Since the release of her debut single ‘Bodak Yellow in 2017’ Cardi B has been an unstoppable force in hip-hop. However, her success in the realm of rap shifted the landscape of the genre an unfathomable amount. In this article, we’re going to analyse how and why the Bronx artist’s triumph permanently changed the game.
Born Belcalis Almanzar in New York, and raised in the Highbridge neighbourhood of the Bronx, Cardi B is currently the most prevalent artist in rap. Since 2018, Nicki Minaj has slowly but surely faded into the background and has effectively retired with regard to her career as a mainstream recording artist, albeit unofficially.
Minaj (real name Onika Maraj) spent the majority of her career as the only female hip-hop artist who could consecutively release hit records without fail. Although other female rap acts arose during her tenure, such as Azealia Banks, Iggy Azalea and DeJ Loaf, not one of these artists could compete on the same level as Minaj, and many of them, to this day, are non-factors within the culture. However, with Cardi B, things were different. Almanzar’s rise to stardom was unique and completely shone a light on a previously unused route into the music industry. Much of it was to do with timing, a lot of it was to do with technology, and a vast amount of it concerned her initial focus and eventual switch of disciplines.
Using the examples of Nicki Minaj, Azealia Banks, Iggy Azalea, and even those that came before them, such as Lil Kim and Remy Ma, a female’s initial way into hip-hop was to be approved by a man in some way shape or form. For Nicki Minaj, it was Lil Wayne who signed her to Young Money. For Azealia Banks, it was Diplo who collaborated alongside her and drew attention to her music resulting in a record deal with XL and for Iggy Azalea, it was T.I. who signed her to Grand Hustle. Artists such as Minaj and Banks used MySpace to promote their music. However, irrespective of their social media use, their ascent necessitated a male’s support. The same can be said for Remy Ma, who was brought to the forefront by Big Pun and Fat Joe as part of the Terror Squad.
This aforementioned system had been in place since hip-hop’s inception and only began to change in 2012 when Facebook bought and redesigned Instagram. Before 2012, Facebook and SoundCloud were the two websites artists used to connect with fans and market their music. Prior to 2010, MySpace was the defacto site for doing this. However, despite Facebook’s vast capabilities as a social media site, it lacked the story feature allowing its users to see what their idols were doing in real time.
With the sharp rise of Instagram’s popularity, musicians and their fans felt ever more connected and could really experience an individual’s day and, more importantly, assess their character as Instagram is often impulsive, with people taking to their stories quickly and easily to share what’s on their mind.
Cardi B has previously explained how she dropped out of high school and chose to become a stripper in order to get quick cash. However, her funny demeanour, positive energy, and humorous aura turned her into somewhat of a personality. Droves of Instagram users began to follow her to see comedic stories, amusing posts and a much-needed dose of laughter. Within two years of being on the site Cardi B accrued over one million followers and, as a popular social media personality, influencer and stripper in New York City who was constantly around hip-hop figures in and out of the club, she was invited to be a cast member on the reality TV show Love & Hip Hop: New York.
With a loyal fan base that loved her and over 21 million followers in 2015, looking to escape the life of stripping instead of settling for being an influencer, Almanzar chose to begin rapping. The Love & Hip Hop US reality TV series, which has several versions based in different hip-hop hotbeds such as Atlanta, Miami and LA, is often seen as a graveyard for the hip-hop industry figures who previously had buzz but are now highly insignificant. The series is also known as a one-stop shop for artists that are looking to gain fame. However, the series is shrouded in controversy as it showcases a lot of physical altercations between women as well as verbal abuse.
The majority of upcoming artists that feature on the programme gain exposure but see little to no advancement in their career as the series has been continuously dubbed as “ratchet” meaning ghetto, coarse and extremely sordid. However, this was not the case for Cardi B. Between 2015 and 2016, in collaboration with KSR Music Group, the Bronx artist released several mixtapes, all of which did extremely well due to her legions of fans from social media and also TV. As a result of her music’s success and her growing online presence and TV exposure, Cardi B was featured in VIBE magazine and on the cover of The Fader’s Summer Music issue for July/August 2017.
All of this excitement around her culminated in Almanzar signing with Atlantic Records in 2017, the year she released ‘Bodak Yellow’. Cardi B was the first female artist ever who proved that if you have a unique personality and charisma, with the clever use of Instagram and now TikTok, you can generate a fanbase and then use your loyal fans to launch a successful music career without the need of a male auxiliary. Many artists have followed in the footsteps of Cardi B, although not all have been successful.
One reason scores of artists fail to achieve what Cardi did is that they do not have a captivating character or an aura that possesses people to want to engage with them. Another artist with a similar come-up to Cardi B is the British female rapper Ivorian Doll, a hair and makeup YouTuber who began to rap using her established fanbase as a launchpad. Other US rappers have had success with this formula to varying degrees. Florida-based rapper, Sukihana began her career as an Instagram personality, but as a rapper and host of underground club events across the US, has managed to make in excess of $1million annually as a result. She, too was a cast member of Love & Hip Hop: Miami.
Despite the fact not many have reached the same level as Cardi B, her proof that you don’t need to know male industry figures or even need them to succeed opened up the floodgates to an influx of female rappers and since her success, the amount of underground female rappers has increased by an insane amount. Contemporary female acts, such as Ice Spice, GloRilla and Flomilli, would, arguably, not have even attempted to begin rapping if it wasn’t for Almanzar highlighting the way around the pre-existing barrier to entry that was placed upon female rappers.
You can hear Cardi’s breakout hit ‘Bodak Yellow’ in the video below.