Written By Marjua Estevez
“This is my happy place,” which is why Cardi B invites me to her grandmother’s home in Washington Heights and not her condo in Edgewater, New Jersey. Inside the prewar apartment there’s a musical number of clanking pans and plastic cups scrubbing under the rush of faucet water. There’s arroz blanco cooking in one pot and red beans in another, traditional Dominican rum and wine being served in rustic glass among a bevy of women who grew up far, far away from any city of neon and chrome. Cardi is hiked on a wooden stool by the kitchen bar adjacent to the living room, getting her hair and makeup done. It’s not lost on me that, despite her rise to fame, Cardi is considerably reclusive and a private person when it comes to family and other matters of the heart. She may well be a social media mainstay with all the nuts and bolts of a superstar, but the television personality-turned-rapper is the quintessential homegirl from around the way many of us know and love. She’s also the self-described stripper hoe that’s all about her shmoney; the intersectional feminist who advises her cypher of girlfriends on how to turn the tables on ain’t sh*t f**k boys; the gansta b***h who warns detractors not to underestimate her.
Born Belcalis Almanzar, Cardi grew up in a household that was loud with laughter, often booming with music and always full of cousins, something clearly visible as we speak and all too common throughout Caribbean residencies. Her Internet comedy, an extension of her father’s flair for jokes, can make even the most solemn of folks burst into laughter—however brash or eyebrow-raising the delivery. Her mother, on the other hand, is serious as a heart attack, an attribute most noticeable in Cardi when her ethos is challenged by naysayers at large: “You see these mad b***hes online? They want me to hate myself so bad, they want me to believe that I look a certain type of way, they want me to believe that I’m ugly. But how can I feel that way about myself when all the bad b***hes be in my bed giving and getting head?” In other words: you don’t need to like Cardi, because Cardi likes Cardi.