Cardi B’s Relation to The South: Socioeconomic Privilege and Bourgeois Hip Hop
Let’s me first get this out of the way. I am a huge Belcalis Almanzar “Cardi B” fan and am more than excited that her summer anthem has hit number one in the world. When I first heard the song “Bodak Yellow,” I was immediately in love. I had to do more research to see if this track would be a one-time hit, if she had hit her peak 15 seconds of fame. After due diligence (you’re welcome), I am happy to confidently announce that Cardi B is the real deal and she will be around for a whole lot more than 15 seconds, and she deserves it. I expect great things from her if she is able to keep it real, but not too real. (Cardi B, please safely detach yourself from your past street life).
Cardi B, a Dominican American rapper, is from the streets of the Bronx. She is as real as they come. She does not come from money and she is also not afraid to be transparent about her life as a stripper before she “made it.” Bodak Yellow is a great summer anthem and not only do I think it is great, but I also think it is empowering for women of color, in that it promotes financial independence. I mean she pays her own bills and don’t need “no ni**a” to pay for her? Cardi B establishes that she doesn’t mind letting a man, perhaps her current eyepiece Offset (Migos), treat her, yet she does not depend on it because she has her “own.” In essence, she does not mind stepping back and playing the “feminine” role, whatever that means nowadays, yet not at the expense of her self-worth.
Intrigued, I took it upon myself to watch the Breakfast Club’s interview with her to see if her image matched up with her persona. She did not disappoint. Ms. Cardi B is funny, relatable, a hard worker, transparent, and not to mention, spicy. I also learned that during her stripper tenure she attended college and one of her favorite classes was French. She also worked at some of the higher upscale gentlemen’s clubs where Europeans frequented, which to me, signals to me that though street, she is a smart girl. She did not limit herself to strip clubs with Hip Hop oriented clientele as many strippers of color do. She is a decent strategist and understands how to effectively “get the bag” as a means to the next move, a business woman in the making.
After posting few Facebook updates highlighting her greatness, I received more than a few negative reactions. One girl on my feed claimed that Cardi B is too public and loud about her business and is not “lady like.” From there, we proceeded to get into a Facebook feud in which I respectfully let her know that “Cardi B can be Cardi B and as long as she is not interfering with your life, it should be of no concern to you. You can respectfully not like her music but to hate on her? For what? You are a woman of color and you should be happy to see another woman of color getting it, and that perhaps your definition of being “lady like” is what is holding you back from greatness.” From my perspective, this Cardi B hater has bought into the gender notion (bullshit) of playing the respectable girl for respectability politics sake, embracing the female accessory role at the expense of her own self-worth and independence. Perhaps this is a upper class or bourgeois behavior? But that’s a discussion for another day…
A few weeks later, I came upon a blog post claiming that Cardi B is trash. Here was my response:
“False. #ItsAVybe. Cardi B emulates a southern vibe (Bodak Yellow is a remix of a prominent Southern rapper’s song) and also explains why she spends much of her time in Atlanta and Miami.(yes I follow her on Snapchat). Southern culture is more about presentation and vibe than substance. The culture is more indirect. Am I lying or not? Her music embodies that. She is not a bad rapper. She is a bad lyricist. Difference. Kick rocks lol.”
There are so many things to unpack here. I apologize but I’m just going to scratch the surface. Let’s not forget. At its roots, Hip Hop is an oppositional culture and that looks differently depending on the culture you find yourself in. I am from South Florida. Unbeknownst to most, there is a Southern culture here; it is not all “tropical” and Latin American as many imagine or may even experience. If you visit the “right” areas, you’ll be in for a surprise. I enjoy Southern music as well as Northern music. (It was not until I lived in Brooklyn for a few years did I come to respect Northern music. I suspect that one must live in the South to come to truly appreciate our music as well. West Coast Hip Hop, I see you but to help keep this article concise, you will not be discussed).
When I moved up North for college, I was made fun of for the music I listened to from other Black folks, and to be honest felt some shame for it. At the time, I was listening to (Fort) Lauderdale Chipmunk, or “bopping” and “jooking” music, similar to Baltimore’s Club but more Miami GoGo. Back then, I tried to defend Southern music as an aesthetic art representing a different lifestyle. At the age of 18, a Caribbean first generation college student, I did not have the proper language tools and devices to express and articulate what I meant. Ten years later, I’m still don’t, haha. But I’ve come a long way and will do my best to articulate that those who hate on Cardi B have issues with Southern Hip Hop in general, a reflection of their elite viewpoints.
The Northeast, to be frank, is privileged. It always has been. Some of the best education, social, and public transportation systems can be found in the North. It can be expected, after all, that is where the country originated. That’s not to say that racial and social disparities and marginalization do not exist there; however, it is much easier to escape these realities than it is in the South, a purely residual effect. (I mean it only costs $2.50 to get from downtrodden Brownsville, Brooklyn to thriving Chelsea, Manhattan. I won’t begin to even get into the deficiencies of public transportation in Southern cities). If there is more wealth in one area, though it may be unevenly spread people will still benefit from the net effects as it for one less concentrated and there are more access points to information and resources. For example, the abundance of public parks, art, and museums are resources that all can take advantage of. Degree holding or not, New Yorkers are relatively very worldly and intelligent. I am never surprised when I am schooled by the “neighborhood bum.” Environment has everything to do with it. After taking a 10-year hiatus from Florida, I’ve gained much perspective in returning and reflecting.
I am not going to sit back and tell you that I do not hold many privileges. On the contrary, my experiences are not reflective of the typical Southerner. I have had the opportunity to live in different parts of the country and even the world. Perspective is a privilege in itself. That said, I still aim to be a voice for my community, recognizing that there is a lot of ground to be covered. It is evident that many places in the South have not recovered from deep seated roots of slavery. Our social norms, customs, and lifestyles are very much reflective of a Confederate past. Compounded by our generally poor public schools and lack of economically robust industries, those marginalized in the South have less positive future outlooks than the rest of the country.
Okay. What does Card B, Belcalis Almanzar have anything to do with the South and social disparity? It is no secret that in New York City, the Bronx, the birthplace of Hip Hop, is the forgotten borough. If any region of NYC can resonate with the Southern part of the United States, it’s the Bronx. The Bronx has one of the worst school districts in the city and if it was not for the intruding gentrification, it’s job outlook would be just as dismal.
In a culture where people do not have much resources, life becomes less about substance and more about presence and image. In this social space, many come to believe that they must over-project the image of their wellness as opposed to the actual reality. Real or not real, one showcases their power through “stuntin,” displaying exuberant status symbols by driving flashy cars, “saucin,” and sadly, even flaunting women as disposable resources. One does not actually have to have ownership of any of these things, rather it is about the appearance. It is in many ways a psychological survival mechanism.
Giving off the appearance that you are physically or mentally strong protects one from unwanted violence and attack on their flashy properties. Anything other may be considered an invite to theft. Perhaps an exaggeration, Southern Hip Hop reflects this lifestyle. The music, beats, and flow have such an intensity to it. It does not actually matter how something is said, it is more about the power of the delivery and holding physical ground, a much different approach than Northern rap, in which, artists typically focus less on tone but more on elaborate metaphors and esoteric language to deliver their message, a product of their privileged landscape of knowledge.
It is apparent that Cardi’s B’s personal taste and music reflect that of a Southern feel. It really is not a surprise that she decided to pay tribute to Broward County, Florida’s also rising star, Kodak Black in emulating his flow on “No Flockin.” (Bodak Yellow. Kodak Black? See the connection?) While many find this to be a form of disrespect, Cardi B views it as sign of admiration, and I’m sure Kodak is low key flattered by the song. If this is not a persuasive enough for you, her attraction to Offset, who, one can argue is the epitome of current Southern music, speaks volumes to her regional preferences. Furthermore, Cardi B spends a lot of her time promoting her brand in Southern venues. Clearly, we know where her allegiance lies.
It is not surprising that many Northerners find her music distasteful and cannot relate. After all, geographically on top of the South, the North has historically viewed the South as culturally inferior, continuously making fun of Southern vernacular, expression, and lifestyle. We, the South, enjoy being flamboyant with our obnoxious songs, appealing dances, and “seemingly” ignorant lyrics. We are not apologizing for it. As 2 Chains says, “It’s a Vibe.”
I’ll end by saying this. It is not advisable to negatively speak on something you do not understand. It is slap on the face to another culture, may it be a regional or national cultural tool. Rather, consider approaching it from a curious mindset. Ask supporters why they like they like the cultural product? Dare to even visit and explore the scenes that promote the culture. Perhaps, you may never come to like the art but at least you can understand the significance of it. Don’t believe me? Ask a good college friend of mine, a Boston native and one of the biggest Southern rap haters, that is, until she went to study at an HBCU in Louisiana for a semester, and came back to our North Eastern campus, sharing with me her newfound appreciation for Southern Hip Hop, and even putting me onto new hits.