review: Cardi B’s ‘Invasion of Privacy’ meets sky-high expectations effortlessly
No rapper had a bigger breakout year in 2017 than Cardi B. She started the year off modestly with the second installment of her Gangsta Bitch Music mixtapes, but once she signed to Atlantic and released "Bodak Yellow," she began her meteoric rise. Another hit, "Bartier Cardi," followed at the tail-end of 2017, and she also dominated the charts and the radio as a guest on hits by Migos, G-Eazy and Bruno Mars, murdering all three of them on their own shit. Fears of Cardi being a one-hit wonder were already far in the rearview, but it was still hard not to wonder if Cardi could capture the same kind of lightning in a bottle that she had on "Bodak Yellow" for the length of an entire album. I mean, songs that are that big and that good tend to overshadow careers forever. But then Cardi spent the past week dropping two more singles and finally her proper debut album Invasion of Privacy, and all doubts were erased. "Bodak Yellow" doesn't overshadow the rest of the album in the slightest; it fits in comfortably at track four and it's surrounded on both sides by songs that rival it. Invasion of Privacy had sky-high expectations to meet, and the way that Cardi did it feels effortless.
She begins Invasion of Privacy the way a lot of star-aiming rap albums this decade have begun, with a melancholic, pensive, autobiographical story of how Cardi got to exactly where she is today. It's an overdone trick, but it's an effective one, and Cardi's (which is called "Get Up 10") is one of the finer songs of its kind in recent memory. It starts with just Cardi rapping over a somber piano, telling us how she went from stripping ("I said 'dance' not 'fuck,' don't get it confused") to being the "only person in my fam to see six figures." In between, she works in instantly-memorable punchlines ("Real bitch, only thing fake is the boobs," "I got enough bras, y'all ain't gotta support me"), and once the trap beat drops about halfway through the song, Cardi switches into the chest-puffed, tough-as-nails mode that she won us all over with on "Bodak Yellow." It's a song that says "this album means business," and Invasion of Privacy doesn't falter from there. Cardi goes on to deliver 12 more songs of deserved boasts, quotable one-liners (there's already an SNL sketch that quotes "Pussy so good, I say my own name during sex" from album closer "I Do"), and small glimpses into the life of Cardi B ever since she became a star (the album title is, after all, a reference to something every celebrity of her status deals with).
"Is she a stripper, a rapper or a singer?," Cardi mocks on the menacing, Migos-featuring trap banger "Drip," a sarcastic shot at all the public opinions that question Cardi's authenticity as a rapper. "That's when they came for me on Twitter with the backlash / 'Cardi B is so problematic' is the hashtag / I can't believe they wanna see me lose that bad," Cardi waxes on "Best Life," reflecting on more than one instance of call-out culture coming for Cardi in the wake of her increased fame. On "I Do," she laughs in the face of anyone who thought she'd be a passing fad: "They said by now that I'll be finished, hard to tell / My little 15 minutes lasting long as hell, huh?" It's clear that in between all the jokes, party-raps and sex talk, Invasion of Privacy is an album that takes shit very seriously. It presents Cardi as a layered, multifaceted person and artist.
Cardi also proves she's no one-trick pony when it comes to the sound of her music. She's got more of the menacing-yet-earworm trap of "Bodak Yellow" in the form of "Drip," the YG-featuring "She Bad," and "Money Bag," the latter of which has a hook addictive enough to become her next fan favorite. But she also strays from that path a couple times on Invasion. She reveals a knack for R&B-pop with the anti-cheating anthem "Be Careful," which is already another hit for Cardi. Over lightly bouncy synths, "Be Careful" shows off a melodic side in the chorus and a tender, sentimental side with her words. She also dives into similar but slightly less memorable territory on the Kehlani-featuring "Ring." Cardi, whose first language is Spanish, also honors her heritage with a successful dose of Latin trap, "I Like It." She samples "I Like It Like That" and brings in reggaeton star J Balvin and fast-rising Latin trap artist Bad Bunny. The source material may be very familiar, but Cardi and her collaborators find new things to say with it, and it should have enough infectious crossover appeal to win over fans of all three artists. ("I Like It" also has Cardi B referencing one of the memes about her: "I run this shit like Cardi-O.")
Cardi knows when the album will benefit from a high-profile guest, like when Chance the Rapper pulls out of all the stops on "Best Life" or when SZA lends a hook to "I Do" that rivals almost anything on Ctrl, but she never turns the spotlight over to anyone else for long. Her presence is too strong, her flows are too biting, and her words are too memorable for Cardi's verses to ever go overshadowed or unnoticed. It might seem like hyperbole to give this level of praise to an album that was certified gold before anyone even heard it, but Invasion of Privacy truly earns it.