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'Charting Black Excellence' celebrates black artists and their current accomplishments on the Billboard charts, which often don't receive the proper recognition and attention.
Exactly a year ago (Sept. 24), Cardi B's debut lead single "Bodak Yellow" reached No. 1 on the Hot 100. It had been 19 years since a woman earned that accomplishment by herself, without guests, standing on her own grounds. The last to do so was Lauryn Hill with "Doo-Wop (That Thing)" in 1998. There exists a handful of other women in rap reaching that summit position: Lil' Kim, Shawnna, Remy Ma, Iggy Azalea, and Left Eye (if you count her rapping on "No Scrubs"). But Cardi B's felt a bit different. A bit predestined for a People's Champ—one who understood her importance to the legacy of female rap.
Since her on-stage cameo at 2017’s Hot 97 Summer Jam, it’d become clear that Cardi B had been embraced as the future of the game. At the end of Remy Ma’s set, the headliner included an all-star roster of other women emcees that inspired her. When she opened up the surprise moment, Remy declared, “Yo! I ain’t never been a hater in my fucking life,” as Young M.A’s “OOOUUU” starts playing in the background. From there, Young M.A walks out to perform her hit; followed by Cardi B roaring along to the crowd with “Foreva”; then Lil’ Kim ripping her “Quiet Storm” verse; followed by Remy announcing the presence of OG vets MC Lyte, Rah Digga, Lady of Rage, Monie Love, and Queen Latifah—who would end the love fest with “U.N.I.T.Y.” Of course, there was one Rap Queen noticeably missing from the standout moment, instead online memes substituting her presence on the Jumbotron.
An aforementioned detail that clued society in on Cardi B’s impending success is the “roaring” crowd during her performance. Already famous from a Love & Hip Hop stint that followed a social media buzz, Cardi B received the rare prestige a new emcee obtains after setting the New York-based crowd ablaze at Summer Jam. It’s always special when the elite headliners are granted these MJ moments, but for a rookie, it’s an early indicator of MVP status. If it sounds like the crowd at Met Life Stadium is erupting while you’re the one performing on stage, you have earned some serious respect when it comes to hip-hop culture.
In her February 2018 feature for i-D Magazine, Cardi confessed, “When I got to number one, I didn’t even know that no woman has done that since 1998. I didn’t know how important it was for the community or the minorities.” She’d further go on to state, “In America, I always look at the charts. Hip-hop is always there. We are controlling the music industry.”
It felt as though those words—especially in print—had always played a helping hand in Cardi’s mission. It’s like she stumbled across a duty, understanding that her moment was bigger than just her. She had been in the center of history and wanted for everyone to feel the inspiration behind it. As she earns her now extended record of three No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, the most for any female hip-hop artist, she continues to remind her audiences of the tradition—most importantly, as one of the industry’s main It Girls (or shall we say “It Woman").
Out of all of hip-hop’s current leaders, Cardi B understands social media the best, and every post (even the unfiltered, typo-ridden ones) exemplifies her mastery of each platform. Within her accounts, she’s documented her appreciation for the women of rap that came before her. And if she’s not captioning an Instagram pic or tweeting her homage, she’s wearing it or sampling it.
Here’s an abbreviated list of examples: dressing as TLC’s Left Eye for her Coachella performance, while twerking for all the mothers managing to still hustle hard; bringing back the red wig visuals of Lil’ Kim’s “Crush On You” for the “Backin’ It Up” video; interpolating Shawnna’s “Gettin’ Some” on her verse in Pardison Fontaine’s new single; sampling Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” on “Be Careful,” an anthem designed for jilted women in relationships knowing their worth; tweeting her support of City Girls, CupcakKe, and Saweetie; or simply channeling her quirky, avant-garde spirit on Invasion of Privacy’s album cover in a way that’s reminiscent to one of her idols, Missy Elliott.
Cardi B’s three number ones—“Bodak Yellow,” “I Like It,” and Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You”—work as specific markers or, better yet, relics (if you will) of how far the female hip-hop landscape has come along in the public conscience. “Bodak Yellow” has a chorus mentioning “red bottoms,” subtly highlighting how women in rap influence fashion and are muses for designers. In that same i-D feature, Cardi mentioned how hip-hop culture “control[s] the fashion world,” a predictor even to how monumental her Fashion Week moment would become.
“I Like It” not only came at a time of Latin music’s dominance on the mainstream (being the first reggaeton-trap song to hit the spot), but also at a time when Cardi’s own heritage continues to be the subject of questioning online. This column is called Charting Black Excellence after all, and even I can’t believe a few sentences need to state the obvious.
For a while, Cardi B has been robbed by some who don’t believe she can identify as black due to her Latin heritage. This problem comes when those individuals ignore the modifier “Afro”; Cardi B identifies as an Afro-Latina woman from the hoods of the Bronx. And in a world that really only sees black and white at the end of the day—sparing no room for the specifics, or DNA tests through Ancestry.com—Cardi B is black. She’s a proud Dominican-Trinidadian first and foremost, but also understands these black-and-white implications.
Cardi’s never been afraid to address herself as such, while always speaking out on issues affecting the community. That is crucial because hip-hop will always and forever be a black space. Those voices are needed to keep the artform thriving, and anyone willing to recognize that in an authentic light—even understanding their own position within the community—shall reap the benefits. Of course, we could go into how ethnicity and appearance plays a factor into who obtains No. 1’s—for those that select to focus on the knit-picky specifics—but that’s better left for another time.
With “Girls Like You” reaching No. 1, Cardi has extended her history-making in less than a year. It’s even crazier to think that the Maroon 5 song is a pop record. After the news came out about the song’s latest charting position, Cardi mentioned how executives at Atlantic thought too many pop songs in her debuting year would be a bad look. But what this news solidified today is how far female rappers have come in being accepted in pop music.
Cardi’s constant homage to the women who dominated before her time (and really still do, without the extensive radio play and mainstream promo) acknowledges that without those individuals she could never obtain three No. 1s. The likes of Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, Left Eye, and (yes, even) Nicki Minaj have broke barriers for femcees’ positive existence in the pop world. Their trendsetting is what makes those records pop in the first place, and it would be any honor for any singer to be graced with that presence.
“Girls Like You” rising to the top also shows how hip-hop can maintain an importance past streaming. The song is currently popular on radio (managing to snag a No. 1 on the Mainstream Top 40 chart) and in digital sales through iTunes. Cardi B is not only outpacing other rappers on these platforms, as a woman, but also gaining more success than other pop women, as a rapper. In 2018, she now ties Drake for the most No. 1s on the Hot 100 and is only the third woman after Beyoncé and Camila Cabello to receive that position.
Earlier this year, around the time of Cardi promoting her first pop record, Bruno Mars' “Finesse (Remix),” I argued for Billboard that Cardi B possesses the spirit of an old-school hitmaker changing the course for the new school. One quality that proves this case is Cardi’s constant drive to preserve the community. It’s always been bigger than her; the money is a boastful perk for sure, but it’s better when others enjoy the perks as well (and for Belcalis Almánzar, that's her family and music team).
The public’s favorite women to ever do it—in fact, all rappers regardless of gender—managed to continue building the legacy, while never forgetting (or hating) on their predecessors. And while standing in their own lane—facing a litany of both praise and scrutiny in the public light—it’s women like them that have set a new standard for the industry as a whole to strive for.
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