Of all the roles Cardi B plays in her life, motherhood is the most heartrending at the moment. “It’s been very stressful,” she says, sighing. Her four-year-old daughter, Kulture Kiari, and soon-to-be one-year-old son, Wave Set, have taken turns falling sick in the last week and have been in and out of hospital. “I’ve been up all night and all day with my baby for the past two days—but what can you do, you know?”
Our interview was pushed back 24 hours as Wave had to be rushed to the emergency room the day before. “I’m exhausted. I’ve been overwhelmed and scared,” she continues, her voice breaking. “I started to think about how my mum had to go through this a lot because my sister and I used to always fall sick at the same time. I’ve never appreciated my mum more—having kids helps you see things a little bit different.”
That sets the tone for our chat on a late weeknight—midday in New York City, where she is based. Cardi is genuine in her replies and is eager to offer colourful slices of her life story. We could veer off onto another tangent and talk about her career or ponder her future, but it always came back to the children. Perhaps, for both of us as mothers of two young children, that’s where the heart of life is for now.
“There weren’t a lot of artists out there who had babies at the beginning of their career”
Cardi had envisioned motherhood unlike what she embraces on a regular basis. Before she had Kulture, everyone warned her about how difficult it was going to be. Seasoned mothers see it as their onus—and pastime—to dispense wise nuggets of information to all mothers-to-be, but it often falls on deaf ears until the recipient of that advice becomes a mother themselves. They told her she wouldn’t understand. They were right.
“There weren’t a lot of artists out there who had babies at the beginning of their career. I didn’t have an album out when I found out I was pregnant,” she explains. “Everybody was so nervous for my career and future, but I kept telling them, ‘It’s easy. Trust me, I’m going to have a nanny and she’s going to travel up and down with me. It’s not even going to be a hassle’.”
Our cameras were not on during the call, but I could almost see Cardi shaking her head in disbelief. She let out a short snort. “When the baby got here, I couldn’t even think about getting a nanny because I was afraid of anybody being around her besides my family. I’ve never had a nanny for Kulture,” she says with an inward chuckle.
Cardi is blessed with a great support network, which includes Offset, her hands-on husband, and extended family. Cardi’s mother is one of the rapper’s trusted caregivers, but she is quick to add that it is selfish to drop her kids off 24/7 with their grandparents. “Your parents have already lived their life and raised their kids. They are older and don’t have the same energy as someone in their 20s. I’m never far from my kids because that’s my responsibility as a mother.”
Perhaps growing up in a large family with 36 cousins in New York City has instilled in Cardi a strong sense of familial duty. Born Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar, Cardi was raised in the Highbridge neighbourhood of the Bronx, while also spending a large amount of time in her paternal grandmother’s home in Washington Heights. Her mother is Trinidadian of African and Spanish descent, while her father is Dominican.
“I have compassion for good mothers who get up and hustle and work, or even not work—having kids is work. Raising a kid is work”
There’s a sense of wistful nostalgia as she recalls the place she grew up and her life before fame. Cardi goes back to the Bronx often to chat with friends and family, get her nails done or to buy a particular item she can’t find anywhere else. She pauses purposefully while vocalising a debate in her head about the Bronx and all the small mum-and-pop shops closing down in favour of bigger corporations. As she deliberates this change, she is reminded of her own rise-to-fame story.
“There are certain artists that are coming up from the Bronx—the way they act, the energy they bring; it reminds me of when I was a young teenager. It brings back so many memories. Now that I’m older, it makes me a little sad. I used to be so wild and free,” she says, laughing.
As a teenager, Cardi worked at an Amish deli in Tribeca before hopping across the road to work as a dancer in a strip club. Stripping was an overall positive decision for her as it allowed her to make enough money to move out of home, fund an education for herself and escape the poverty cycle. Whenever she felt judged, she reminded herself that stripping was far from shameful because she was earning more money than a lot of people out there.
“I want her to do amazing things when she grows up. I want her to be smarter than me—just be the better version of me”
At that point, her life could go in any direction—and it went in one that has been spectacular to witness. Cardi started gaining popularity from several of her videos going viral on Vine and Instagram. Her career then careened at an astounding speed over the last nine years, from stripper to social media professional to reality television hit to the Grammy Award-winning rapper that she is. You are almost afraid to fathom an entertainment world now without Cardi—her magnetic personality makes her such fun to watch both in person and on screen. From her scintillating stage presence to her refreshing candour and irreverent humour, Cardi makes inhaling a greasy chopped cheese in the Bronx with David Letterman the best thing you’ve watched on Netflix.
At 29 years of age, she has made it on the world’s biggest platforms. Cardi’s commercial debut single, ‘Bodak Yellow’, cinched the number one spot on the Billboard Top 100—making her the first female rapper since Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ to do so since 1998. Her subsequent debut studio album, Invasion of Privacy, won her the Grammy for Best Rap Album in 2019. This was a first for a solo female rap artist and to many, this was a life-changing feat. Cardi had arrived and was here to stay.
In 2020, Cardi’s single ‘WAP’, featuring Megan Thee Stallion, debuted at number one, while ‘Up’, released last year, debuted at number two. Her brilliance as a rapper is blatant. Yet, the question that constantly lingers in her mind is why proving herself is necessary to determine her self-worth.
“Sometimes, I don’t know where I want to go because I tell myself I want to beat these records but then when I do beat them, I feel it’s just not enough,” reveals Cardi. “Just because I haven’t put out music in a year, people get online and say, ‘She’s over.’ They compare me to every female rap artist, new or old. I get downplayed despite everything I’ve accomplished and worked so hard for. I need to sit down and say to myself, ‘Girl, you did that’.”
She continues fervently: “People make you feel like everything that you have worked for and what you have done is not enough. Sometimes, I get aggravated by that, but sometimes it don’t matter. Whenever I get an offer for a show, I’m not getting little baby girl money. I’m getting big girl money. It lets me know that the real people in this business that know real numbers, they know. My worth is way more than what people want to make me feel like I am.”
The reality is this: Cardi has been hard at work making music and she’s excited for it. Her newest single, ‘Hot Shit’, features Kanye West and Lil Durk and is set for a 1 July drop. She tells me firmly that she’s not waiting very long—“a month or two”—before her next single, and album, gets released.
“The song I’m putting out soon is really rappy. I needed a masculine record. Sometimes, my records are very girly—like ‘WAP’ is a girly anthem. ‘Up’ was meant to be more gangster, but people took it as girly as well. So this one, expect it to be my ‘hiyaaaaah!’ record,” she says gleefully, as if executing a taekwondo kick in the background.
The hustle she believes in is something she tries to instil in her children every day. This summer, Kulture is enrolled in three different classes—swim, dance and private tutoring—for the same reasons all parents do. It is a parent’s natural instinct to give their kids a better life than what they had. “Am I doing too much? I just want my daughter to be good,” she laughs. “I want her to have a little bit of something forever. I can’t swim, so I want my daughter to be able to swim.” Cardi used to live around Highbridge Pool, but would never frequent it as fights often broke out there. “I want her to do amazing things when she grows up. She can jet-ski or go on a boat. I want her to be smarter than me—just be the better version of me.”
“My kids need to know to never feel comfortable. Don’t ever feel like, ‘I’m going to get it because I’m Cardi and Offset’s kid’”
Most of all, she wants Kulture and Wave to understand the privilege they have. Both Cardi and Offset have the common denominator of working hard because they wanted better for themselves. They craved success and didn’t want to be poor any longer. She knows her children will not have the same upbringing.
“They need to know to never feel comfortable. Don’t ever feel like, ‘I’m going to get it because I’m Cardi and Offset’s kid’. They are never going to know what struggle feels like, so they might not have that hunger I had to leave the streets,” she suggests. “Even though my kids are well-off, I want them to know that when you work for things and achieve it, it’s more respected—especially when people see that you bust your ass for it.”
A chat box pops up on Zoom reminding me that I only have five minutes left with Cardi. I’m nowhere close to asking all the questions I had prepared, but Cardi’s infectious energy and rich conversation is enough to give me an exclusive glimpse into her trailblazing realm. Her rags-to-riches tale—combined with fiery self-belief and a deep passion for things she wants the world to improve on (racism, sexual assault and gun laws, to name a few)— has gotten her here but she’s determined to go further.
I ask her if her children have made her a better person. This is not on the question list I had sent ahead of our call—Cardi catches her breath for a few seconds. “I’m more compassionate for people. I feel like I understand people more,” she deliberates.
“I have so much compassion—and love and appreciation— for all mothers in the world,” concludes Cardi. “There is no excuse, we have to do it. I have compassion for good mothers who get up and hustle and work, or even not work—having kids is work. Raising a kid is work. I have so much hatred for deadbeat mothers and fathers. It’s like, yo, bringing a baby into this world isn’t just like ‘I’ll figure it out.’ You have to be ready because you as a parent is all they got and all they want.”
Photographer Lea Colombo
Fashion Director Desmond Lim
Fashion editor: Law Roach
Hair Tokyo Stylez/Chris Aaron Management
Make-up Erika Roman
Creative Producer Vanessa Caitlin
Casting Director Jill Demling
Set Designer Lauren Nikrooz
Production Creative Exchange Agency
On-set Producer Cassandra Tannenbaum
Pre-order your copy of the July/August ‘Ablaze’ issue of Vogue Singapore online now or pick it up on newsstands from 20 July 2022.