Part of the fun of “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi B’s earth-conquering 2017 hit, was the way it captured that rare moment when you can hear someone make a quantum leap forward on record. Cardi B had released two mixtapes already, proving she was an inspired rapper with preternatural, outsize charisma, but it wasn’t until that bomb-raid beat clicked into place that Cardi did, too, its adrenaline-mainlining drum patterns egging her on to go absolutely Mobb Deep against an army of anonymous trolls. Part of the magic was the way Cardi fused her backstory—dancer turned internet celebrity turned rapper—with the classic hip-hop come-up narrative: The track made getting a bag and fixing your teeth seem like an essential part of the American success story. In its aftermath, Cardi dropped a handful of carefully placed guest verses and singles, all while being open about the raised stakes of her debut. “I have songs stashed up,” she tweeted last November, explaining its delay. “I just don’t think they’re qualified for my album.”
Well, exhale: Invasion Of Privacy smacks of quality control. At 13 tracks, it’s a slim release in the streaming era, and four of those tracks are previously released singles, but her determination not to drop the ball shines through. She’s still at her best detonating over cavernous production, as she does on the shit-talk extravaganza “Money Bag” (“Wigs be laid, waist snatched, ass fat, straight facts”) and on album opener “Get Up 10,” an autobiographical slow burn in the mold of Tee Grizzley’s “First Day Out” action-packed with one-liners (“Only thing fake is the boobs”). The track’s almost over before Cardi stops to even think about a hook, and she’s pretty much shadowboxing in the mirror at that point, chanting, “Knock me down nine times, I get up 10.” That unflappable determination gets put to the test on the album’s more vulnerable tracks, like the airy Boi-1da-produced “Be Careful,” on which her thin, honest singing buttresses lyrics from the hollowed-out quiet moments after an explosive argument. You don’t need to have followed her tumultuous relationship with Migos’ Offset, an on-again/off-again saga dogged with rumors of infidelity, to follow these tracks, thanks largely to Cardi’s wildly expressive delivery and clear writing. “Beyoncé on my stereo, ‘Resentment’ on repeat / I’m-a make you a bowl of cereal with a teaspoon of bleach,” from “Thru Your Phone,” speaks for itself.
The record doesn’t end so much as stop playing, with the SZA collaboration “I Do”; one of its charming parting images is the Cardi-ism “Leave his texts on read, leave his balls on blue,” a line of thought which perhaps applies to the album’s brevity, too. Better to leave people wanting more, right? Cardi seems uniquely aware of the stakes here. As the first solo female rapper to top the Billboard charts since Lauryn Hill—a phenomenon created by label reticence, not lack of talent—she’s always been dogged by comparisons to her predecessors.
But a huge part of “Bodak”’s breakout success was the way it broke with the stereotypical roles female rappers have played in mainstream hip-hop. Cardi isn’t an over-sexualized automaton or a stodgy true-school lyricist; she’s a product of social media completely in control of her own, deeply specific narrative. Invasion Of Privacy could’ve easily been full of crossover cash grabs and studio interference, but it thankfully continues the story she’s been telling, with almost reverent guest spots from YG and Chance The Rapper. She’s probably the most powerful woman in hip-hop right now, but what’s encouraging is that she seems to be carving a self-made path that allows for contradictions, imperfections, variabilities. Cardi B got here by rapping her face off, and on Invasion Of Privacy, she determines to stay here by doing it for—well, nine more tracks. So far, so good.