Like every year since its debut in 1984, this year's MTV Video Music Awards, hosted in Inglewood, California, on August 27, had its fair share of flamboyant performances.
Among them, a majestic spectacle from Kendrick Lamar followed by a post-jail cameo from Gucci Mane. Perhaps less exuberant, but just as anticipated, was the 34th ceremony show opener from Cardi B.
Sporting a glittery body and the Yves Saint Laurent boots to match, the 24-year-old artist kicked off the event with "Bodak Yellow," one of the year's most hyped tracks. Making it to number three on Billboard's Hot 100 chart back in June, the banger is now officially hailed as the most successful song ever from a female hip-hop act.
Now in the heavyweight league of US rap, the artist has garnered praise across the board, with Noisey recently confirming that "Bodak Yellow" marked only the beginning of "Cardi B's reign." A reign which, for many, was difficult to imagine just a few short months ago.
Born Belcalis Almanzar to a Dominican father and a Trinidadian mother Cardi B was raised in the Bronx. There, she grew up listening to bachata, reggaeton and dancehall before developing a passion for east coast rap from the 1990s and 2000s.
Spending most of her time glued to MTV, she devoured videos by Lil' Kim or Remy Ma, for their performances as much as for their music. Going on to attend the Renaissance High School for Musical Theater and Technology, a small specialist school, her thirst to perform only grew.
Aged 16, she first took to the stage with precocious versions of the biggest tracks of the moment at the school talent show (an event that, luckily, someone had the foresight to record).
Upon graduating, Cardi found a job at a lower Manhattan supermarket called Amish Market. But it was a career path that didn't really work out, as she explained to Complex in 2016:
"I used to live with my ex-boyfriend in his mom’s house with two pitbulls, and his sister who used to steal my little bit of money and my little bit of weed, and there were bedbugs in there [...]
When I got fired from there I was like, 'What am I going to do?' The manager from the Amish Market place said, 'You’re so pretty and you have such a nice body. Why don’t you go across the street and work at Private Eyes?'"
Reluctant at first, but desperate to escape an abusive boyfriend, the 19-year-old saw no other choice than to go into stripping. And Cardi soon found herself convinced after earning more in one day than in a week at her last job. Soon enough Belcalis Almanzar was steadily building her fortune by giving lap dances at the club; by day, however, she was busy cultivating a name for herself on social media.
Unpredictable, loud and always ready to put on a show, Cardi B took to sharing daily Instagram posts starring herself as the main act in a hilariously unique style of comedy.
Disclosing hard-hitting truths and tales from her everyday life, Cardi quickly gained thousands of followers, simply by being herself. As she explains:
"When I started doing videos and everything I just took a camera and was like, talking about how corny guys are, how corny bitches are. Just doing jokes that I do with my friends. A lot of people when they meet me will be like, you are just like your Instagram video. I’m like, bitch I know. That’s who I am."
Eventually, her raw authenticity, appreciated by an ever-growing community and analyzed by multiple media outlets, wound up opening the doors to reality TV. In 2015, she joined the sixth season of VH1's Love & Hip Hop – a show chronicling the lives of various personalities from the world of US hip-hop – ultimately bringing her back to where she wanted to be.
Because, despite a slight detour filled with exotic dancing and selfies, the girl from the Bronx never forgot her first love: music. Nonetheless, as she recently admitted to The Fader, there was always something holding her back:
"I was always scared to follow my dreams because if I follow my dreams and I fail, I can't dream about it anymore. It’s easier to settle for less."
In the autumn of 2015, Cardi B was eventually convinced by her manager to bring her musical ambitions to life and record a remix of Shaggy's "Boom Boom" with Jamaican deejay Popcaan.
A successful first step towards a new career, the single was soon followed by Gangsta Bitch Music, vol. 1, a debut mixtape on which tracks like "Foreva" or "On Fleek" demonstrate all the potential of the emerging artist.
In February 2017, a month after delivering the second chapter of the EP, Gangsta Bitch Music, vol. 2, the artist joined the ranks of music giant Atlantic Records. Just a few months after signing on the dotted line, Cardi B produced the hit she'd always dreamed of with "Bodak Yellow."
Featuring razor-sharp lyrics and an Atlanta trap-inspired production, the single was an immediate hit. Rushing to pole position on Billboard's Hot Rap Songs chart, the track led its artist from niche fame to hip-hop's latest sensation.
Speaking to the New York Times at the time Trevor Anderson, manager of Billboard's R&B and hip-hop charts, said, "We haven’t seen a song from someone brand new go up the charts this quick since Meghan Trainor."
But it's to artists like Nicki Minaj or Foxy Brown that Cardi B is most often compared. Like them, she projects a charismatic and sometimes provocative image but most of all isn't afraid to aim her lyrics at anyone who gets in her way. As she explained to Hollywood Unlocked back in June:
"When I first started rapping, I liked some songs from Khia and Trina. And they were fighting songs, I hadn't heard fighting songs in a very long time [...]
But I know every girl have beef with a girl and I know every girl want to fight a girl. And every bitch don't like some bitch. That's what I want to rap about."
Covered by various artists, from SZA to Erica Buddington, "Bodak Yellow" seemed to ring true for many, soon becoming an unexpected anthem of an unapologetic youth.
Unashamed of her past and busily forging out a future in a largely male-dominated environment, the unfiltered rapper claims she was recently the subject of an eleven-page feminist essay by a university professor. As she told XXL Magazine at the start of the year:
"A lot of people hate the fact that people call me a feminist because I don’t have a college diploma. I inspire bitches to make money. I inspire women to make money. I’m not encouraging women to be a stripper. I’ma tell women to find a niche and make the best out of yourself and make money out of it."
Not convinced? Check out Cardi B's thoughts on the subject just below: