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Cardi B Is Making Money Moves

It’s no coincidence the Bronx-bred rapper has gone from Instagram star to bona fide musical sensation

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

Dropping a remix is “flex time.” You’ve made a hit song that everyone loves, and now it’s time for your victory lap. So you call up a friend or six to help you christen the moment. You don’t just call up anybody, though. It’s gotta be someone who’s gonna make this already-dope track that much doper, somebody with a little cachet, somebody who’s undeniably hot right now. In July 2017, that person is Cardi B.

To commemorate the one-year anniversary of “Cute,” the second single off his debut album Big Baby D.R.A.M., D.R.A.M. blessed us with a remix of the song Thursday. The new edition retains all of its original components — the Virginia rapper’s snuggle-soft falsetto and Charlie Heat’s Nintendo NES production — but comes equipped with some new, delightfully searing bars from the Bronx’s one-and-only. “O-oh, you think I’m cute, but I think you ugly / Trust me, it’s cool, I use you for money.” Lean close enough into this line and you’ll feel her ponytail gently whipping you in the face as she turns and struts away in a Versace bodysuit.

This, of course, isn’t the first place we’ve seen her pop up recently. Cardi B has one of the hottest songs in the country right now. If you watched the Season 2 premiere of Insecure, between gasps, you might have recognized it. Good music on Insecure isn’t news, of course, but hearing “Bodak Yellow” playing from a source that wasn’t my laptop or my 24-year-old sister’s snapstory still registered as a bit of a shock. This latest shout-out is yet another highlight in Cardi’s well-catalogued rise from New York strip club personality to reality TV celebrity to mainstream star.

“Bodak Yellow” — the Bronx rapper’s biggest hit to date, currently sitting at no. 19 on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts — is as much about self-empowerment and financial sovereignty as it is about stuntin’ on some “sad little bitch.” For Cardi, it’s more than Instagram likes and red bottoms: “Got a bag and fixed my teeth / Hope you hoes know it ain’t cheap / And I pay my mama bills / I ain’t got no time to chill.” Any person or group of people lying at the other end of these lines is merely imagined. She’s shadowboxing, constructing a faux adversary to pummel with her gospel of paychecks and self-confidence. It’s not about anybody else. It’s about getting what you were told you shouldn’t have and looking good while doing it.

Last year, she released her first mixtape — Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1 — made her first of two appearances in the highly coveted guest seat on The Breakfast Club, hung out with Chris Rock, and joined the cast of the popular BET drama Being Mary Jane. Cardi’s glow up has been life-bringing. She’s crude, she’s sexy, and she’s entirely and hilariously shameless. We’ve reveled in how “real” she is, and discovered that she actually can rap. It’s no wonder she’s won an audience with the likes of Issa Rae and Solange. Like them, Cardi is an artist and a public figure, projecting a vision of black female life that is resonant, aspirational, and imperfect. And if any of that doesn’t sit well with you, she knows just the cure.

That Cardi, a black woman who speaks her mind and talks about sex a lot, has faced the public backlash’s sharp, Twitter-shaped blade and only continued to climb higher is no small feat. Withstanding the warping pressures of a stressful industry and the scourge of anonymous criticism is a challenge for any artist. But Cardi remains steadfast in both her talent and her identity as she does it. She’s the celebrity you want to see win. Her victories feel simultaneously her own and somehow also shared. It makes sense, then, that her music inspires such a sense of collective joy. Only the real can relate.