It might seem absurd to write about Cardi B’s towering debut album, “Invasion of Privacy,” without talking about the star herself. But countless writers far sharper than me have already waxed poetic about her flow, her subversion of the male gaze, her diversity of styles and overflowing persona. And besides, her bars speak for themselves: “Now I’m a boss, I write my own name on the checks / Pussy so good, I say my own name during sex.” Last Friday she turned from curiosity into irrefutable leader of the rap game and there’s not much more I can add to the conversation.

So I’m going to spend this space on the rest of the performers on the album, appearing ostensibly to prop her up, but instead functioning as props and diversions in Cardi’s fun house.

  1. 21 Savage

Rap’s answer to Jeb!, low-energy-Shayaa straps a cinderblock to the agile and explosive “Bartier Cardi” and tosses it out to sea. I feel like I’ve been listening to the same Savage verse for two years: he sounds comatose, and his rhyme scheme is Dr. Seuss-level but without any of the playful absurdity. He outs himself as a non-tipper AND non-performer of cunnilingus, which, if those aren’t the two worst qualities someone can have, they’re definitely up there.

  1. Kehlani

Once an ebullient breath of fresh air, Kehlani has spent the last couple years mostly mailing in slick filler for the Big Urban Radio Machine. The trend continues on “Ring.” You could plug in Kiiara or Teyana Taylor or literally any Spotify-wave artist on this hook and it wouldn’t make a silver of difference. Her unremarkable turn on the most skippable song on the album lands her ninth.

 

8 & 7. Quavo & Offset

You would think that Offset would make the effort to show out on his fiance’s debut. But the whole “trying” thing isn’t really part of his M.O., so he and his cousin instead hit autopilot on “Drip” with perfunctory verses. That’s fine, though; they essentially function as impeccable backdrops for the slithering beat. And if these dudes don’t have a Patek endorsement deal by now, they probably need a new manager.

Also, anyone know what a “driffin” is? Some sort of magical creature, probably?

 

  1. Bad Bunny

“I Like It” gives the latin trap king his first real chance at a U.S. Number 1 — immensely exciting given that he’ll probably be consistently competing for the spot in years to come. His viscous voice sounds as alluring as ever, but I have three issues with this verse: 1) I’m not hearing any singalong moments 2) his attempt to rap in English is admirable but mostly a self-own 3) It’s kinda a cop out AND pandering to rhyme a bunch of Latin-American countries that all end in “ana.”

  1. YG

I’m not exactly sure why when Big Sean repeats “ass” over and over I fly into a rage over the inanity of pop whereas when YG does it I unconsciously start twerking in my desk chair. “She Bad” isn’t so much Compton-meets-Bronx as Atlanta-runs-everything, as YG’s drawl sounds an awful lot like Big K.R.I.T., and DJ Mustard’s return is a high-level Metro Boomin loop. YG puts just enough stank on every syllable so that the hook doesn’t feel repetitive when it absolutely should; he understands that with his golden voice and rhythmic sensibilities, full sentences are almost beside the point.

 

  1. Chance the Rapper

I was a little wary when I heard the “Best Life” chorus for the first time. The singsong melody, the relentless optimism, the onomatopoeia: it’s all a little too on the nose, as if created by a Random Chance the Rapper Content Generator; it risks turning Chano into a toothless caricature. Luckily, he squares up for his verse. No longer the new kid, he sounds energized by Cardi’s vitality. His verse includes inventive cadences, tumbling internal rhymes, exuberant exhales of song and delightfully silly allusions (“my hands had ash like Pompeii”).

Unfortunately the song also drops him a spot in the “Best Beyonce references” ranking — his “Aunty Yonce” has been usurped by Cardi’s growling name drop.

  1. Takeoff

The last six months of Migos feels a bit like if Destiny’s Child suddenly became Michelle Williams’s group. Takeoff was the perennial third member — the youngest, the least flashy or fashionable, with his zero guest features; he was memorably left off the hit of the century.

But he’s steadily been building a case that he’s the group’s best rapper, and “Drip” is perhaps the strongest piece of evidence yet. While Quavo and Offset mail it in, the group’s youngest member goes for broke with a rapidfire flow. While there are some certified #BARS here (“Splash, took a bitch to Piccadilly / Water in my ear, gave a nigga wet willy”), it’s all about the aesthetic: his dextrous rumble, his pauses and lurches, the way he tiptoes over the syllables over “Cal Ripken.”

  1. J Balvin

This is just a classic verse; his voice fits with the beat on “I LIke It” like tequila and lime. Instead of listing countries he lets his diverse set of references prove his multicultural ambitions: there’s Celia Cruz (Cuba), Jimmy Snuka (Fiji), Balenciaga (Spain), Testarossa (Italy) and Lady Gaga (Brooklyn/Mars). Predicting now that “es la cosa / mami es la cosa” will be shouted out in every country all summer long.

 

  1. SZA

If I saw Beyonce coming down the street toward me with a baseball bat, I’d be slightly concerned but mostly amused. If I saw Cardi and SZA pulling up in Saint Laurent jackets, I’m getting the fuck out of there. SZA sounds terrifying on “I Do,” the spiritual sequel of “Bitch Better Have My Money”. She wields every “I do” like a metal weapon; the brilliant way she flips the phrasing of a cliche is evidence of the very claim itself. As opposed to the disposable Kehlani contribution, there’s literally no other singer who could have brought the same attitude, vocal acrobatics and intonation to this hook. She gives a huge lift to the album’s best song.

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