face voice isn’t the most melodic, and can grate in heavy doses. Whether or not anyone listens to full albums anymore, how to manage that over the course of 13 songs and 48 minutes?
Cardi and her team seem aware of all that, and for her proper debut album (she released a pair of mixtapes over the past couple of years) they’ve compensated with musical diversity, some razor-sharp hooks from A-list producers and cowriters, and unusually long features. There are plenty of bangers — “Bodak Yellow” and the follow-up single “Bartier Cardi,” “She Bad” — but there’s also a guest spot from J Balvin and Bad Bunny on the Latin-flavored “I Like It,” two sort-of-ballads with “Ring” (featuring Kehlani) and “Thru Your Phone” (a collaboration with pop scientists Benny Blanco and Justin Tranter), and SZA brings a typically indelible hook to the closing track, “I Do.”
It’s almost a given that the lyrics are whip-smart and hilarious: “She Bad,” with its line about having a threesome with Rihanna and Chrissy Teigen is already lighting up the internet (“I need Chrissy Teigen/ Know a bad bitch when I see one/ Tell Rih-Rih I need a threesome”), but there’s also “I got further than them hoes said I will ever get/ And that only goes to show that only God knows/ I took pictures with Beyoncé, I met Mama Knowles/ I’m the rose that came from the concrete in the Rolls/ I’m like gold, I’m like goals, man, I chose and I’m floating” (“Best Life”); “Is she a stripper, a rapper or a singer?/ I’m busting bucks in a Bentley Bentayga/ Ride through your hood like ‘Bitch, I’m the mayor!'” (“Drip”); “I’m a gangsta in a dress, I’m a bully in the bed/ Only time that I’m a lady is when I lay these hoes to rest” and “P—y so good I say my own name during sex” (both from “I Do”).
Having said all that, in a couple of cases the featured artists run off with the song so completely that it feels like Cardi is a guest on her own album. This makes for a big disconnect early on, when the empowering opening autobiographical testimonial “Get Up 10” is followed by “Drip,” which is so dominated by “featured” artists Migos that anyone would think it’s their song; it’s weird to hear a personality as powerful as Cardi’s taking a back seat (to her fiancé, Migos’ Offset, no less). This happens to a lesser degree elsewhere: Chance the Rapper steals some of the spotlight on his long guest verse on “Best Life,” and Kehlani delivers such a sumptuous hook and guest verse to “Ring” it overpowers the rest of the song.
Still, there’s no question whose album this is. Funny, fierce, foul-mouthed and in-your-face, “Invasion of Privacy” is one of the most powerful debuts of this millennium.