In places like the Bronx – and ‘hoods all over – playing the lotto is a kind of pastime, almost a standard routine on Saturday afternoons. The act of scrounging up pennies and visiting your local bodega to place a cheap bet on a big win is a gesture of hope passed down across generations in immigrant households like mine. But for all the money our uncles and aunties spend on dreaming up a way out, hardly anyone where we come from ever hits the jackpot. I’d wager it’s designed that way. For the lottery to snare Third World families living in the US; to make the poor out to be the biggest losers of them all. Go figure.
But Cardi B – a product of Afro-Caribbean expatriates who deems herself a “regular, degular, shmegular girl from the Bronx” – won. She secured the bag. She scored the lottery of all lotteries. She escaped a life of domestic violence, found refuge working for years at the strip club, and eventually landed a reality TV gig with Love and Hip Hop due to her Internet ethos. Bowing out after just two seasons, Cardi leveled up in the studio and authored the song that would change the course of her life and the lives of those she holds dearly.
Thanks to “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi went from that loud-mouthed Dominican chick on Instagram giving us a bad name (don’t front, you all know who you are), to the first solo female MC to top the Billboard Hot 100 since Lauryn Hill did with “Doo Wop (That Thing)” in 1998. G-shit.
“Bodak Yellow” spent three weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, marking a new longevity record for a hit by an unaccompanied female rapper. At 25, Cardi’s resume boasts five BET Hip-Hop Awards, including one for best new hip-hop artist and another for hustler of the year. She’s played Brooklyn’s Barclays Center twice, and next to some of hip-hop’s biggest luminaries no less. She even managed to score a verse alongside her rumored opposition Nicki Minaj – widely regarded as the queen of rap – on “Motorsport.”
She’s since appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, whose interview with the Dominican-Trini star went viral last December and turned fodder for endless holiday GIFs. To debunk hearsay that said Cardi was a one-hit wonder, she delivered a knocking follow-up to her chart-topping darling on “Bartier Bardi” featuring 21 Savage. Shortly thereafter, hitmaker boy wonder Bruno Mars recruited Cardi for the official remix of “Finesse,” a brilliant ode to the iconic ‘90s sketch comedy series In Living Color. Today, Belcalis Almanzar tops pop empress Beyoncé in becoming the first woman with five simultaneous Top 10 Hits on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. We couldn’t write a better story if we wanted to; this is the stuff legends are made of.
Cardi made up in wits for what she lacked in pedigree. She’s the girl from around the way many know and love, but often think twice before bringing into spaces of etiquette. In the absence of what we deem social refinement, mass appeal and academic rhetoric, Cardi played the cards she was dealt and emerged the ultimate come-up story, making room for herself at the table she was never invited to in the first place. For all intents and purposes, girls like Cardi aren’t meant to win, much less be loved up on by a global community of faithful followers.
Not only is she nominated for two Grammy Awards (for best rap song and best rap performance, either of which would be a historic win for women in hip-hop), on Sunday January 28, 2018, Cardi B will perform on the Grammys stage (the epicenter of bourgeoisie) in her hometown of New York City at Madison Square Garden, one of the most iconic venues in the world. And I hope us Boogie Down shorties – loud-mouthed, rough-around-edges, less-than-proper and all – come to know the gravity of your girl’s success. That her story is your story is our story, and our story is always worth building a fire pit for.