When Cardi B teams up with SZA to announce, "I think us bad bitches is a gift from God," hearing is believing. The Bronx queen's long-awaited debut Invasion of Privacy is even better than everybody was hoping it would be, a whirwind tour of Planet Cardi, a place where female warriors reign supreme, taking occasional breaks to plant a Louboutin heel on a rival's throat. Cardi expands on the flash of "Bodak Yellow," one of the most glorious pop hits of this century – all over Invasion of Privacy, she puts on her bloody shoes and dances the blues. As Cardi declares in the fantastic opener "Get Up 10," "I started speaking my mind and tripled my views/Real bitch, only thing fake is the boobs."
Invasion of Privacy is lavishly emotional, intimately personal, wildly funny, as Cardi tells the tale of her life with high-profile guests like Chance the Rapper, YG and Kehlani. Where her fiancee Offset's crew Migos just dropped a double album so long it was practically a prog epic – Tales from Trapographic Oceans – Cardi keeps it lean and mean, 13 tracks in 48 minutes without a moment of filler. She's feeling herself – "Pussy so good I say my own name during sex!" But she's not timid about the claim she wants to make on rap history – as she declares in her Chance duet "Best Life," "I'm like Big Pop mixed with Tupac, I'm like Makaveli." Invasion of Privacy proves that Cardi B is capable of anything, except being boring.
Cardi could have been designed in a mad scientist's laboratory as the perfect pop star. She has the finesse of a Jarvis Cocker or Dolly Parton or Al Green – a star who's had time to grow up in private and rehearse the part, so by the time they make their big move on the unsuspecting pop world, it seems like they just dropped from heaven fully formed, twice as clever as anyone else. Ever since she made her bones on Love and Hip-Hop: New York, she's had that larger-than-life charisma. Nobody but Cardi would show up on the Golden Globes red carpet and tell E!'s Giuliana Rancic, on live TV, "I've got butterflies in my stomach – and in my vagina!"
As the self-proclaimed "strip club Mariah Carey," Cardi stresses her backstory as a dancer who rose to the top of the rap game – as she boasts, "Used to be covered in dollars, now I'm covered in jewels." She frames her life as a rags-to-riches Binderella story. Invasion of Privacy comes with a slew of glitzy hits already attached: the definitive "Bodak Yellow," her 21 Savage duet "Bartier Cardi," her Migos-boosted "Drip." But "Be Careful" was a single that truly expanded her emotional and musical range, playing up her Dominican heritage as she kicked Spanish rhymes while mourning her love pains. The way Cardi spat, "I poured my heart out to some piece of shit" stung as hard as when she sang the hook from Lauryn Hill's "Ex-Factor."
Invasion of Privacy shows off both sides – the stone-cold strut of "Bodak Yellow," as in "Money Bag" and "Bickenhead," but also the empty-bed blues of "Be Careful," as in "Ring" or "Thru The Phone." She celebrates her Latin roots in "I Like It," sampling a vintage salsa hit (Pete Rodriguez' 1967 "I Like It Like That") for a duet with reggaeton star J. Balvin and Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny. She traps out with YG in "She Bad," where she says, "Know a bad bitch when I see one/Tell RiRi I need a threesome." Her raw humor might tempt people to sleep on her deeply schooled sensibility, but something that always sets Cardi apart is her eccentric sense of hip-hop history. "Be Careful" was rooted in the late Nineties rap/R&B renaissance, with its nods to Hill and Sparkle; "Bickenhead" builds on her affinities with Southern rap, for anyone who mistook her Freak Nasty dip in "Bodak Yellow" for a fluke. She interpolates Project Pat and gives it up to Trick Daddy, telling the party people, "Make that pussy slip and slide like you from the 305."
Cardi saves the two most emotionally hardcore songs for the end: the epic high of "I Do" and the mournful lows of "Thru Your Phone," which could almost be a doo-wop ballad. "Thru Your Phone" builds on the rage of "Be Careful," as she contemplates revenge on her cheating man: "Smash your TV from Best Buy/You gonna turn me into Left Eye." Beyoncé shows up all over this album as a Yoda-like figure ("Took pictures with Beyoncé, met Mama Knowles"), or as a celeb icon ("them pretty twins looking like Beyoncé"). But in "Thru Your Phone," Mrs. Carter appears as an artist whose music nurses you through a crisis – Cardi stays up late, listening to Bey's "Resentment" on repeat, while watching her man sleep and fantasizing about ways to kill him.
"I Do" ends on a triumphant note with SZA, the only star who really could hold her own with Cardi on a track like this – over that Murda Beatz production, Cardi announces "I'm in a boss bitch mood/These are some boss bitch shoes." She also says, "Only time I'm a lady is when I lay-deez hoes to rest" (a line that could be Millie Jackson or Loretta Lynn or somebody). Invasion of Privacy flaunts so many different aspects of Cardi's game, it comes on like a greatest hits album, as undeniable as the excellent New Wave suit she rocks in the cover art. It's already tough to remember what it was like not having Cardi B around. Invasion proves she's here to stay.