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Cardi B is the first post-Instagram rap star of her generation

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When I first heard “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B, I was in a friend’s car on the way to a liquor store. After the first verse, I was hooked. Her voice is deep and confident. Her words are vulgar. You can’t make it very long without bouncing your shoulders, nodding your head, and, well, feeling it.

These expensive, these is red bottoms, these is bloody shoes
Hit the store, I can get ’em both, I don’t wanna choose
And I’m quick, cut a nigga off, so don’t get comfortable, look
I don’t dance now, I make money moves
Say I don’t gotta dance, I make money move
If I see you and I don’t speak, that means I don’t fuck with you
I’m a boss, you a worker, bitch, I make bloody moves

I wasn’t the only one who appreciated “Bodak Yellow.” The song swept the summer and, on Monday, bumped Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” from the coveted number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Cardi B’s success isn’t just remarkable; it’s historic. This is only the second time that a solo rap song by a female artist has attained that status. In the chart’s 59-year history, only 75 of the over 1,000 number ones have been rap songs. What’s more, Cardi B had never seen a song of hers chart before. Her debut album isn’t coming out until October.

With “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi B painted a vivid picture of a woman young but wise beyond her years, someone who’s got it figured out — a surprising feat for someone who’s only 24. The song is declarative about how she will proceed in this life: Dressed to the nines, totally unbothered by men, and above all else, enjoying the satisfaction of having worked hard for her come-up.

Cardi B’s life story is as juicy and dramatic as her song. Born Belcalis Almanzar in New York to a Trinidadian mother and a Dominican father (Cardi B is a riff on Bacardi rum), she’s a former exotic dancer who earned enough money stripping to gain financial independence — which freed her from an abusive relationship. Cardi first gained wide notoriety through her two-year stint on VH1’s reality show Love & Hip-Hop New York, which she left last year. But what set Cardi B apart — even before reality TV came calling — was her Instagram account.

Instagram Photo

In 2015, after news broke of her joining the Love & Hip Hop cast, Cardi told Complex magazine, “I never thought I would be this popular. That was never part of my plans. It just really happened, thanks to social media.”

She’s absolutely right. Cardi B is far from the first talented female rapper to be in-your-face about her sexual appetite — we are living in the post-Trina, post-Lil Kim, post-Salt N Pepa, post-Nicki Minaj era. But she is one of the first female rappers to find fame because of the world she curated on her Instagram.

Already gaining fame in New York through the exotic dancing scene, Cardi B began posting Instagrams that candidly chronicled her life back in 2014. Her videos were often blunt takes in an “I’ll say what everyone else is thinking” style. Her undeniable charisma on social media, along with her status as something like a New York socialite, led to her role on Love & Hip Hop. Cardi B was a breakout star, lauded by fans of the franchise for her “realness.” People are often surprised by how closely she resembles her online persona, and they love her for it: They feel like they know her, and in a way, they do.

On Instagram you get to decide who you are; you get to crop, edit, filter, caption, and tag to your heart’s content. You’re in total control of your narrative. That kind of power isn’t normal for musicians just starting out. It can even be elusive for seasoned, Grammy-winning pop stars.

Instagram Photo

Cardi B had the chance to cultivate a following on her own terms. One could even argue that stripping in clubs around New York City gave Cardi B the skills that made her such a hit Instagram: She learned how to create a fantasy, how to cultivate an audience, how to present herself visually to would-be fans as someone sexy, desirable, and in control. The result is someone who feels like an alter ego to some and resembles a best friend or big sister for others. She’s someone fans were invested in, and felt close to, before she rapped a single word.

Instagram was where Cardi B could show off her style. Her taste, the result of growing up shopping on Fordham Road in New York, is, in her words “thotty.” (For those not up on internet slang, “thot” loosely translates to “that hoe over there.”) She wears painted-on and often very revealing dresses, tiny body suits, long hair extensions (all the better to flip with), long bejeweled nails, and a perfectly made-up face. Her look is a celebration of her sex appeal. Men make appearances on her Instagram, too: Coy posts feature different men — frequently Offset from Migos — posing with her suggestively.

It might seem surprising for a relatively unknown rapper to snag the number one spot from Taylor Swift, but perhaps Cardi B did so — yes, because of her song is a banger — but also because she created the demand and then produced the supply.

“Bodak Yellow,” which is inspired by another rapper, Kodak Black, has won over critics as well as fans: Cardi B has earned acclaim for her deep voice, her word play, and unusual hook, and chorus deploy. In other words, “Bodak Yellow” breaks all the rules of a traditional rap song — which is fitting, because Cardi B broke so many rules of a traditional rapper’s rise on her way to the number one spot.

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