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How Cardi B's rookie year rewrote history and aligned her with legends

Cardi B had one of the best rookie years hip hop has ever seen.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

-- By Kameron Hay

The year 2018 has proven to be one of the more memorable years in recent memory for hip hop because of the list of rappers who've released albums throughout the year. Beyoncé and JAY-Z finally released their collaborative album, Everything Is Love, Kanye West and G.O.O.D. Music released an album every week from the end of May through June; Drake continued his unprecedented commercial dominance with the release of his fifth studio album, Scorpion; and Travis Scott solidified himself as a bonafide superstar with the frantic, yet awesome body of work ASTROWORLD. These were just a few of the premier artists in hip hop to drop albums and in a year where all of the biggest names released projects, it was expected to be little room at the top for a newcomer to come in and have any of the spotlight. But, that wasn’t exactly the case. Rising stars such as Lil Baby and Gunna had a phenomenal year, themselves, and saw their fanbases increase tenfold. Others such as Juice WRLD, City Girls, and Trippie Redd also saw their buzz grow over the course of the year. But, the biggest winner of 2018 might have been one of hip hop’s freshest faces, Cardi B.

Cardi B’s meteoric rise is one of the most unlikely in hip hop’s history, making her success all the more impressive. Going from stripper to reality television star, Cardi used that same charisma and hilarity that made her a television and viral sensation to become not only the biggest female MC in the world, but arguably one of the biggest pop music acts period. Cardi is the perfect representation of music and pop culture in today’s generation, taking her internet celebrity and parlaying that into something tangible such as a music career. But, not by being gimmicky. Instead, by being someone very real. This made her become somebody you not only wanted to see succeed, but someone you felt invested in, in terms of their success. There is a level of authenticity with her that is impossible not to gravitate toward and hard to root against. Cardi is the undisputed people’s champ.

The foundation for Cardi’s monster year began to be laid in the summer of 2017, June 16 to be exact. This was the time of the release of her chart-topping breakthrough single “Bodak Yellow.” It was the exact type of anthemic record that can catapult an artist from bubbling up-and-comer to a household name, and that’s exactly what it did for Cardi. She had released two mixtapes, Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1 and Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 2, prior to the release of “Bodak Yellow.” But, this was the moment when she was taken seriously as a viable recording artist. After topping the charts with “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi would go on to do high-profile features on G-Eazy’s “No Limit” and Migos' “MotorSport,” which also featured Nicki Minaj. Add Bruno Mars' “Finesse (Remix)” and Cardi had a full head of steam building toward the release of her debut album, Invasion of Privacy.

When Invasion of Privacy released on April 5, the response was even greater than the most optimistic people could have predicted. The album proved Cardi was a force to be reckoned with commercially, topping the Billboard 200 with 255,000 album equivalent units sold in its first week and featuring Cardi’s second Billboard Hot 100 chart topping single, “I Like It.” Most of the songs from Invasion of Privacy have been certified either gold or platinum by the RIAA. The statistical dominance is incredible in its own right. But, the critical response bordered on unprecedented. Pitchfork praised the album, claiming “Cardi B’s remarkable debut, without a doubt, puts her in the pantheon of great rappers. It is both brazen and vulnerable; filled with wild amounts of personality, style, and craft.” Rolling Stone proclaimed Invasion of Privacy to be “undeniable,” while Spin hailed the album as “one of the most joyous and versatile rap debuts of the decade.” The critical acclaim and reception of Invasion of Privacy netted Cardi B five Grammy award nominations, including the highly coveted album of the year nomination. At the 61st annual Grammy Awards, Cardi got the most nominations of any woman.

The sheer statistical dominance can be overwhelming, especially when compared to other new artists. So, the conversation has moved past, “Is Cardi B the rookie of the year?” That isn’t in question anymore with the success of her debut album and everything else she has touched in the past calendar year. The conversation has now shifted toward how well does Cardi’s 2018 hold up against some of the other dominant introductory years for artists in hip hop’s history. We have seen statistically dominant years from newcomers with the likes of Drake and Nicki Minaj, who both took hip hop and pop music by storm in their rookie years during the apex of Young Money’s popularity. Both released debut albums that not only were commercially successful, but well received by critics and fans alike. Both artists have gone on to become iconic figures in hip hop and pop culture, some may even say legendary.

But, go even further back in history to compare Cardi’s 2018 to that of DMX’s 1998 and 50 Cent’s 2003, revered as arguably the two biggest breakthrough years ever in hip hop. DMX released It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot; and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, which both debuted atop the Billboard 200 and made him the first rapper in history to reach the milestone twice in the same calendar year. As for 50 Cent, he was a cultural force, becoming not only the most popular rapper in the world in 2003, but one of the biggest artists in the world. Fif’s debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, sold 872,000 copies in its first week and spawned a handful of hit records including “In Da Club,” “21 questions,” and “P.I.M.P.”

Music journalist Eddie Gonzalez vividly remembers both of those years, and the impact of DMX and 50 Cent, though they had different methods of reaching the top.

“50 was one of the few albums in my lifetime that I can remember everybody listening to. And I mean everybody, it was just a different feel. It was an album that was entirely ubiquitous, there was no escaping it,” Gonzalez told REVOLT TV. “In this streaming era with so much new music every single day, it’s nearly impossible to be that. But, Cardi made it so, even amongst the Drakes and the Kanyes of the world. She is just constantly present, either in personality or in song. So, in that sense it’s very similar to Get Rich or Die Tryin’.”

DMX, on the other hand, persevered and rose to the top through sheer willpower, according to Gonzalez. “X was, like, out of sheer force. He didn’t have the super smash hits, but he had a constant stream of work over time that made him unavoidable,” the journalist added.

Where Cardi B goes from here is to be seen. Nobody knows for sure whether she will last to become a true iconic figure in hip hop and beyond, especially in today’s music climate where longevity is fleeting and people move onto the next thing almost instantly. But, what is known, is Cardi not only managed to align herself with the stars of today, but the legends of the past with her historic 2018 by equaling their accomplishments and in some ways surpassing them. That is worth noting. Cardi B didn’t just have the best rookie year of 2018, she had one of the best rookie years hip hop has ever seen.

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