Before this story was even published, it was already controversial. No sooner had Billboard announced Cardi B as 2020’s Woman of the Year than the rapper’s haters piled on, demanding to know why an artist who had put out just one new song of her own this past year deserved the honor.
For Cardi B, this was business as usual. Since she blasted onto the hip-hop charts three years ago with her Bronx swagger and explosive rhymes, every win she scores seems to be met by as many fans applauding as those rooting for her downfall, convinced they’ve got her number. So, as she has so many times before, Cardi B took to Instagram, posting a video with a message aimed directly at her detractors: “For you cry babies like, ‘What? She only got one song!’ Yeah, I got that song, bitch.” She then went on to precisely enumerate each reason why she is the woman of the year — proving, for the umpteenth time, that nobody knows Cardi B better than Cardi B herself.
That song, of course, is “WAP” — her ode to female pleasure, featuring Megan Thee Stallion, that first made headlines for its beyond-explicit lyrics and became (as Cardi immediately pointed out) a multiplatinum success, spending four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and setting a record for the most streams for a song in a single week (93 million, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data). With its eye-popping, cameo-filled video and a feature from one of hip-hop’s biggest new stars, “WAP” checked the usual boxes needed for a hit in 2020. But the song’s success had a deeper significance, too: It was a clever Trojan horse for the myriad ways Cardi influences the culture with every move she makes.
In recruiting Megan for the track, and giving up-and-coming MCs including Mulatto and Rubi Rose a spotlight in the video, Cardi, 28, makes a point of uplifting other women in hip-hop at a time when the notion that more than one can’t succeed at a time still, somehow, persists. She also entered her name in the storied lineage of women and raunch in hip-hop — drawing renewed attention to the fact that female rappers still face a double standard when it comes to owning their sexuality. Two weeks after the song’s release, few male artists had even voiced their support for “WAP,” other than pop singer-songwriter Charlie Puth, who called it “an important record,” adding, “It’s about time something like this came.”
The song became an inherently feminist statement — and in turn, as Cardi also noted in her Instagram clap-back video, had “Republicans crying on Fox News.” In August, conservative analysts Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens and DeAnna Lorraine picked on Cardi for weeks, deeming “WAP” crass and inappropriate. They likely didn’t expect much of an opponent, but Cardi B is no stranger to politics. An ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders since 2019, she interviewed the former presidential candidate on Instagram and Twitter that same month, the first of a series of actions she took in 2020 to educate her massive audience on the importance of voting in both national and local elections. As Cardi put it succinctly in her Instagram video: “I represent America. I wanted a change. And that’s what I did.”
This year was a landmark one for Cardi, but she has been this bold from the start of her music career, when skeptics dismissed her as a former stripper from a reality show. “Cardi’s entire evolution has been driven by a singular, unswerving vision she has for herself — who she wants to be, what she wants to accomplish and where she wants to be at every point in her career,” says Julie Greenwald, chairman/COO of Atlantic Records. When Cardi’s longtime A&R executive Brooklyn Johnny brought her to the label almost four years ago, “she was already a superstar-in-waiting,” Greenwald continues. “There was no question that her talent, her charisma and her determination would make her a musical and cultural icon.”
And although she parted ways with her management at Quality Control earlier this year, Cardi didn’t rest as an entrepreneur in 2020, either. In August, she secured, for an undisclosed sum, a deal with OnlyFans — the increasingly popular subscription service platform — where she has posted behind-the-scenes footage from the “WAP” video shoot, among other content available to any fan for $4.99. For an artist who launched her career on social media, it was further evidence of a guiding Cardi B principle: Know your worth, and don’t give everything away for free.
Less than two weeks before that Instagram video, Cardi B is in Los Angeles, talking over Skype, her signature humor and sharp wit clearly on display. She pokes fun at my poor connection (“Ha! You’re frozen,” she cackles before warmly welcoming me back when I regain service), and over the course of our wide-ranging conversation proves yet again why, in a year like no other, a singular woman ruled.
“I want to show people that you can do positive things, but you can also be yourself,” she says. “I like justice. I like to work and be creative. But I also like popping my pussy.”
What was Election Day like in the Cardi B household? At one point when Joe Biden was trailing Donald Trump, you posted a video of yourself smoking three cigarettes at once.
I was having fun with my kid, but then I kept looking on Instagram and was getting jittery. [Before the election], I just felt like Biden had this in the bag. Then Election Day came, and I’m seeing so many states are just red, period. It just surprises you when you don’t hear people around you saying, “Oh, I don’t support Trump.” There’s other people that don’t really think like us. Millions of people who are not on the same page as you and don’t understand what he did wrong and why we’re so anxious. I’m like, “Oh, shit. I’m getting nervous now.”
You know, we always talking shit about this country, even though we’re from this country. At the end of the day, we need to understand we are a big example to other countries. I’m seeing France celebrate Biden’s win. I seen Haiti celebrate the win of Biden. When my parents came to this country, they just thought this was the land of dreams and shit. Everybody around the world thinks the same way, even though we don’t see it because we live here. It’s important to set a good example, show unity and have somebody that represents us the right way.
When Biden’s projected win was finally announced, we saw that kind of unity — especially when your fans sang “WAP” outside the White House. What was it like to see that?
I just feel like it was such a big victory for me and for Megan. I’m so used to listening to raunchy female rap music since I was a little girl — Trina, Khia, Lil’ Kim, Jacki-O, Foxy [Brown]. “WAP,” to me, was just a regular raunchy female rap song, but it caused so much controversy. So many Republicans — not just any Republicans that got an Instagram following, but a lot of Republicans that got blue checks [on Twitter] and millions of followers, [like Ben] Shapiro, Candace Owens, Tomi Lahren — were talking so much crap about “WAP.” So it was just a victory for me seeing people celebrating Biden’s win with my and Megan’s song. Power of the pussy, ya heard?!
Where do you get the confidence to stand your ground when those pundits attack you?
Because the things that they say don’t make sense. A lot of things they be defending, it’s not something you need to be defending. It’s wrong. I endorsed Joe Biden, but if I feel like Joe Biden is doing something wrong, I’m not going to stand by. I’m nobody’s lap dog. I would probably call him myself and be like, “Yo, you need to fix it.”
A lot of these Trump supporters don’t understand why people say, “Black lives matter.” People didn’t go looting because Trump was president — they went looting because there’s a lot of Black men getting killed unjustly. A lot of Republicans think that we hate the police. Personally, there was a point when I did hate the cops because I had really bad experiences growing up with the cops, but I also met cops that are really good people and have really good hearts. I just feel like we need to hire more people like that. That’s why people love firefighters — they just believe firefighters got a good heart. They don’t care if you’re Black or white, they ain’t just gonna let you die in a fire.
You brought your daughter, Kulture, along to participate in the Show Me the Signs campaign, which paid tribute to Breonna Taylor and Black women killed by police. Why was it important to involve her at such a young age?
I just thought she was looking really cute — and I want her to grow up knowing how the world really is. My daughter came out of my pussy rich. She lives a different lifestyle than I lived. This girl gets in a pool every single day; I can’t swim because I barely went to the pool. There was only one community pool where I’m from. I want her to know that just because you have money, that doesn’t mean you’re super-privileged.
Even me with her dad [rapper Offset], we have had really bad experiences with police, and we’re rich and famous. I want her to know that you’re not going to be an exception. I want her to have compassion. I don’t want her to ever have the mentality of, “This doesn’t apply to me.”
Do you consider yourself an activist?
I don’t know if I’m an activist. I’m a Libra — we are the justice sign. I like fairness, and I have compassion toward everybody. This is the type of person that I’ve always been. When I was a stripper, I posted the same shit that I post now. I was doing marches in Harlem. But I don’t want people to think, “Oh, she’s an activist.” There’s people out here that really go off and beyond, like a Tamika [Mallory] or Shaun King, who go out of their way to really help. I feel like those are activists. I don’t want to take away from what they are. I just want to be a person with a platform that believes in good.
Last year you said you struggled with being perceived as a role model. Do you still feel that way?
Definitely. Let’s say something is ugly, right? Everybody in the comments is saying it’s ugly, but you’re saying it’s pretty. If you have the unpopular comment, then you’re in the wrong. So you gotta be careful with what comes out of your mouth. You can’t even call people ugly nowadays! I’m not saying I want to call people ugly — you just can’t even be yourself anymore.
Am I a role model? I know I’m a role model because I know there’s a lot of women like me. At the end of the day, I know I’m a bitch that made it through because I work my ass off, not because luck fell on my thighs.
I want to show people that you can do positive things, but you can also be yourself. I’m a very sexual person. I love sex, and I like to rap about it. I like to do it. I admire my husband’s penis. I love pussy, and I love my body, and I want to be able to express that. I’m just a naughty girl, and I’m not hurting nobody because I love my pussy and want to rap about it.
You did just that, and now you’ve got your fourth No. 1 with “WAP.” Talk about the strategy for that record.
I just wanted it to be amazing and really beautiful. I didn’t put out music for almost 10 months. Throughout those 10 months, I kept seeing thousands and thousands of comments and tweets like, “She’s over. She’s a flop. She’s done with.” People tried to erase me. And I’m like, “Damn, that’s not fair. I’m taking a little break!” If I put out bad music, I’m gonna get called a flop, and if I take my time, people are saying I’m over. That’s not fair.
When you did come back, you brought Megan up with you — the latest example of how you’ve tried to promote sisterhood among artists.
When female artists are rising, you don’t have to put one down because the others are rising. Every single time a female rapper comes out, people wanna start fake beef. Maybe because they don’t see me [with other women] as often as people want to. The thing is, I’m shy — and really shy to reach out to male artists, to be honest with you. That’s why a lot of collabs that I want, I haven’t gotten yet because I’m scared to reach out. I always get a little star-struck. I be thinking I’m corny, even though I’m funny.
With “WAP,” I just hoped it would debut in the top 20. It did better than I even thought it would. I was crying and shit. When I heard Megan’s verse, I’m like, “Oh, shit. Sounds even better now. Woo!” I had this song for almost a year. I said I’m a Libra, so you know I’m very indecisive. The guys around my team liked other songs because they’re more gangsta. When I linked up with Megan and it was time for me to send her a song, I was like, “This has to be the song. There’s no other song that makes sense for me to put her on. This girl is freaky-deaky — I know she’s gonna kill it,” and she did.
Do you feel like expectations are still higher for female artists?
I don’t want to be like, “Oh, female artists, we have it hard.” But we do fucking be having it mad hard! I could be bumping to one bitch’s music, and the next day, people are telling you, “Oh, this girl is better than Cardi. She’s gonna end Cardi.” I hate that y’all do that. Why do you want me to argue and not like this girl? N—s be out here doing the most, being disrespectful, [but] just the other day, I was getting chewed up because I said the R-word. Like, how you gonna cancel me for calling myself retarded? They want you to be Mother Teresa, they want you to put out music, and they want you to look a certain way. It’s like, “Y’all gotta chill — I’m just a regular-degular bitch, man.”
How would you describe your relationship with social media today?
I’m always gonna love social media because I came up from social media. If it wasn’t for me showing my personality on social media, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. I would probably be a stripper owning a laundromat because that’s what I wanted to do when I was a stripper. If I didn’t voice my feelings, I would probably be one crazy bitch on drugs. I don’t do drugs; I smoke a little cigarette here and there, drink a little wine and Hennessy in the club, but those drugs I don’t do.
But social media is becoming a very toxic place nowadays. There’s a lot of race-baiting. People will say the nastiest things just so they can have a top comment. The comments weren’t like this back in 2013.
As Kulture gets older, how will you approach social media with her, knowing what you do about how reckless people can be?
I’m a little scared that she gets to read nasty comments, but I don’t know how I’m gonna be able to control it. I heard about a celebrity who gives their kid life coaching on how to love themselves and not let people break them. Hopefully, I can do the same thing.
My kid is really sassy — I can tell she’s gonna be a personality. I always want her to know that she’s beautiful. She knows what type of person I am, and when she gets older, clearly she’s gonna hear me expressing myself because we live in the same damn house. I just want her to know: I might be a little crazy, but I have a good heart and I love her. I want her to be confident always. Don’t let one comment break you and make you feel like you’re not that girl. You that girl.
From your deals with FashionNova and Reebok to now OnlyFans, you’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset. How do you make these moves, especially without a traditional manager?
These past several months, I have become more business-savvy. I just hired somebody that runs a big business to hire other people to review my [deals]. I’m telling you, there’s gonna be bigger changes. A lot of these companies, they want to give you a couple million dollars to represent them, and it’s like, “OK, but what am I really getting out of it?” If 1% of my followers buy your product, you’re going to make triple what you’re paying me. I’m making sure I’m not selling myself short. I’m making sure people are reviewing shit right. It’s a lot of game that I have learned. Slowly but surely, I know I’m gonna get better. I know the value I bring to a company, and that’s one thing artists have to understand. I feel like in 2021 I’m gonna come up real strong.
Your OnlyFans account has been buzzing since you joined over the summer. What intrigued you about that platform?
I’m not gonna talk about my deal because that’s more personal, but I got intrigued having a conversation with the people from OnlyFans. When you actually sit with them and get charts and numbers, you see what the hype is about. There are certain things that I want to get more personal on, and I don’t want to get on Instagram Live and talk about it because blogs are gonna chop it up. There’s certain people I want to curse out, but I don’t want to give them clout. For example, when me and Candace Owens got into an argument, I gave that bitch 2 million followers.
I’d rather just go to my OnlyFans because it’s only my fans there. If you a hating-ass bitch and you pay $4.99 to see me talk shit, you not really someone that hates Cardi. You a bitch that really loves Cardi.
On your forthcoming second album, do you feel like you were able to open up in the way you do on social media?
Kinda sorta, but then again, when it comes to me writing or putting ideas of my personal life [in the music], I get really shy. When I perform songs like “Be Careful” or “Ring,” I usually close my eyes because I get really shy about showing that lovey-dovey side. Even to my engineer, I start giggling. I be like, “Oh, my God, I can’t. This is so embarrassing.”
When I started becoming an artist, I got influenced by a lot of Chicago drill music. That’s the type of artist I always wanted to be: I like to rap about the streets, and I like to rap about my pussy. I don’t give a fuck about it. When it was time to get more creative with my love side or my R&B side, I was like, “This makes me feel weird and uncomfortable.” I’m getting better at it.
I have one song that is very personal and deep. It’s with another female artist, but even when I was recording it, I had to take a lot of breaks. I was looking at my engineer and he was looking like, “Yeah, Cardi, I feel you.”
Did you tear up while recording?
The only song that has ever made me tear up hasn’t come out, and it was about my daughter. I just felt like, “Can you guys stop looking at me recording this? Matter of fact, stop!” I really wanted to put the song out, but I was pregnant and had a really bad cold, so I didn’t sound right. My nose was just too stuffy. Putting it out now [would just be] weird because I’m not pregnant anymore.
How do you define happiness for yourself in 2020?
I’m not gonna front — this has been a bad year due to work. You can’t do shows and you gotta wait on deals. But I’m really happy because I have spent so much time with my family. I feel like I haven’t laughed like I have in 2020. My daughter is so funny, and I’m with her every single day. That’s what brings me happiness.
There was a point where I felt so much pressure to put out music that I couldn’t really focus much. It’s like when you get home at the end of the day and you’re like, “Oh, shit. I got homework to do.” It felt like I had incomplete homework. When I put out “WAP,” it was a big relief. I’m not gonna front, I’ve been really happy. I gained weight — that’s how happy I am.