Credit: Atlantic Records

Invasion of Privacy is a hustler’s tale told by a woman in a manner that hip-hop has only seen in fits and starts (see: Lil Kim’s verse on the 1995 Junior M.A.F.I.A. single “Get Money”), due in part to the male-dominated field’s historic reluctance to position a woman as a legitimate boss.

Cardi B is different because she demands more and doesn’t fit neatly into the genre’s existing female archetypes: she is neither the elevated sexpot with a knack for pithy one-liners or the battle-hardened tomboy vetted by the guys on the block. Instead, she blurs those lines to her own benefit, leading with an irresistible personality established well before the arrival of her highly anticipated, already-gold-certified 2018 debut album. With it, she leapfrogs rap’s antiquated approach to inclusion to take her rightful place at the head of the table.

Fittingly, Invasion of Privacy opens with the ash-to-classy manifesto “Get Up 10.” Picking up where Meek Mill’s 2012 “Dreams and Nightmares” left off, Cardi chronicles her meteoric rise from Uptown, New York strip club, Sue’s, to the top of the heap as arguably the most endearing and unlikely talent to disrupt rap — from underground to pop radio — since the arrival of Lauryn Hill:

“B—-s hated my guts, now they swear we was cool.
Went from makin’ tuna sandwiches to makin’ the news.
I started speakin’ my mind and tripled my views.
Real b—h, only thing fake is the boobs.”

While Cardi B and L-Boogie are technically stylistic opposites, the comparisons extend to the gargantuan lead single “Bodak Yellow,” which made Cardi the first solo female rapper to snag the number-one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart since Ms. Hill’s 1998 Miseducation smash “Doo Wop (That Thing).”

Cardi B’s gift of gab initially bled into social media, where she became the Instagram darling with the infectious personality and foul mouth. Following a stint on Love & Hip-Hop, she released Gangsta B—-h Music Vol. 1, her first foray into music. The 2016 mixtape was a love letter to the strivers and scammers that jettisoned her from rap-adjacent reality TV to rap stardom.

Cardi followed with the Underestimated: The Album and Gangsta B—-h Music Vol. 2 mixtapes in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Both spoke to the club culture that raised Cardi, doubled down on her authenticity with a biting realness that countered the typically unsustainable personas reality soaps tend to produce, and chronicled her version of the American dream (in this case it begins with “got a bag and fixed my teeth” instead of “once upon a time”).

The cathartic vulnerability, twerk-team feminism, and free-wheeling trash talk she practiced with earlier releases is perfected on Invasion of Privacy. The project eschews the mega-tracklisting trend by delivering a solid thirteen songs fortified by carefully chosen features that compliment Cardi’s bombast and versatility.

Appearances from Chance the Rapper, Kehlani, SZA, and 21 Savage counter Cardi típico with performances that challenge her tendency to rap exclusively for the clubs-and-dubs set. In doing so, she toddles but eventually unlocks a more nuanced version of herself, one whose sonic options are at once limitless and compelling. The most unfortunate thing about Invasion of Privacy is that Cardi did not take a more experimental turn to explore them further. The decision, however, is understandable given the months she’s spent fending off the trolls in her mentions who predicted she was out of gas after “Bodak Yellow.” Appropriately, “Money Bag” eviscerates detractors who have tried to play her cheap: “These b—s salty, they sodium, they jelly, petroleum. Always talkin’ in the background don’t never come to the podium.”

The Boi-1da-produced third single “Be Careful” finds her addressing a cheating partner — a track many have speculated is a nod to the very public problems with infidelity that have plagued Cardi and fiancé Offset. Though Chance nearly steals the show on album standout “Best Life,” and the Migos feature “Drip” might have been best as a one-off sequel to “Motorsport” given Takeoff’s absolute domination of the track, Cardi stays in the saddle. She fuses salsa with a corpulent low-end to deliver a substantial nod to her Dominican roots on the Bad Bunny and J Balvin-assisted single “I Like It,” which is propelled by a Pete Rodriguez sample.

Where Cardi B struggles to perfect the timing of her flow, she makes up for it with the heft of her voice. Combining the gruff delivery of Biggie Smalls with the bird-flipping fire of Tupac Shakur and the bubbly aura of a tween star, Cardi deploys a hybridized power vocal that punctuates trap and bounce-heavy pop with a witty presence that makes her narrative universally accessible. At a time when rap’s biggest players and their drippy, southern aesthetic might suggest the genre’s allegiance to the true school tenets of the five boroughs has stalled, Cardi B’s old New York attitude and accent break through mechanized trunk production to reveal a healthy heart beating at the city’s core.

That presence, which anchors Invasion of Privacy, breaks with the rap game’s minimization of women to amplify a multifaceted female MC who is enamored of her own sex appeal and disinterested in the rules. A loud-mouthed Afro-Latina who refuses to be silenced in a world that has historically penalized black women for speaking their minds, Cardi B has changed the trajectory of the hip-hop narrative by upending longstanding street lore about how to earn wealth and respect in the genre and supplanting her male peers by daring to make herself the star of the story.

A woman with no need to rely on a more prominent male counterpart is the protagonist at the controls rewriting the rules, teaching other women how to get to the bag and challenging the men to keep up. Her presence proves that rap is only made better and more compelling by a diverse crop of female talents that do not fit neatly into any particular boxes or gender roles and are not shrinking violets. Cardi B is the real deal. Only thing fake is the boobs.