Cardi B, Girl Power and the State of Hip-Hop

Will “Bodak Yellow” serve to help unify women in hip-hop once and for all?

This week, reality TV ingénue turned hip-hop star Cardi B changed the game when her single “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” hit the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100. The 24-year-old artist had the honor of dethroning pop icon Taylor Swift for the crown, as Swift’s comeback single “Look What You Made Me Do” slipped to No. 3.

The historic nature of the No. 1 is practically common knowledge at this point: The Love & Hip-Hop: New York alum not only holds the highest-charting track by a female rapper so far this year, but the first solo No. 1 from a female rapper in nearly two decades. (The last time was in 1998, when Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” made the Fugees veteran the first female solo rapper to ever have a chart-topping single.) Only three other female rappers have ever seen the top of the charts, but unlike Lauryn and Cardi, they didn’t do it alone.

This multi-tiered achievement was arguably willed into existence by the MC, as many have referred to Cardi B’s (née Belcalis Almanzar) story from exotic dancer to superstar as a real-life fairytale. Celebs and low-follower accounts alike tweeted in support of getting the Bronx native to the coveted top position -- a feat that can now be achieved through streams and algorithms as much as racing to a record store to purchase a cassette single. It’s indicative of the times, though perhaps it’s reflective of more changes to come, considering all of the congratulations that poured in following “Bardi’s” No. 1 announcement.

Hip-hop legend Missy Elliott tweeted in support of Cardi B, as did fellow venerated rap greats Lil’ Kim and Trina.  

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Congratulations <a href="https://twitter.com/iamcardib?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@iamcardib</a> for having a #1 record in the country that&#39;s not as easy as it seem this huge---- May u have continued blessings----</p>&mdash; Missy Elliott (@MissyElliott) <a href="https://twitter.com/MissyElliott/status/912403319599050752?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 25, 2017</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Congratulations to my baby cakes  <a href="https://twitter.com/iamcardib?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@iamcardib</a> I always knew this day would come and I am so happy and proud of U!! <a href="https://t.co/LA83Rnh9LF">https://t.co/LA83Rnh9LF</a> <a href="https://t.co/v6NWKsRWXM">pic.twitter.com/v6NWKsRWXM</a></p>&mdash; Lil&#39; Kim (@LilKim) <a href="https://twitter.com/LilKim/status/912445241088765952?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 25, 2017</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Congratulations <a href="https://twitter.com/iamcardib?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@iamcardib</a> ‼️‼️ Keep shining young boss .... ♥️ <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BloodyMoves?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BloodyMoves</a> ----</p>&mdash; TRINA (@TRINArockstarr) <a href="https://twitter.com/TRINArockstarr/status/912526397406662656?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 26, 2017</a></blockquote>

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Taylor Swift even sent her a bouquet of pink roses.

<blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-version="7" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"><div style="padding:8px;"> <div style=" background:#F8F8F8; line-height:0; margin-top:40px; padding:62.43055555555556% 0; text-align:center; width:100%;"> <div style=" background:url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAACwAAAAsCAMAAAApWqozAAAABGdBTUEAALGPC/xhBQAAAAFzUkdCAK7OHOkAAAAMUExURczMzPf399fX1+bm5mzY9AMAAADiSURBVDjLvZXbEsMgCES5/P8/t9FuRVCRmU73JWlzosgSIIZURCjo/ad+EQJJB4Hv8BFt+IDpQoCx1wjOSBFhh2XssxEIYn3ulI/6MNReE07UIWJEv8UEOWDS88LY97kqyTliJKKtuYBbruAyVh5wOHiXmpi5we58Ek028czwyuQdLKPG1Bkb4NnM+VeAnfHqn1k4+GPT6uGQcvu2h2OVuIf/gWUFyy8OWEpdyZSa3aVCqpVoVvzZZ2VTnn2wU8qzVjDDetO90GSy9mVLqtgYSy231MxrY6I2gGqjrTY0L8fxCxfCBbhWrsYYAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC); display:block; height:44px; margin:0 auto -44px; position:relative; top:-22px; width:44px;"></div></div> <p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BZhVxNZhlo_/" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_blank">Sooo beautiful and lovely .Thank you @taylorswift for the flowers --❤️❤️....and I freaking love your music --</a></p> <p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;">A post shared by Cardi B Official IG (@iamcardib) on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2017-09-26T22:26:15+00:00">Sep 26, 2017 at 3:26pm PDT</time></p></div></blockquote>
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The most surprising shoutout, though, came from Nicki Minaj: “Congratulations to a fellow NEW YAWKA on a RECORD BREAKING achievement. Bardi, this is the only thing that matters!!! Enjoy it.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Congratulations to a fellow NEW YAWKA on a RECORD BREAKING achievement. Bardi, this is the only thing that matters!!! Enjoy it------ <a href="https://twitter.com/iamcardib?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@iamcardib</a></p>&mdash; NICKI MINAJ (@NICKIMINAJ) <a href="https://twitter.com/NICKIMINAJ/status/912412180431167488?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 25, 2017</a></blockquote>

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Just before Cardi B’s simmering success reached its boiling point, the rumor mill had been churning that a new beef was brewing between Barbs and Bardi. Following Nicki’s verse on London On Da Track’s cut “No Flag” -- where she barks “Lil’ bitch I heard these labels tryna make another me/ Everything you getting little ho is ‘cause of me” -- and Cardi B’s verse on G-Eazy’s “No Limit,” where she says, “Can you stop with all the subs?/ Bitch I ain’t Jared," bets were hedged. One congratulatory tweet from Nicki proved them all wrong. Are the tides finally changing for camaraderie amongst women in the upper echelon of rap?

For the duration of hip-hop, an underlying theme has always been that two female rappers couldn’t occupy the same space at the same time. When it did happen, one had to be named as the superior, to assure the surrounding rap male egos that their genre would never evolve into a girls' club. If immediate dominance wasn’t singled out, the female rappers would be pitted against one another.

It first happened in the ‘80s when the battle between Roxanne Shante and the Real Roxanne led to a schism of sorts where the name “Roxanne” became rap-lyric fodder and led to scattered female rappers adopting the same name. While Queen Latifah and Monie Love would bring some sense of community with “Ladies First” (aligning with other rappers like MC Lyte and Yo-Yo) it would only be dismantled by 1996 when Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown destroyed our Thelma and Louise dreams by getting entangled in a multi-year war that has remained unsettled to this day. Two years later, Lauryn Hill would be plucked from the rest and placed directly as the female rap figurehead in pop, though the pressures of that duty seemingly took their toll on her. In the underbelly of women in hip-hop, the petty arguments would ensue, surely over who could someday sit in Lauryn’s place (since sitting beside her wasn’t an option).

Lady Luck and Remy Ma. Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj. Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma. Battles between women in the rap space became par for the course. And sure, for the two decades following the Foxy/Kim battle, the most commonly blamed force behind the creation of these conflicts was the male-driven marketing machine. But not all popularity contests are devised by men: The origins of the divisiveness between the female MCs were oftentimes not without cause, and not always rooted in jealousy.

When Nicki Minaj found her first taste of fame in 2009 with her Beam Me Up Scotty mixtape, her marketing package was nearly identical to Lil’ Kim’s, right down to replicating Kim’s iconic panty-squatting photo. Of course Lil’ Kim would be annoyed, though her extensive right hooks to a dead horse became the real point of contention. When Remy Ma was released from prison in 2014, she was welcomed by yet again Nicki Minaj, sporting the female-rapper crown in the name of New York City. Theoretically, Remy could have been in that position had the law not gotten in the way.

The real takeaway here, though, is that women in hip-hop are consistently made to believe that you can play with all your girlfriends in the minor leagues, yet once you level up it’s time to fight. Meanwhile, we can live in a world where JAY-Z, Nas, Diddy, Rick Ross, Future, Lil Wayne, and now even Kendrick Lamar can all call themselves “kings” without the once-coveted G.O.A.T. debate surfacing. The final conclusion with male rappers is that there can be many G.O.A.T.s in the farm. Are women in the space now allowed to apply that same formula to their peers?

Earlier this week, Cardi B tweeted that every female rapper congratulated her on her success, which may signify a shift once and for all. This past Summer at New York rap station Hot 97’s Summer Jam, Remy Ma brought out Cardi B, MC Lyte, Lady of Rage, Young M.A., Monie Love, Lil' Kim and Queen Latifah to perform Latifah’s “U.N.I.T.Y.” Nicki Minaj was clearly missing from the picture; not all fights can end that easily.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Every single FEMALE RAPPER CONGRATULATED ME TODAY .Is the best feeling cause I listened to ALL OF THEM</p>&mdash; iamcardib (@iamcardib) <a href="https://twitter.com/iamcardib/status/912547830262321152?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 26, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

But even when Azealia Banks attempted to throw casual shade at Cardi B through her secondary Twitter account @xocheapy along with scathing comments on Instagram, Cardi B posted a video of Azealia Banks singing along to “Bodak Yellow” -- proving that while jealousy is a hell of a drug, so is a catchy hook.

The real power move, however, is in how Nicki Minaj has handled Cardi B’s success. Minaj is the female rap paragon who has left more hurt feelings with her striking success than any other female artist. But when Lauryn Hill welcomed Nicki Minaj with open arms earlier this year, Nicki fell to her feet; a true turning point. When respect is given, it’s returned.

<blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-version="7" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"><div style="padding:8px;"> <div style=" background:#F8F8F8; line-height:0; margin-top:40px; padding:28.10185185185185% 0; text-align:center; width:100%;"> <div style=" background:url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAACwAAAAsCAMAAAApWqozAAAABGdBTUEAALGPC/xhBQAAAAFzUkdCAK7OHOkAAAAMUExURczMzPf399fX1+bm5mzY9AMAAADiSURBVDjLvZXbEsMgCES5/P8/t9FuRVCRmU73JWlzosgSIIZURCjo/ad+EQJJB4Hv8BFt+IDpQoCx1wjOSBFhh2XssxEIYn3ulI/6MNReE07UIWJEv8UEOWDS88LY97kqyTliJKKtuYBbruAyVh5wOHiXmpi5we58Ek028czwyuQdLKPG1Bkb4NnM+VeAnfHqn1k4+GPT6uGQcvu2h2OVuIf/gWUFyy8OWEpdyZSa3aVCqpVoVvzZZ2VTnn2wU8qzVjDDetO90GSy9mVLqtgYSy231MxrY6I2gGqjrTY0L8fxCxfCBbhWrsYYAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC); display:block; height:44px; margin:0 auto -44px; position:relative; top:-22px; width:44px;"></div></div><p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;"><a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BLnMsGvj9Sf/" style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none;" target="_blank">A post shared by Barbie® (@nickiminaj)</a> on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2016-10-16T05:42:50+00:00">Oct 15, 2016 at 10:42pm PDT</time></p></div></blockquote>
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Women are currently in a position of strength in hip-hop, more so than in recent memory. Cardi B has the No. 1 single. Rapsody’s second studio album Laila’s Wisdom has been met with wide critical acclaim. Nicki Minaj is still iconic, and in fact sits in the Hot 100's top 10 this week alongside Cardi with her guest verse on Yo Gotti's "Rake It Up." Lauryn Hill is touring. Lil’ Kim is still performing. Remy Ma is churning out anthems. Newcomers like Leikeli 47, Princess Nokia, Kamaiyah, Young M.A. and more are still building their buzz. Everyone is winning all at once. We can say “that wasn’t so hard was, it?” But, yes. Yes it was.

And so we wait for the day when the “female” no longer invariably sits in front of the word “rapper,” though we may be damn close. While the key to diminishing that singling out is strength in numbers, so is a supportive community. As Cardi B receives the praise from her peers that none have previously received, she may have given us all far more than just a hot song.