Last week, Cardi B guest-hosted the “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” and the last three people on the planet who hadn’t heard of her got to know the star — and the “only in New York” character of her meteoric rise.
Born Belcalis Almanzar in The Bronx, mostly raised in Washington Heights, Cardi’s everywhere right now. Her first single “Bodak Yellow” hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, something only one other female solo rapper has ever achieved.
She’s also the only rapper in history to have all three of her first singles in the Billboard Top 10 at the same time. She’s engaged to the rapper Offset and announced her pregnancy in dramatic fashion while performing on “Saturday Night Live” last weekend.
Cardi shot to fame on the VH1 reality show “Love & Hip Hop” when she was a former stripper trying to get in the New York City music scene. She participated in the antics of the show like everyone else, hooking up with guys and throwing her shoe at a detractor.
She became a fan favorite, with her every expression and utterance being turned into a GIF. Every Monday night, Twitter would explode with Cardi love. The joke of the “Love & Hip Hop” franchise is that most of the people on the show are constantly in the studio yet we rarely hear their songs on the radio. Cardi smashed that.
“I’m just a regular, degular, shmegular girl from The Bronx,” Cardi said in one episode. That’s partially true. Cardi B may be down to earth but her story is highly irregular. She was a member of the Bloods who credits stripping, and her focus on getting money (or “shmoney” as she calls it), on getting her out of the gang. She doesn’t deny it but also doesn’t recommend it. “Being in a gang don’t make you not one dollar,” she says.
She has not just her own accent but her own language — both quintessentially New Yawk. She talks fast and raps fast. She sounds like she’s arguing. She’s in a hurry. On an episode of “Love & Hip Hop,” Cardi tells a friend that her manager wants her to take classes to get rid of her accent. Thankfully, she refused.
“I love hearing your voice, I love everything you do,” said Jimmy Fallon when she guest-hosted alongside him. So does everyone else.
Last year, New York magazine put her on its cover with the words “Cardi B. was made to be this famous.” In a world where people frequently get famous “for nothing,” Cardi is famous for everything.
She’s funny and can laugh at herself. So many rappers look like they’ve been practicing their hard looks in the mirror, but Cardi, perhaps knowing her street cred is never in doubt, tends toward the goofy, even in public. Her authenticity and effortlessness is jarring. It’s a contrast to all the people “keeping it real” who obviously aren’t.
She’s blunt about plastic surgery, telling GQ magazine this week that her butt-filler injections were done illegally in a Queens basement for $800. She says she got her breasts done to distract from her crooked teeth — which she’s also now had fixed.
In the same GQ interview she talks about her love of American history and her encyclopedic knowledge of American presidents. Interviewer Caity Weaver called her “unabashedly, directly political,” because she watches the news every night and sometimes talks politics in her Instagram videos.
Liberals loved that she mocked President Trump’s suggestion to arm teachers and approved of raising the age at which someone can buy a gun. Conservatives got excited when Cardi released a video asking where her tax dollars go. And it’s hard to ignore that Cardi is a walking, talking pro-life ad, pregnant at a surely inopportune time in her booming career.
Not that she needs any of that to keep her relevant.
“It was my personality that got me where I’m at,” Cardi has said. “So, I can’t tell anybody to do this or that and be on Instagram. But I will tell you that you can use your personality and be bubbly and be yourself in any field that you’re in. That alone will take you far, for real.”
Last summer “Bodak Yellow” was the one playing out of every passing car window. With the release of her new album, “Invasion of Privacy,” this summer is gearing up to be all-Cardi-all-the-time, too.
It’s easy to root for Cardi. Everyone wants the shmegular girl to get that shmoney.