Cardi is teflon right now, and it’s because her path to the top of the foodchain is unprecedented. She shook off (but didn’t discredit) her stripper past and threw herself into making music, a dream that escapes most who aspire to it. She parlayed her charisma into a spot on reality TV, and flipped that into a legitimate career in hip-hop. Then, she took it several hundred steps further by catching a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, something that’s only been done once before by a female rapper.
Invasion of Privacy’s latest single, “Be Careful,” feels less like the Cardi we’ve come to know. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The track feels light in production, but the bars she spits—about a lover who needs to tread lightly—are more involved and revelatory than we’ve heard on lead-up songs. It’s, if nothing else, a hint that Cardi is ready to be seen as a fully realized artist with real stories and lived feelings, instead of just a hype girl whose sole purpose is to provide bangers. It doesn't sound like a surefire hit, but that doesn't matter.
You might be sick of hearing “Bodak Yellow” by now, but it was undeniable at its peak, and the love shown for that one song still has Cardi sitting pretty. Presuming “Bodak” is on the album, Cardi will be eligible to hit Gold the second Invasion of Privacy is released. This is possible because “Bodak” is 5x platinum between its streams and purchases, certified by the RIAA. Per Chart Data, 10 track units = 1 album sale, meaning that, thanks to how we currently count album sales, Invasion of Privacy will have moved 500,000 units off rip. (While it’s a hell of a feat, those units won’t be included in official first week numbers.)
Not only has she consistently dominated the conversation in hip-hop since last year, she’s crossed over to pop culture in a major way. She made her Super Bowl commercial debut with Amazon in February, starring alongside Gordon Ramsay, Rebel Wilson, and Anthony Hopkins. A month earlier, it was announced that she had secured the bag with her very first movie deal. Even further, at this year’s Grammys, she was picked to read an excerpt from Fire and Fury, the Michael Wolff book about Donald Trump’s chaotic White House. Her voice, both literally and figuratively, is everywhere. At this point, we care more about her as a personality than as a rapper—likely, in part, because she was a personality first—and she’s very smartly using her image to expand into bigger territory.
A good example of an artist whose outsized impact on pop culture outstrips their musical achievements is fellow Quality Control-managed rapper Lil Yachty. Yachty is still trying to land a solid album in the industry, but the music doesn’t have that large of an effect on his business. He’s still considered a star, based on exposure and endorsement deals, like his Nautica, Target and Sprite grabs—it’s the charisma that matters most. If Cardi’s album doesn’t hold up as a great piece of music, she’ll be in a similar position to Yachty—just much, much bigger. While his deals are different than what Cardi's bringing in, they could be an indication that her continued visibility won’t be tied to having a “classic” album.
And what about the music? Invasion of Privacy exists within Cardi’s story arc; the unprecedented, meteoric rise of a girl from around the way with a hell of a lot of moxie. The album won’t have to stand on its own because Cardi’s existence in every other respect will prop it up. It’ll be critiqued and picked apart immediately—this is 2018, after all—but the actual impact this album will have on Cardi’s status will likely be little to none. If it’s great, that’s just a bonus.
This is the first time we’re getting a Cardi album since her swift ascent. Every second, the conversation shifts from her music to her tweets to her latest appearance because wait, what is she hiding under all that material? The biggest conversation around her surprise album announcement was whether her album was pushed up because of a pregnancy—not whether she's more than a one-hit wonder.
Even if she is pregnant, Cardi is exactly where she envisioned herself. In a 2015 Complex interview, she said, “At the end of the day, I really want to have a kid when I’m 25. I’m the type of person that I want that whole family, baby thing.” With an engagement to Offset and a rumored child on the way, Cardi, 25, could be walking the path that she dreamed up just three years ago.
The “distractions” that keep cropping up are what keep Cardi at the forefront of the culture’s mind. After next Friday, those diversions and the work itself will all be swimming in the same pool, and we’ll be tasked with picking through it all to see what sticks, what’s most important. No matter what we decide—whether the album bangs, or whether there’s a baby on the way—we’ll be here, talking about her.