Rappers bragging about crimes from their pasts — or warning about those they may commit in the future — are part of the genre’s lore. From Jay Z to Snoop Dogg to Future, street cred for rappers has often been solidified by detailing their grimy acts in everything from raps to interviews.
So it would seem that Cardi B’s recently discovered admission to drugging and robbing men during her stripper past would be just another example of that. But in the era of #MeToo, some are wondering whether it’s time to Cancel Cardi B in the same way R. Kelly has been largely muted following allegations that he repeatedly sexually abused young women and girls.
Still others are wondering whether Cardi — whose rise from stripper to reality star to Grammy-winning superstar rapper has become a fairytale success story — is being treated differently because she is a woman.
“Cardi, who could have only been in her late teens or early twenties at the time of these alleged events, was wrong. But is she more wrong than the scores of Black male rappers and Hip-Hop artists who have made careers discussing their criminal pasts and its necessity for their survival?” an Essence.com essay asked this week.
Cardi B herself has raised the same question.
“Im (sic) apart of a hip hop culture where you can talk about where you come from and talk about the wrong things that you had to do to get where you are,” she wrote in a Twitter post this week. “There are rappers that glorify murder violence drugs an (sic) robbing.”
The 26-year-old Cardi B, born Belcalis Marlenis Almanzar in the Bronx, has been an open book since she rocketed to fame on the Vh1 series “Love and Hip Hop” in 2015. When her single, “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves),” made her a bona fide rap star, her rough yet playful image remained intact.
The clip that drew the firestorm was apparently posted to Instagram in 2016, before the singer became a platinum-selling rapper. In it, an emotional Cardi B says that to make it in the music industry — and in life — she had to do some things she’s not proud of.
“I had to go strip, I had to go, ‘Oh yeah, you want to (sleep with) me? Yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s go back to this hotel,’ and I drugged (men) up, and I robbed them. That’s what I used to do,” Cardi B said in the post.
Outrage ensued, with some comparing Cardi B to Bill Cosby, who was convicted last year for drugging and molesting a woman in 2004. Others posted #SurvivingCardiB on social media, playing off the ultra-popular Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly,” which helped lead to new sexual abuse charges against the R&B singer a decade after he was acquitted of child pornography charges. The singer has denied the new allegations.
But Damien Scott, editor-in-chief and vice president of content and development of the hip-hop magazine Complex, said Cardi’s admission didn’t rise to the level of those cases.
“The difference here is this is Cardi remembering crimes she committed in her very formidable years, and while they are crimes … to me they’re not on the degree of criminality as raping somebody. She claims she would drug men and rob them — is that bad? Extremely bad. However, on the scale of what’s acceptable in rap and what has been acceptable in rap, to me that’s on the tame side,” he told The Associated Press in an interview on Thursday. (In the Twitter post defending herself, Cardi B maintains the men were actually “conscious (sic) willing and aware.”)
Rough and explicit lyrics have been part of rap since its early days, and it is common for rappers to vulgarly discuss sex, drugs, gun violence and more in songs.
“These are things that male rap artists traditionally, historically, have been able to use to tell their story (like), ‘I used to do X-Y-Z, but now I rap.’ That’s a stable of many rap origin stories,” Scott said. “I can name so many rappers who have legitimately said on record and in an interview, ‘Oh man, I was going to continue selling drugs but my manager or my friend or my boy who raps told me I should focus on this because I have a gift. I used to rob and steal, I used to be a stick-up kid, but I figured that after I got arrested the last time, I should find a legal hustle.'”
Still, drug references and other controversies have hurt other rappers in recent years. Reebok ended its relationship with Rick Ross in 2013 following heavy criticism of lyrics where he rapped about giving a woman the drug MDMA, known as Molly, and having his way with her on the song “U.O.E.N.O.” CeeLo Green saw his career wane after facing charges in a felony drug case (he pleaded no contest to giving a woman ecstasy at a 2012 dinner). After entering the plea, Green posted a series of messages on Twitter, including one that read: “Women who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!”
Lil Wayne came under fire in 2013 when he compared a sex act to the beating that killed 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi on a remix of rapper-producer Future’s song, “Karate Chop.” PepsiCo cut ties with Lil Wayne afterward.
Around the same time, the company pulled an online Mountain Dew ad — developed by Tyler, the Creator — that was criticized for portraying racial stereotypes and making light of violence toward women.
Some felt that if Cardi B were a man, especially in the #MeToo era, she would have suffered greater backlash for her admission. Brand and reputation management expert Eric Schiffer said he felt there was a “slight double standard” when it came to Cardi B’s situation.
But Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, added that Cardi B wasn’t glorifying the act of drugging someone in a song and that she took ownership of her actions.
“That’s the distinction, and that’s why I think that she’s not getting the same heat. If she was openly rapping about drugging men and stealing, I think you’d see potentially even greater heat on her than men,” Schiffer said.
Last month, Cardi won her first Grammy Award — becoming the first solo female to pick up best rap album. Her latest single, “Please Me,” featuring Bruno Mars, is her seventh Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in just two years. She had two major commercials for Pepsi — which aired during the Super Bowl and the Grammy Awards — and also has collaborations with the fashion brand Fashion Nova and shoe company Steve Madden.
As for future deals for Cardi?
“My bet is that there are many brands that are not going to throw down big checks in the short-term, given the news,” Schiffer said.
But Cardi has bounced back before: Though she threatened fellow rapper Nicki Minaj during fashion week last year at a glitzy party for Harper’s Bazaar magazine and threw a shoe at Minaj, the magazine still put her on the cover this year. And she found out about her Grammy nominations on the same day she was in a New York City criminal court for a misdemeanor assault charge for a fight at a strip club.
“I don’t think it’s going to stop any endorsements. I would be very, very, very, very surprised if anything stops,” Scott said.