Belcalis Almanzar, known professionally as Cardi B, is an American rapper whose hometown is New York City. Born and raised in The Bronx, she first attracted attention for discussing her career as a stripper on social media; coupled with her “no filter attitude”, she became an Internet celebrity through Instagram.
From 2015 to 2017, she appeared as a regular cast member on the VH1 reality television series Love & Hip Hop: New York. In February 2017, she signed her first major label record deal with Atlantic Records. Her debut single for Atlantic, titled “Bodak Yellow”, reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, making her the second-ever female rapper to do so with a solo output, following Lauryn Hill in 1998. The single was included on her debut studio album Invasion of Privacy (2018).
Cardi B was born Belcalis Almanzar on October 11, 1992, in The Bronx borough of New York City. She was raised in the Highbridge neighborhood of the South Bronx. She was born to a Dominican father and Trinidadian mother. She spent much time at her paternal grandmother’s home in Washington Heights, which she credits with giving her “such a thick […] accent.” As a youth, Cardi B was a member of the Bloods, and has said she was a gang member since the age of 16.. She went on to attend Renaissance High School For Musical Theater & Technology, a small specialty school on the Herbert H. Lehman campus.
During her teenage years, Cardi B was employed at an Amish supermarket in Lower Manhattan, which was the last job that she held before turning to stripping at the age of 19. Upon being fired from the supermarket, her former manager recommended she work at a strip club. She has said she became a stripper to escape poverty and domestic violence, having been in an abusive relationship at the time. Cardi B has also said becoming a stripper was positive for her life in many ways: “It really saved me from a lot of things. When I started stripping I went back to school.” She says stripping was her only way out, a way to earn enough money to escape her dire situation and get an education. Nonetheless, she eventually dropped out of college.
In 2013, Cardi B began to gain publicity due to several of her videos going viral on social media, on Vine and her official Instagram page.
In November 2015, Cardi B made her musical debut on Jamaican reggae fusion singer Shaggy’s remix to his single “Boom Boom”, alongside fellow Jamaican dancehall singer Popcaan. She made her music video debut on December 15, 2015, with the song “Cheap Ass Weave”, her rendition of English rapper Lady Leshurr’s “Queen’s Speech 4”. On March 7, 2016, Cardi B released her first full-length project, a mixtape titled Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1. In November 2016, she was featured on the digital cover of Vibe magazine’s “Viva” issue. On September 12, 2016, KSR Group released the compilation Underestimated: The Album, which is a collaboration between KSR Group artists Cardi B, Hood Celebrityy, SwiftOnDemand, Cashflow Harlem and Josh X. It was previously released only to attendees of their U.S. tour. KSR Group’s flagship artist Cardi B said “I wanted to make a song that would make girls dance, twerk and at the same time encourage them to go get that Shmoney,” in regard to the compilation’s single “What a Girl Likes.”
On January 20, 2017, Cardi B released her second mixtape, Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 2. In February 2017, Cardi B partnered with MAC Cosmetics and Rio Uribe’s Gypsy Sport for an event for New York Fashion Week. In late February, it was reported that Cardi B signed her first major record label recording contract with Atlantic Records. On February 25, 2017, Cardi B was the opening act for East Coast hip hop group The Lox’s Filthy America… It’s Beautiful Tour, alongside fellow New York City-based rappers Lil’ Kim and Remy Ma. In April 2017, she was featured in i-D’s “A-Z of Music” video sponsored by Marc Jacobs.
In May 2017, the nominees for the 2017 BET Awards were announced, revealing that Cardi B had been nominated for Best New Artist and Best Female Hip-Hop Artist. Although she failed to win any awards, losing to Chance the Rapper and Remy Ma, respectively, Cardi B performed at the BET Awards afterparty show. On June 11 2017, during Hot 97’s annual Summer Jam music festival, Remy Ma brought out Cardi B, along with The Lady of Rage, MC Lyte, Young M.A., Monie Love, Lil’ Kim and Queen Latifah, to celebrate female rappers and perform Latifah’s 1993 hit single “U.N.I.T.Y.” about female empowerment.
On June 16, 2017, Atlantic Records released Cardi B’s commercial debut single, titled “Bodak Yellow” via digital distribution. In June 2017, it was revealed that Cardi B would be on the cover of The Fader’s Summer Music issue for July/August 2017. On July 18, 2017, she performed “Bodak Yellow” on The Wendy Williams Show, where she was also interviewed by Williams. When the host asked where her moniker derived from, Cardi B responded with the distilled beverage Bacardi, as people would call her that. Her sister is also nicknamed Hennessy Carolina, referencing the French cognac: “My sister’s name, her name is Hennessy, so everybody used to be like Bacardi to me […] then I shortened it to Cardi B, and the ‘B’ stands for whatever […] depending on the day.”
In August 2017, “Bodak Yellow” entered the top two of the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song also reached number one on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. She performed at MoMA PS1 on August 19 to a crowd of 4,000. On the Hot 100 chart dated September 25, 2017, Cardi B claimed the top spot with “Bodak Yellow”, becoming the first solo female rapper to do so since Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” debuted atop the chart in 1998. It stayed atop the charts for three consecutive weeks, tying with American pop singer Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” as the longest running female at the number one spot in 2017. Cardi B became the first person of Dominican descent to reach number one in the history of the Hot 100, since it was launched in 1958. “Bodak Yellow” was eventually certified quintuple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). An editor of The New York Times called it “the rap anthem of the summer”. With her collaborations “No Limit” and “MotorSport”, she became first female rapper to land her first three entries in the top 10 of the Hot 100, and the first female artist to achieve the same on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
In October 2017, Cardi B headlined Power 105.1’s annual Powerhouse music celebration, alongside The Weeknd, Migos and Lil Uzi Vert, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. In December, she released a collaboration with Puerto Rican singer Ozuna titled “La Modelo”, and the second single from her debut album, “Bartier Cardi”. On January 3, 2018, Cardi B was featured on Bruno Mars’ remix version of “Finesse”, and also appeared in the 90’s inspired video. On January 18, Cardi B became the first woman to have five top 10 singles simultaneously on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart. She released the single “Be Careful” on March 30. Her debut studio album Invasion of Privacy was released on April 6, 2018. During a performance on Saturday Night Live in April 2018, Cardi B officially announced her pregnancy after much media speculation.
In 2015, Cardi B joined the cast of the VH1 reality television series Love & Hip Hop: New York, debuting in season six. She is considered the breakout star of the show’s sixth season. The sixth and seventh seasons chronicle her rise to stardom and her turbulent relationship with her incarcerated fiancé. On December 30, 2016, after two seasons, she announced that she would be leaving the show to further pursue a career in music.
She appeared on the December 9, 2015 episode of Uncommon Sense with Charlamagne. On April 6, 2016, she was on the twelfth episode of Khloé Kardashian’s Kocktails with Khloé: In it, she revealed how she told her mother that she was a stripper. In November, it was announced that she would be joining the cast of the BET series, Being Mary Jane. TVLine describes her character, Mercedes, as a “round-the-way beauty with a big weave, big boobs and a big booty to match her oversized, ratchet personality.”
Cardi B guest-starred on the celebrity panel show Hip Hop Squares, appearing on the March 13 and April 3, 2017 episodes. On July 18, she appeared on The Wendy Williams Show where she performed “Bodak Yellow”, as well as answered questions about her name and the status of her love life.
In Billboard’s “You Should Know” series, Cardi B said the first albums she ever purchased were by American entertainers Missy Elliott and Tweet, respectively. She also cited American pop singers Madonna and Lady Gaga as two of her favorite artists. She has credited Puerto Rican rapper Ivy Queen and Jamaican dancehall artist Spice as influences as well.
When asked about the initial direction for her music, Cardi B said in an interview, “When I first started rapping […] I liked certain songs from Khia and Trina, and they [were] fighting songs. I haven’t heard fighting songs for a very long time,” crediting the two female rappers for her aggressive rap style. She continued saying “a lot of girls they can not afford red bottoms, a lot of girls they can not afford foreign cars […] but I know that every girl has beef with a girl […] I know that every bitch don’t like some bitch, and it’s like ‘that’s what I wanna rap about.'”
AllMusic editor David Jeffries called Cardi B “a raw and aggressive rapper in the style of Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown.” Stereogum called her voice “a full-bodied New Yawk nasal bleat, the sort of thing that you’ve heard if someone has ever told you that you stupid for taking too long at swiping your MetroCard.” They continued to call her voice “an unabashedly loud and sexual fuck-you New York honk—that translates perfectly to rap.” In a 2017 Complex article about her, the editor wrote “unapologetic does not begin to describe the totally unfiltered and sheer Cardi B-ness of Cardi B’s personality. She’s a hood chick who’s not afraid to be hood no matter the setting. Cardi B is Cardi B 24/7, 365, this is why she resonates with people, and that same energy comes out in her music.”