Cardi B is wrapping up a record-breaking year with her first-ever VOGUE cover. Written by Rob Haskell and photos by Anne Leibovitz Cardi stars on the cover with her 16-month-old daughter Kulture.
Perhaps the central question dogging Cardi at the moment is how to sustain the breathtaking momentum that carried her from stripper to social-media phenom to reality-television star to world-beating rapper in less than five years. “Bodak Yellow,” her breakout single from 2017, became the first number-one hit by a solo female rapper in nearly two decades, since Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” in 1998. Cardi’s subsequent debut studio collection, Invasion of Privacy, was critically hailed and landed her a Grammy for best rap album, another first by a solo female rap artist. Musically, her gifts were as convincing as they were unexpected.
Given the ribald humor, truth bombs, and instant aphorisms of her Instagram videos—in which she brought unstinting candor, a Spanish–inflected Bronx accent, and mutinous grammar to whatever topic struck her fancy (love, sex, cheating, and money, mainly)—perhaps it should have been obvious that she’d be a quick study at writing and rapping. “What makes Cardi unique is her voice,” says Bruno Mars, with whom she has collaborated on a pair of hit singles. “She was blessed with a distinct, memorable speaking voice and a tone that can set a party off. Her voice on a record is explosive.”
Cardi is hard at work on a second album, scheduled for release early next year, and the pressure weighs heavily. “The first time it was just me being myself,” she says. “I didn’t even care if people was gonna like it or not. When I found out I did so good, I’m like, is this a big number? Everybody was like, yes, this is a huge number. So it’s scary because it’s like, now you got to top your first album, and then it’s like, damn. I wonder if people are gonna relate to the new things, to the new life, to the new shit that I gotta talk about now. Music is changing. I feel like people just wanna hear twerk-twerk music, but it’s like, is that just a phase? I probably need a sexy song. I need a lot of turn-up songs. I need a slow song, a personal song. And those are harder for me—I always need help when it comes to talking about my feelings. It’s hard for me to be soft, period. So it’s a lot of thoughts, a lot of pressure. It’s really like a job.”
Cardi Speaks On Offset
There are other pressures, too. Cardi B is now 27, a mother, and a wife, which makes not giving a fuck harder to pull off. She has seen her marriage to Offset, the Atlanta rapper and member of the group Migos, placed under a microscope. The couple broke off their relationship in December 2018 but reunited early this year.
“When me and my husband got into our issues—you know, he cheated and everything—and I decided to stay with him and work together with him, a lot of people were so mad at me; a lot of women felt disappointed in me,” Cardi explains. “But it’s real-life shit. If you love somebody and you stop being with them, and you’re depressed and social media is telling you not to talk to that person because he cheated, you’re not really happy on the inside until you have the conversation. Then, if you get back with them, it’s like, how could you? You let all of us down. People that be in marriages for years, when they say till death do us part, they not talking about little arguments like if you leave the fridge open. That’s including everything. When I was pregnant with Kulture, a lot of people was like, oh, he has three kids already; why would you have a kid with somebody that have three kids? And it’s like, how is that such a bad thing? My dad has eight kids, and we all get along, and it feels better, fuller. And with Offset, I feel like his kids just bring a pop of fun to life when they’re in his house. I actually love it. It brings out a different side of him that I like to see, and I love to see my baby interacting with her siblings. The more the merrier.”
Cardi and Offset are still figuring out how to settle into family life together. They are rarely in the same city for more than a night or two at a stretch, and while she is shopping for a dream home, they don’t necessarily agree on where it should be. She is most comfortable in or near New York, but Offset has never wanted to live there. “It’s not an easy thing,” he says. “We both have our own households. But you grow. We’re way better now with communication. She’s balancing a lot. She feels like she can’t be absent a lot, and our jobs are crazy. But I think motherhood got her more focused. I always tell her, don’t follow the comments. But she’s been outspoken on things since before she was making music—she’s not ever putting on, she’s not ever being cool. At the end of the day, she’s still going to rap about the same shit, which is what it’s like being a woman.”
“My thing is, everybody on social media acts like relationships is perfect,” Cardi says. “And that’s crazy to me. I’m around so many women, and there’s always a woman talking about how she loves her man, but her man is not financially stable, or she has a problem with his mom, or the sex is not as good anymore. Everybody has issues. I believe in forgiveness. I prayed on it. Me and my husband, we prayed on it. We had priests come to us. And we just came to an understanding like, bro, it’s really us against the world. He has my back for everything, I have his back for everything, so when you cheat, you’re betraying the person that has your back the most. Why would you do that? We have come to a clear understanding. For me, monogamy is the only way. I’ll beat your ass if you cheat on me.”
CARDI B, who was born Belcalis Almánzar, has famously described herself as a “regula degula schmegula girl from the Bronx.” Her father is Dominican, and her mother is from Trinidad. She was a class clown who always dreamed of being a famous rapper. “I don’t know what it is—I will never know what it is—but ever since I was young, people liked to hear me talk,” she says. “I was always that person, like, I didn’t really have a lot of friends, but people was excited to see me in class because they knew I was funny. They was dying to hear a story from me. But the streets distracted me from my dream, you know what I’m saying? It’s like, oh, I could’ve been in a vocal class after school, but I’d rather just go hang out with my friends and smoke weed and be around gangs and be with this guy. That type of shit distracted me. And being an artist was just so far-fetched.”
Read the full Cardi B interview here.