Every Monday, for more than a month, I have rushed to Billboard’s Twitter page to see if Cardi B finally topped the charts. Then, yesterday, after I was traveling from a long flight, I turned on my phone with several congratulatory and “we did it!” messages. To my happiness, Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” rose from No. 2 to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 latest chart (dated Oct. 7). Cardi B beat Post Malone‘s “Rockstar,” which debuted No. 2, and knocked Taylor Swift, a white victim-perfecting, nothing is her fault, look what we made her do, powerhouse, to No. 3. in the process.
In a time where NFL athletes and owners are whitewashing Colin Kaepernick’s #TakeAKnee movement calling out police violence of Black people, many may ask if Cardi B’s accomplishment even matters. Yes, it does.
I’m sure some people reading this will let out an exasperated sigh, coupled with a “so what?” about the significance of this song of the summer officially going platinum in the U.S. and being the most-played song in the country. It’s understandable to feel this way, but only if we believe that music exists in a vacuum and away from the usual standards of success, including respectability politics, racism, capitalism, sexism, white music executives, and an industry that rarely allows authenticity.
To be sure, Cardi’s realness is exactly why at this year’s Video Music Awards, she emphatically said, “Colin Kaepernick as long as you kneel with us, we gon’ be standing for you, baby … that’s right I said it.” Even in the height of her success, she threatened to boycott the NFL and watch baseball, unless and until the NFL rehires Kaepernick. She understands who she is and does not hold back on her thoughts, even offering solid critiques against this country’s unfortunate president. This is more than music.
Cardi B’s success proves to us just how much of a national treasure she is and that she will, indeed, save a nation.
My love for Cardi B knows no bounds. Her personality is infectious, her sense of humor is endearing, her hunger is admirable, and her ability to make money moves is a feat to which we can all inspire.
It’s important to recognize what Cardi B has accomplished. With “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” reaching No. 1, she becomes the first female rapper to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart without the assistance of any other credited artists since Lauryn Hill’s hit, “Doo Wop (That Thing),” nearly 19 years ago. Cardi B can also safely claim the sixth week at No. 1 on the Hot Rap Songs chart and a fourth frame atop Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. That’s not all.
According to Billboard, Cardi B is only the fifth female rapper ever to lead the Hot 100 at all. After Hill, Lil’ Kim was atop the chart for five weeks in 2001 with Christina Aguilera, Mya, and P!nk on “Lady Marmalade”; Shawnna reigned as featured on Ludacris’ “Stand Up,” which topped the Dec. 6, 2003, chart; and Iggy Azalea‘s introductory Hot 100 hit, “Fancy,” featuring Charli XCX, led for seven weeks in 2014.
Cardi B’s current success is nothing to take lightly.
An Afro-Latina woman from the Bronx who is hood, has an unapologetically thick accent, that will let you know she’s a former stripper, who doesn’t give into outdated notions of respectability, and is Gang-affiliated has the biggest song in the country. A woman who experienced success from social media (namely Vine and Instagram) and then became the breakout star of Love & Hip Hop: New York, charted enough points to be No. 1. This is a big deal.
Black and brown people pushed for this success to be actualized. We played it in the clubs, we requested it on the radio, we gifted it to friends, and we practiced lyrics just because we knew we would need to show off to our friends. What’s more, celebrities vouched for her and this song. Just last week, Rihanna posted a video with the caption “Me AF” as a beautiful child is getting her everlasting life to Cardi B. And, Janet Jackson herself, while performing on tour, mixed ‘Bodak Yellow’ to her 1986 hit, “What Have You Done for Me Lately?”
This was a community effort that isn’t merely about what’s a good or bad song. It’s about resisting against norms in the music industry. It’s a story about how a roach can turn into a butterfly. It’s a story about letting people who doubted you be your greatest motivators. This is about what can happen when marginalized communities say “f*ck it!” to respectability politics and demand respect in mainstream spaces. This is what happens when we say “f*ck it” when people tell us to appease white consumers and consumerism. Cardi B is undoubtedly making a name for herself.
Some of that makes me nervous because it means that white media outlets will think they have access to Cardi B and attempt to make her change. She won’t. But, it also makes me uncomfortable because people will continually attempt to demand “what’s next” from her without allowing her to experience her current success for what it is. Let us have this, let Cardi B have this, let Black women have this, let Latina women have this, and let all hood girls (famous and not famous) have this now.
We deserve Cardi B and I’m thankful we get to experience her, her rawness, and her success. Whether we love these bloody shoes or not, ‘Bodak Yellow’ is still the No. 1 song in the country, and it’s a feat that many didn’t think would be possible.
This is for the culture, and she has already won.
Preston Mitchum is a Washington, DC-based writer, activist, and policy nerd. He is a regular contributor with theGrio and The Root and has written for the Atlantic, Slate, Think Progress, OUT Magazine, Ebony.com, and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter here to see just how much he appreciates intersectionality.