Whatever you (or I) think about the state of 2017 hip-hop, an accomplishment is still an accomplishment, especially when it’s one of historic proportions.
Whether or not you think that the current mumble rap trend is even more annoying than nails across a chalkboard, or that the only female MCs who get play are ones that beef with others or whose private parts are on full lyrical display, you must realize that we are seventeen years into a century that’s been characterized by ratchet reality TV shows, repetitive trap music and a consumer medium (streaming) where fans – not radio station program directors or one’s parents, for that matter – dictate what the hits are.
The times have changed and we’re not likely going back to the days of “Push It,” “U.N.I.T.Y.” or even “Work It”…not now or in the foreseeable hip-hop future.
So if you are one of those who long for the days when ratchet wasn’t viewed as a badge of badassness, don’t look now, because relatively new rapper Cardi B makes a big money move – or as she would put it, a “shmoney move” – on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, and accomplishes something that several iconic female MCs couldn’t.
She hits No. 1.
The song “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” makes a hard-fought climb from No. 2 to No. 1 and instantly places the newcomer on a short list that only includes two other female rappers in lead roles: Lauryn Hill and Iggy Azalea (although the latter was accompanied by Charlie XCX for her 2014 single, “Fancy”), which means Cardi B is the first rapper in 19 years – since Hill’s 1998 solo single “Doo Wop (That Thing)” – to reach No. 1 without accompaniment.
Of course, I’m excluding the very first No. 1 song to feature a female rapping on it. That would be the group Blondie’s “Rapture,” featuring those famously wack rhymes (about Martians eating cars) spit by lead singer Debby Harry, who, by all accounts (including her own), isn’t really considered a rapper.
This means that Cardi B (real name Belcalis Almanzar), formerly of VH1 reality TV series “Love and Hip-Hop: New York,” as well as a former stripper, has outdone legendary female MCs like Salt-n-Pepa, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Missy Elliott, Eve, and Nicki Minaj – none of whom reached the top spot on their own or as lead acts (although Lil’ Kim reached No. 1 as part of a collaboration that included Christina Aguilera, Mya and P!nk in a remake of LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade”). Another rapper, Shawnna, topped the chart as a featured act on Ludacris’ “Stand Up” in 2003.
Minaj, for what it’s worth, showed she can be a good sport by tweeting her congrats to the new chart-topper for her “historic” achievement. This came a week after revealing that her upcoming new music (release date TBD) will be “a thousand times more powerful” than her own biggest hit, 2014’s “Anaconda.”
And since I’m discussing female MCs, allow me to take a moment to mention that newish conscious rapper Rapsody has a new album out, but I digress.
Now back to this week’s new No. 1, Cardi B gets there by out-Minajing Minaj. Inspired artistically by rappers like Khia (“My Neck, My Back”) and Trina (“Nann Nigga,” “Here We Go”), Cardi B is about as unapologetic as they come in 2017. A self-proclaimed “feminist,” the New York native famously embraces being a “strippa hoe” (her words, not mine) who is all about that “shmoney” (if you don’t know that term yet, look it up in the urban dictionary).
Indeed “Bodak Yellow” takes indifference and self-affirmation to a whole ‘nother level with its devil-may-care lyrics about her former strip-club life, her beef with other “b****es,” her bedroom prowess, her new money (and the fixed teeth it afforded her) and her affinity for high-end, red-soled stiletto shoes (presumably of the Christian Louboutin variety). “These is red bottoms, these is bloody shoes,” she assertively raps.
She even coins a new conjugation for the past tense of the verb “arrive” (“I just arove in a Rolls”) in the song’s final verse. For sure, if there’s a respectable gem to be found anywhere in her lyrics, it’s in the line “and I pay my mama’s bills.”
Who can’t appreciate a person with new money for looking out for mama when those paychecks start rolling in?
Cardi B does take her “feminism” to an extreme, but then this is 2017. It’s no longer enough for the advocacy of women’s rights to be confined to the fight for equality in the workplace and in society in general. “Bodak Yellow” says that it also takes shape in the form of women asserting their authority in the bedroom, in the ‘hood and on the mic, as Cardi B does so effectively.
Hers is a brashness and cockiness that obviously resonates more with the millennials than it does with any group before them, and Cardi B, who turns 25 on October 11, is now this generation’s hottest ambassador.
And, as of this week, it’s her “Bodak Yellow” that is the country’s most popular song, placing her in that rarefied air that even predecessors like Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown and Nicki Minaj – who arguably did it better – couldn’t breathe.
By the way, did I mention that conscious female rapper Rapsody has a pretty good new album out?