The Key to Cardi B’s Success

Cardi B turned herself into a cultural icon by simply being herself.
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This is the miseducation of the Billboard charts.

After weeks of Twitter campaigns and informed breakdowns about the difference between buying a “Bodak Yellow” and streaming a “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi B’s monumental single has earned its number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Bodak Yellow” evolved from a hot single to the song of the summer, to the song I hum every morning while making coffee.

A song for late-night drives and mid-afternoon hustling, “Bodak Yellow” marked an event in hip-hop—which is why it made history. If we’re talking about discrete hip-hop history, not since Lauryn Hill’s 1998 hit, “Doo Wop (That Thing),” has a female rapper scored a number one record with no features.

Cardi’s success is about much more than a paragraph in the hip-hop history books, though. She turned a hit song into a way to project her own humanity and, in the process, built a community around her music. “Bodak Yellow” was a call to action, to get the real shit back on the charts. And with that call, “Bodak Yellow” turned into a cultural moment for the ages. She turned herself into a cultural icon.

There was an invigorating sense of unity that many in the hip-hop community felt rooting for Cardi day in and day out, refreshing the charts, and linking “Bodak Yellow” to anyone with a pulse. It was after that simultaneous, worldwide groan—when Taylor Swift dropped her single—that pushing for Cardi’s success began to feel like a big, fiercely competitive backyard get-together.

Cardi B harnessed and reproduced what we’ve all loved about hip-hop from the start: the camaraderie.

Since a piece on Cardi B and the community requires input from said community, I reached out to my friend and partner-in-scribe—a phrase I proudly lifted from the Booth's own Yoh—Jojo Belle to talk about what Cardi B means to her, and what kept her coming back long after the “a hoe never gets cold” meme.

First things first, Jojo loves Cardi B. She's loved her for years. “Cardi B represents a giant middle finger to all the standards Black women are held up to,” Jojo says, emphatically.

How does Cardi B throw up that middle finger? With authenticity. As she quickly climbed the charts and former naysayers began singing her praises, she remained utterly herself. Cardi B presented her truth—Dominican, Trinidadian, Bronx native, body positive, sex work positive, feminist—and never once wavered. Her truth came to represent the truth of a lot of her fans, who like her have long felt as though their voices weren’t welcome. This dedication to her story and the stories of her fans, Jojo explains, is what kept them in love with her.

“She often posts pictures and videos without wigs and makeup, brags about buying ultra-affordable clothing in Fordham, and hangs out with her family and friends in the Bronx,” Jojo says. "She doesn’t turn off her accent in interviews and doesn’t forget where she came from.

“Black women are told that if we do not go down a certain path—a Michelle Obama path—we are destined to be nothing but unsuccessful whores. Constantly over-sexualized in the media, looked down upon in academia, and generally shit on in life, Black women just aren’t meant to take up certain spaces.”

These spaces, sadly, often exist in hip-hop, where women are only given one model for success. Even worse, hip-hop has long operated with a “one woman at a time” ideology, where journalists find themselves trying to pit successful women against each other for clicks. Gossip blogs begged for a Cardi and Nicki face-off. Cardi refused.

Cardi B couldn’t care less about your models or your fake beef—or your rules for women in the game—an approach that has paid off for her in spades.

Her number one single is a win for all artists who may be too scared to carve out a new lane for their own personality.

Her win is a win for hip-hop, for women, and especially for Black women.

“Cardi B lets me know that as long as I stay humble and do what makes me happy, I can make history,” Jojo said as we ended our conversation.

Indeed, you can.

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