When Cardi B released "Bodak Yellow," the world stopped in its tracks and stared immediately in the direction of its newest rap obsession. The 25-year-old social media phenomenon had already affixed herself to our Twitter and Instagram feeds because of her larger-than-life personality, being more Pam than Gina from Martin. But this was something different altogether. A couple of key plugins from Charlamagne Tha God and other public figures coincided with the song's meteoric rise, and Cardi went from the loudest one in the room to the most sought after. Women in rap often carved out a style that set apart their music from the guys, but "Bodak Yellow" proved that female rap could be more than something different - it could beat the guys at their own game.
But two singles later, amidst subtle trips into her inner psyche, Cardi appears to have lost fans somewhere between explaining herself and being the life of the party. Her latest release "Be Careful" has shown that while there's much more to her than adrenaline-charged boasts, the world may be hesitant to accept it.
Cardi's latest song is, as she puts it, out of her comfort zone. She's baring her soul to the public in a heartfelt discussion with an unfaithful partner, and possibly pleading with Offset in an attempt to understand his reported extramarital affairs. Cardi sings on the track, raps softly—a change from the boastful bars of her previous two singles—and comes across as a scorned lover at wit's end. It's by far her most adventurous track, but has received lackluster reception that's very telling of the public's unfortunate perception of her. Cardi is the world's lively friend who is invited to turn up, but who is dismissed when she actually wants to have a conversation.
On "Be Careful," Cardi retains the bluntness that's become her calling card in the rap game. Whereas Trina, the frontrunner for unequivocal rap for women, made use of frankness as means for sexual liberation, Cardi directs it inwards—her feelings, whether she is partying or crying, are spoken in direct verbiage. When she raps, "Gave you TLC, you wanna creep and shit/Poured out my whole heart to a piece of shit," her words can't be minced. There aren't any double meanings that could be interpreted as sexual slang or party favors. She's hurt, vulnerable, and ready to vent. To fans of "Bodak Yellow" who have come to expect the hard turn-up of that song along with her earlier, hardcore works, they may have been confused with the change. Where's the fun Cardi?
"Bodak Yellow," "Bartier Cardi," and "Be Careful" are all layers of Cardi B. So far, we've gotten the party side, the enamored lover, and the scorned partner aspects of Cardi's personality, being reflections of her experiences. With each song corresponding to a certain period of her life, there's no doubt that her debut album Invasion Of Privacy will continue to show others that we haven't come across yet. The very name of the album suggests more introspective hits that explain more of what's been hidden below the surface, just out of view of the media. But will the world accept these sides, or will it cry for the one that gives us the soundtrack to turnt up nights?
The problem with the public's perception of Cardi so far is that its acceptance of her came from analyzing one layer of her being. "Bodak Yellow" became so huge, it encompassed her as not only an artist, but as a person too. Each record shattered further coalesced both record and artist, making for one not being mentioned without the other. Amazon's commercial for its Echo device featured Cardi B and "Bodak Yellow" as one entity, utilizing the persona for comedic relief. It aired during the Super Bowl, showing the world that both Cardi and the song were one. With both the music and entertainment industries pushing this narrative, Cardi effectively lost the right to introduce herself as anything more than the party-goer of hip-hop.
When she introduced Cardi, The Lover, on "Bartier Cardi," some uproar was attributed to the mention of Offset's on the chorus, but it subconsciously came from a place of misunderstanding. She took a familiar route with the production and lyrics that promoted nighttime charades, but deep within the tissues of the body lied emotion that manifested itself on the chorus. She was obsessed with love; her blunt approach to it made for an authentic chorus that declared her obsession with Offset, even if admittedly it was a little tacky.
Releasing "Be Careful" was a necessary step for a couple of reasons. First, it served as a much-needed response to the allegations levied at Offset, something more concrete than the measly acknowledgment she gave on social media about it. Second, it peeled back another layer into who she is. It also continues Cardi's previous attempts to show her own humanity. The skit "Her Perspective" and the following song "Selfish," from her second mixtape Gangsta Bitch Vol. 1, gives a frightening look into her experience with domestic abuse, and she also shows herself with lesser makeup on social media. The introduction of more layers on Invasion of Privacy shouldn't be too jarring now that we're becoming more familiar with Cardi on more fronts.
This speaks to understanding all artists better. We must refrain from initial judgments, using our first impressions to characterize their work. We must be accepting of all aspects of their artistry because it speaks to the multi-faceted nature of their character. The song may not be our cup of tea, but not liking it because they're showcasing something different devalues our opinions as consumers of the art form.
Each artist that exists in the game right now exposes their layers at different points in their career. Many choose to do it slowly over the course of multiple projects, out of fear that the public won't accept them immediately. Cardi's taken a bold approach in peeling back the onion quickly. With a better understanding of how the layers relate to her aesthetic, listeners can more readily digest the rest of her message and then formulate a respectful opinion.
So far, Cardi has shown a knack for creating catchy, lyrically-sound hits that sound as good at high-school pep rallies as they do in the nightclub between drinks. Her latest, "Be Careful," is an admirable way of introducing another part of the persona that is proving to be much more than what listeners initially considered. We just have to admire it as a means of exploring her personality in layers, only judging it for its sonic quality instead of the aesthetic of her past works. Let's listen to what the life of the party has to offer, outside of it. Who knows, she just might surprise you.