Cardi B & the Nigerian Hustle

“Nigerians are industrious. So is Cardi B. Both Cardi and the country were founded on a bedrock of hustling.”
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Even before Cardi B landed in Lagos on Friday, December 6, 2019, I knew she was going to love her time here. Nigeria and the 27-year-old US rapper have a lot in common. She is tough and resilient, as is Nigeria. She is unapologetic, as is Nigeria. Moreover, Cardi’s persona matches the decibel levels present in the average Nigerian home. Cardi B possesses a true hustler’s spirit, as does Nigeria.

Nigerians are industrious. So is Cardi B. Both Cardi and the country were founded on a bedrock of hustling. Cardi B, born to immigrant parents in Manhattan, has had her path sewn from the bottom to the top. For all her struggles, not once has life stopped Cardi B. Nigerians recognize and celebrate this resilience. We are all about the hustle and getting ours. 

According to the World Poverty Clock, Nigeria is home to the highest number of poor people in the world, but it also houses the richest man and second richest woman in Africa, according to Forbes. At the same time, we also have some of the world’s wealthiest pastors flying above the poverty line in private jets, gleaned from the offerings of the poor.

Yet, people make it here. They strive through systemic dysfunction, turning odds to strength, tears to advantage, and using chaos as a ladder to ascend. Life here is perhaps more robust than most places. But people like Cardi B—people who are relentless in their hustle, who move beyond politics and respectability—are the people who win in Nigeria.

“Mehn we are in Nigeria, yeah, no lies, this looks like the Dominican Republic, this looks like DR straight up,” Cardi screamed excitedly on Instagram, upon her arrival. Back in her hotel room, she complained of the bougie service: “I don’t want to eat your food, I want to see the real Nigeria. I want to eat, like, real Nigerian food. I want to eat all that fish, all that Jollof rice.” 

Cardi’s desire to have an unfiltered experience of the local culture turned her into a national favorite. She wanted to be one with the people. If she were to actually consider relocation, however, achieving success in Nigeria would be very difficult. Her lyrics might be deemed too risque by broadcast regulators. Her nudity might trigger several religious organizations to protest. Her bag might be interfered with by state forces. True, Nigeria offers more roadblocks than pathways, but as we’ve seen, Cardi B appears to be the type of person who will find a way through. In that way, she could be more Nigerian than anyone else.

All of this brings us to Cardi B’s debut concert in Lagos. The whole city showed out for Cardi’s show. It’s 7 p.m., and the concert street is already locked. The gridlock of cars and humans, pushing for a chance to get closer to the action, felt apocalyptic. Hawkers sold everything, with surprising speed and persuasive marketing. You could get a rolled blunt for cheap, or a plate of street-side noodles with chicken. Or you could grab a discounted bootleg ticket, as it hung from the pockets of touts.

It was a controlled madness: Women filing past the bouncers, tickets raised to gain entrance. They came from all classes, sacrificing cash, clearing their schedules, and booking their rides to connect to Cardi. One woman tells me she blackmailed her friend into buying tickets. Another says she leaned heavily on a very close friend for the show to become a reality.

“Why?” I ask.

“We love Cardi B,” she affirms.

The version of Cardi B they love isn’t merely a rapper who has multiple hit records. Cardi B’s work is the hustler’s Holy text. Cardi shows us how to pursue our money and spend it. She owns her sexuality. She is a boss. Many live vicariously through Cardi.

“I always stay on her Instagram page, and watch all her videos,” one concert-goer tells me. That’s the Cardi B Nigeria knows and loves: The explosive woman behind the mask.

Cardi matched the enthusiastic energy of her Nigerian fans, dressed in the green-white-green colors of the national flag. A flag was draped over her mic stand. The women couldn’t stop screaming through intermittent scatterings of pyrotechnics, a choreography of twerking, and the dancing colors that swept the floor.

During the intro for “Money,” thousands of voices screamed “Money!” with the hook. It was a reassurance of the most crucial resource in the country. Money is the omnipotent God, one that dictates the quality of your journey through life in Nigeria. Money has broken laws without consequences, gained favors that took years of merit to achieve, and insulated people from the harshest legislation. Money stops the nonsense, and Cardi B’s insistence on accumulating it unapologetically connects with everyone in that crowd. When the hypeman asked, “If you have more than N20,000 in your account,” people yelled from their souls.

With thousands of phones out, Cardi B dropped the beat to “Bodak Yellow.” The venue shook. “Bodak Yellow” is, inadvertently, the anthem of the Nigerian hustle. We all want to cut off broke people. We all want red bottoms. We all want to stunt on everyone and everything. And in her music, Cardi B says we can. On that humid night in Lagos, she offered us reaffirmation. We stretched our hands for some of that belief—that success, that hustle, and that electricity. Because at that moment, we all became one. We were united in the global hustle that life is in Nigeria. 

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