Cardi B dishes in similar fashion across her perfectly pitched debut, Invasion of Privacy, which arrived on Friday and should be infiltrating party playlists for the rest of the year. Her story is all-American, 2018: Of Dominican and Trinidadian parentage, she went from Bronx exotic dancer to Instagram phenom to reality-show curio to Taylor Swift–dethroning hitmaker at an accelerating rate in the space of just a few years. Throughout that rise, her savvy has been indistinguishable from her talent and charm. She molds herself to her surroundings as need be, raps openly about doing so, and still radiates individuality—crass and brash, woundable but not beatable. There is no one else like Cardi B, and she practically commands that people relate to her.
She’s talked a lot about sweating the details on her long-awaited first album, and the effort pays off as Invasion of Privacy confidently ticks through the popular subgenres of rap. The cinematic opener sketches her story with riffs on the rags-to-riches formulation: “I was covered in dollars, now I’m drippin’ in jewels,” goes one typical flip. Then there are the dance songs. “Drip” distills the with-our-powers-combined shtick of collaborators Migos to its mechanistic essence. “I Like It” is blockbuster-scale Latin trap, outfitting a 1967 boogaloo classic with thunderous bass and of-the-moment Spanish-language stars J Balvin and Bad Bunny. “She Bad” offers the strip-club anthem only she could make, with the rapper YG hissing the song title as Cardi B brags of writing verses while twerking.
Whatever the backdrop, she thrives. After all, her breakout hit “Bodak Yellow” conveyed how Cardi B didn’t need all that much more than a steady beat to command attention with her voice. It’s a precision-trained shout, pushing words in distinctive directions without losing their shape. On “Money Bag,” one of a few fearsome Privacy tracks that feel like “Bodak Yellow” sequels, the electro pings behind her are distorted and jagged, and her delivery is similarly spiky, spitting. Meanwhile, the words mold rap tropes to her own persona, with delightful results. “With them pretty-ass twins, you look like Beyoncé,” her man marvels, to which she adds, “And my bitches with me pretty, too, they look like bridesmaids.”
The rebellion of lyrics like that is obvious enough: She’s embracing femininity with a snarl. But the musical surroundings are so energizing, and she so at ease, that there’s nothing try-hard about such subversions. The same could be said of the matter-of-fact way she raps about the anxiety that comes with trying to commodify one’s self-image, as social media encourages everyone to do and stripping encouraged her specifically to do. She portrays her boob job in the same way as her Lamborghini truck—trophies of going “from WIC to lit”—which, somehow, only bolsters her claims of realness. “’Fore I fixed my teeth, man, those comments used to kill me,” she says, referencing her now-famous dental makeover. “But never did I change, never been ashamed.” It’s an appealing message for the Instagram era. Why not revel in, rather than hide, doing what it takes for the likes? Likes, she insists, aren’t just for vanity. They’re money.