You don’t find yourself in Cardi B’s hotel room every day. But when you do meet the first female rapper to top Billboard’s Hot 100 since Lauryn Hill back in 1998, you get exactly the honest woman you see on your feed all day. Talented, funny, sweet and brutally openhearted, the 25-year-old artist’s presence transcends hotel suites, number-1 hits, award shows, reality television and Instagram fame. It’s Cardi’s unfiltered nature that makes the Bronx native so loveable, relatable and inspirational. Whether it concerns sex or the harsher side of a life in the spotlight, Cardi B spells out truth—and more than that, Rap Royalty.
Cardi, you’ve done a lot in the past year. Have you had a moment to step back and reflect?
Well, it’s always felt like I was doing a lot. I’ve always been working hard, hard, hard, hard. Even when I worked in a supermarket, I sometimes had to work 12 non-stop hours, standing up. It’s a different type of hard work now and people don’t see it as that because they’re not in your shoes. They don’t understand how annoying it can be to board an airplane every single day, get glammed up for two or three hours, do a show, and do it again tomorrow—again and again and again. I’m really tired right now; my body is getting tired, my voice is getting deeper…
What about mentally? In art and music I feel like we’re constantly looking for the next thing, the next success. Does that leave room to celebrate your victories?
Yeah, all the time! I’ve been telling the people in my team and myself: “Remember this time last year? Remember when we didn’t get invited to this award?” That’s how we always compare things, by bringing back what we were doing last year. Twelve months ago I did a feature, and because a bigger artist wanted to get on the song, they took me off the feature! This time around it’s all different.
It seems to be easier for men than women to get respect in rap—and music in general—even when they have half the bars you do. Has that affected you?
Hell yeah, it affects me a lot. You always ask yourself: Wait, I don’t get it? For example, men who listen to hip hop will be embarrassed to listen to a girl…
Yes! I saw this tweet where a guy said, “I need to watch out when I’m rapping along with No Limit because otherwise I’ll be talking about some guy eating me out.” Like, dude, who cares?
People care! And on top of that, when a girl wants to collab with a guy it’ll be harder. Among guys it’s that “Hey, what’s up?” homie thing, but as a girl you feel like a guy sees you as a piece of meat, and you don’t want to be seen as that. You don’t want to be like, “Hey, do a song with me, but stop thinking of me as a sexy girl!”
I think that as a girl in the music industry, you tend to not show too much emotion, because men can take that and use it against you.
But then again, these men in hip hop are emotional too. The things that women get stressed by, they get stressed by too. That’s why they’re doing more drugs than the women.
Have men ever pretended to be interested in working together to make music, when in reality they were looking for “personal gain”?
That’s never really happened. Whenever I reached out to male artists, they just gave me a flat note. The man I first collaborated with, you know, is my fiancé.
You’re obviously an inspiration and advocate for women in hip hop. There’s a lot of songs about fucking bitches and that’s cool—I can bop to them—but when you can relate to the lyrics too, that’s a whole other level. How do you feel about girls who think, “Oh my god, she raps about fucking guys!” How did you get to the point where you were confident expressing your sexuality like this?
I’ve always been really open about my sexuality. I’ve always talked about it, even when I was in high school—even when I wasn’t even fucking! [Laughs] I thought that if I could be free to do and say what I want, I would. Sex and sexuality are the things you talk about every day. When I talk with my friends, we talk about people, our jobs, but you also talk about the dick or the pussy, right? “Hey, how was it with this guy?” Sex is normal, why are people acting like it isn’t? I hate it when women are like, “Oh my god, I can’t…” Bitch, you get violated in hip hop every single day. He’s always talking about getting head from you or about kicking you out. I’m doing the girl version of it. Why are you getting mad?
Have you seen a change in how people respond to these things since you first started rapping?
The change that I’ve seen is this: people that didn’t follow me, follow me now. They expect me to act a certain way; they expect me to censor my mouth. And they expect me not to say certain things. You need to remember, this is why I got famous. I got famous talking my shit. Other artists, they be mute and they don’t say nothing because it might affect their career. I’d rather talk my mind and say what I want to say than keep it deep down inside, low-key going through depression and not telling people. These other artists probably want to kill themselves—but you’re not gonna drive me crazy! Let me tell you something about your fucking self. There’ll be people with no credibility talking shit about you. I never changed. This is the type of shit I’ve always spoken about. I don’t feel like I’ve gotta change for nobody. I don’t want to change. I don’t want to feel like a puppet, I don’t want to feel like people can say whatever the fuck they want about me and I need to stay shut.
I saw your live-stream about slavery in Libya. It’s so fucked up. Thanks for speaking up.
Yeah, but even if you do, people are gonna talk shit. I spoke about it because I was watching the news and I found out more and more about it. But then I didn’t explain it to people with big vocabulary, so they were like, “She needs to shut the fuck up. You’re an artist, mind your business.” But when you don’t talk about it, it’s also a problem! People are never satisfied.
You live on a big pedestal, with a lot of people watching what you do. Has the “mad if I do, mad if I don’t” thing ever been difficult for you?
So, how do you deal with that?
I sometimes take it really, really personal.
You’ve never been able to teach yourself not to?