“I am an emotional gangster. I only cry once a month!” Just like that, Belcalis Almanzar burst onto the screen via the reality television show “Love & Hip Hop: New York.” The world had no idea who Cardi B was, but it was in for a rude awakening. By mid-2015, Cardi B, named in part for her strong personality like the alcohol Bacardi, had garnered America’s attention and instantly became a show favorite. What began as a crass, unpolished persona has evolved into an icon in the making who has learned the lesson of self-love to the point no one else can define her.
Many have heard her tell her story through the lens of humor and acute bluntness. The judgments have flowed because of her early exposure to strip clubs and admitted gold digging. But what can easily be missed is a stern interior mindset that has served her well from the mean streets of New York to an international stage. Cardi has made the ultimate come up and I believe strongly her story and sense of self-love make for great object lessons in life.
She shared her life of project living in New York’s Bronx borough and the struggles associated with an environment like that. Reared in a strict Afro-Trinidadian home in Highbridge South Bronx. Her first language is Spanish which accounts for her still heavy accent. Cardi found herself becoming a gang member by age 16 with the Bloods; known around the world for territorial wars and tight, family-like loyalty.
Cardi recounts experiencing low self-esteem due to abusive relationships. At 19, after being fired from a supermarket job, she became a stripper. By her own account, she found a sense of independence from stripping and it helped thicken her skin to public perception. In her infamous “Bodiqua” accent Cardi recalls:
I was all about my ‘shmoney’ back then. People acted like stripping wasn’t a real job. How the hell I could afford all my weaves and fancy clothes then?
By 2013, Cardi began to get noticed for her outlandish one-liners and the popularity of social media videos gone viral. Soon television producer Mona Scott-Young came knocking to cast her in the reality show “Love & Hip Hop: New York.” She was open about her relationship with a fiancée who was incarcerated along with the challenges that come with it. Fans tuned in to see a raw but real personality air out their mistakes and strive to learn from them. She was seen as both soft and gangster, at the same time. From there, Cardi’s personality and boisterous interactions have caused her to skyrocket!
Between the sarcastic antidotes, faces, and accent, I feel strongly that none of this was by accident. Cardi did not just stumble upon a life of fame. There are specific steps to her success that can benefit us all. Here are a couple of observations and principles about the rapper’s self-love that I want to share:
Remember where you start is not where you have to stay: Cardi is the first to tell you she was a scammer, stripper and only wanted to connect with guys with “shmoney.” Shmoney is Cardi’s personal twist on saying the word money. Never known to sugar coat it anything, Cardi wants the world to know she made it out of the dangerous world of streets. I think what gets people down most when it comes to the journey to success are the disappointments in between. What she has done is remind us all that humble beginnings are not the final destination. If we keep our eye on the prize, step by step we can make a significant change.
Always be unoffendable: Cardi’s background made for golden reality T.V. Millions tuned in for the “LHHNY” reunion shows mostly to see Cardi go off! She famously screamed “Didn’t y’all know us New York b**ches is SAVAGE?!” while throwing a spiked high heel at a cast mate. She seems unshaken by society’s judgment of her start. You can laugh at her accent, ridicule her broken English or call her whatever you like; she hustled via social media, music, and television has made her a millionaire many times over. The secret? Nothing gets her down when it comes to chasing her dreams.
Create a “team us” culture to build your brand: Don’t get it twisted, Cardi is a force of nature by herself. Every room she steps into, her personality consumes. But it takes a lot more than charisma to master the game. You need a team of trusted people to lean on. Whether we are talking about Kollin Carter, Cardi’s longtime stylist, Erika La Pearl who keeps her makeup popping, Tokyo Stylez the wizard behind her wigs and natural dos, or Shaft & Marsha St. Hubert who is the management force behind her sudden rise to stardom. Ms. B has the equivalent of the USA men’s basketball team in 1992 when America stacked the basketball deck to win the gold medal with the likes Jordan, Bird, and Magic. When you develop the team culture of “us” you create a space for people to thrive creatively. They are free to be authentic because the standard has already been set.
This weekend, Cardi B released her latest project, “Invasion of Privacy” and within 24 hours it was certified Gold. Behind her a slew of hits like, “Bodak Yellow, Bartier Cardi, Washpoppin” and her newest, “Be Careful,” Cardi has gone on to out-sale icons like Lauryn Hill and Taylor Swift. In fact, she is now on the list of female artists with debuting songs on Billboard. However, before you judge her success away with the assumption that sex appeal, stripping or hyper-sexuality got her to the top, remember she used much more. Belcalis refused to be a permanent product of the tough environment she was born into. Did she stray? Of course. Could it have been different? Absolutely. But, you must admit, the girl’s hustle is on point.
Cardi B’s success is not by chance. When it comes to the mechanics of existing, and thriving as a human being, she is unashamed, unpolished, unapologetic and a force of consciousness genius. From the strip club to the “Grammy Awards” she did it her way. Onlookers may knock her hustle, but her stardom and authenticity can no longer be denied.
Opinion by Early Jackson
(Edited by Cherese Jackson)
The Fader: Cardi B Did It Her Way
Top Image Courtesy of Early Jackson – Used With Permission
Inline Image Courtesy of scottieJetz – YouTube Screen Capture
Featured Image Courtesy of Wikipedia – Wikimedia Commons License