Immediately after I read Joseph Cook’s Girls Like Cardi B, I texted my friend and told him to read and pay attention last line: “If you don’t like Cardi B, you ain’t living your best life probably.” The phrase “live your best life” is a staple in our conversations; specifically, that’s his millennial advice to me when my Generation X restraint has me questioning whether I should engage in an experience that I likely need to have. I love him for this. The article also was a must read as we both are fans of Cardi B. He shared with me his love for Cardi B after her summer banger “Bodak Yellow” caught his attention. I’ve been rocking with her since she was introduced as a “new boss” on Season 6 of Love & Hip Hop: New York.
The Regular Degular Shmegular artist added her unique flavor to two seasons of Mona Scott-Young’s (pseudo)realistic hip hop dramedy before announcing last December she was leaving the show to focus on her career. In those two seasons, Cardi B provided viewers with meme- and gif-worthy facial expressions, words and one liners – (1) If a girl has beef with me, she gone have beef with me forever. (2) Ever since I started using guys, I feel so much better about myself. I feel so gotdamn powerful. (3) What’s poppin? (4) Shmoney. – that solidified her reality TV stardom. But Cardi B was on a serious mission that has surpassed the 30 episodes of Seasons 6 and 7. She had a plan to go from stripping to rapping – on her own terms. And she did. Cardi B blew up and has been able to accomplish what many reality hip hop hopefuls have tried and failed: She nurtured her five minutes of reality recognition into a fanatic following, two mix tapes, a BET award nomination, and a deal with Atlantic Records. Reality TV was just one stop on what might be a long ride in hip hop. She don’t dance now; she make money moves.
After my friend read “Girls Like Cardi B”, he texted: “Girls like Cardi B transformed the pressures of their world into a swagger that everyone wanted, while hiding a pain that very few will ever understand. My sister was a girl like Cardi B. Maybe my momma, too.” I high-fived the hell out of his response in my head because: TRUTH. His words resonated and highlight the personas many Black girls and women adopt to navigate the world. Self included. Yet, my identification as a #TeamCardi player from Day 1 was more about the ways I embrace Cardi B’s freedom to be her most authentic self and make and learn from mistakes. I responded: “I WANTED to be a girl like Cardi B. But I couldn’t because: southern, small town, church, ultra good girl expectations, etc. That’s why she appeals to me so much. She’s the me that I had to hide so I wouldn’t embarrass my mama.” No lies detected.
When Cardi B hit the Love & Hip Hop scene, I instantly was drawn to her ratchet, honesty, feminism and her hustle for her dream. She had a few fight scenes on the show, but she was more complex than the throwing of her hands. Cardi B is not afraid to speak her mind, even if she apologizes for it later. For example, she called out Peter Gunz on his back and forth relationships and baby making with Amina Buddafly and Tara Wallace. She confronted DJ Self about focusing on creeping when she wanted him to focus more on her as an artist. Cardi B is not afraid to end a relationship that is no longer satisfying her. She broke up with her boyfriend Tommy; and while the end of the relationship may or may not have been influenced by her blossoming career, she expressed on the show that he was not always supportive. Cardi B is not afraid to go after what she wants. She chased her rapper dream in the ways I wished I’d chased my writer dream at her age. Cardi B is not afraid to be Cardi B. And coming from and – at the time – living in a space where there was so much emphasis on being polished and subdued, I lived for Cardi B’s rough around the edges persona and freedom.
I lived for her so much that I followed her on Instagram – one of the very few celebrities who I follow. I watched her interviews on YouTube. I read her 2016 Fader interview – “Cardi B’s So-Called Life” – multiple times. I made her the focus of a presentation at an academic professional conference. I even wore a Cardi-esque long, black wig with a bang during the presentation. I listened to her first mixtape, Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1, when it was only available via SoundCloud. I often posted about her on Facebook and told everyone who would listen that Cardi B was one to watch. So when others took note of Cardi B after “Bodak Yellow” dropped, I was all – I told y’all. I told y’all so.
Some people are surprised at my enamor with all things Cardi B. And usually, that surprise is because I’m not a millennial. I missed the millennial cutoff by 5-7 years. But there is a simple explanation. I saw Cardi shortly before my 40th birthday, a time when many women become the I’m about to be free and live for myself and stop taking care of everyone else while ignoring my own needs poster women. This was me. As my birthday approached, I reflected on where I was in my life and realized I had spent many years living in boxes and taking care of others’ needs and dreams, while I paid little attention to what I wanted in life. I was exhausted, unhappy and unfulfilled and something had to change. In walks Cardi B – the new, popular girl at school who’s quick-witted, intelligent, and talented. Let’s be friends.
Cardi B and I possibly had different upbringings that influenced who we became. I grew up in the 80s and 90s in a small, southern community where everyone knew everyone. Everyone went to church. Children added ma’am and sir after yes and no. Fourth of July was lit. Neighborhood segregation was the norm. I wouldn’t trade my childhood, and I embrace and love all my southernness. However, I sometimes felt out of place. I don’t know if it was my imagination and daydreaming, my love of 80s and 90s hip hop, or my addiction to movies and television with northern – particularly New York – settings, but I felt like I was supposed to grow up in a neighborhood where I could sit on the stoop and get my hair braided, double-dutch, wear bamboo earrings, ride the subway, and use a cupped fire hydrant (instead of the garden hose like we did in the South) to cool off during the steaming summers.
I had a strict, hard-working mother who left little room for foolishness. As an adult, I see the benefit of my mother’s structure and rules and adopted much of her parenting style. I was in church most Sundays and had Easter and Christmas speeches well into my high school years. If my friends called me after school, they likely would get my mother’s, “Didn’t you just see her at school?” question because she believed that the only reason we wanted to talk on the phone after school was to be messy. She was right. Good grades were the expectation. Even a high A that fell to a lower A from one term to the next was subject to a stern stare. I also was the oldest of three girls. So I had to be responsible and set an example. Because I watched my mother do it all seamlessly, I felt that I had to do the same. I wanted to be just like her and, as a result, I created boxes and boundaries that limited some of my innate free spirit. And let me go ahead and put a disclaimer here for those who will say, “But I remember when you [insert here whatever treacherous behavior that would embarrass the hell out of my mother if she knew]”. I’m not at all claiming to have been a saint or the epitome of a good girl, but I tried to walk the line as closely as possible. Usually. Most of the time. Okay, sometimes but not always.
I understand that our lived realities shape who we are. And to me, Cardi B is a young woman who is deliberate and afraid of nothing. Girls like Cardi B are the alter egos for women who desperately want to escape society’s cages and descriptions of who we should be at whatever age. They are free-spirited young women who remind 40+ women of our free-spiritedness. Girls like Cardi B are the women who make us less ashamed of our mistakes. With lyrics that reflect experiences that many women endure – no matter our age – girls like Cardi B remind us that there is recovery and resilience after abusive relationships. (The “Her Perspective Skit” on Gangsta Bitch Music Volume 1 was difficult to hear.) Girls like Cardi B know that, no matter how feminist, sometimes confronting another woman about a lover just happens. They are the loud girls for those of us who have been conditioned to be quiet. They fuck up good girl expectations. Girls like Cardi B are unapologetically fearless but the first to own their shit and be accountable. They will not be shamed about their sexuality or sex work because their confidence and outlook on life are realistic and nonjudgmental. Girls like Cardi B are body positive and self-loving. They are supportive of their friends and families but create their own existences. Girls like Cardi B move about the world in ways that are powerful and empowering. More of us should be or be acquainted with girls like Cardi B.
In the almost two years since Cardi B hit my television, I’ve been on a journey to navigating 40+ me and figuring out who exactly who I am and what I want. And to be honest, I am and want to be a girl like Cardi B. So if you see me rapping along to “Bodak Yellow” or twerking at a Cardi B concert (which I hope to do sooner than later), just know that I’m living my best life and plan on being a girl like Cardi B forevaaaaa.