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Grammys flashback: When Cardi B broke the glass ceiling for women in rap

Female rappers have had an amazing past couple of years with artists like Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, and Latto rocketing up the charts. However, Cardi B probably takes the cake as the most successful in recent years. She had her big breakthrough with “Invasion of Privacy,” the first solo female project to win the Grammy for Best Rap Album. However, in a male-dominated genre (especially back in 2018), and with other big names also vying for the award, how did Cardi manage to get ahead?

“Invasion of Privacy” was born with the number-one hit “Bodak Yellow.” It was a bit of a surprise hit, climbing its way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 fast as it became increasingly viral. But would she be more of a one-hit wonder than an actual superstar? The song gave Cardi B the first solo female rap song to hit number-one since Lauryn Hill in the ’90s and spent three weeks at the summit. It was nominated for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song at the 2018 Grammys. And Cardi followed that success with more hits, including the top-10 “No Limit” alongside G-Eazy and A$AP Rocky. Eventually the album came out, and any thoughts of Cardi B the one-hit wonder vanished: she really was a superstar.

Cardi has been vastly helped by her personality. A big reason why she is famous is that people truly fell in love with her authenticity and humor. “Invasion of Privacy’s” release also saw her announce her pregnancy on “Saturday Night Live,” which was a major pop culture moment and also gave people insight into how hard-working she is, doing intense promo despite carrying a child. When it dropped, “Invasion of Privacy” earned universal acclaim, and throughout the year solidified itself as one of the most important and successful mainstream debuts in recent history, being a huge seller and earning a second number-one hit with “I Like It” featuring Bad Bunny and J Balvin.

Come Grammy nominations morning, Cardi B was expected to be one of the most recognized, and she was. She earned nominations for Record of the Year (“I Like It”), Best Rap Performance (“Be Careful”), Album of the Year, and Best Rap Album, plus an additional nomination for her contribution to Maroon 5’s “Girls LIke You.” Meanwhile, Drake’s “Scorpion” — which was the top rap album of the year on Billboard’s year-end chart — and the “Black Panther” soundtrack were both snubbed for Best Rap Album, giving Cardi an easier ride to her win. Still, she was up against two other big front-runners: Travis Scott’s “Astroworld,” another top-10 album from 2018 that earned similar acclaim to Cardi’s, and Pusha T’s lauded “Daytona.”

“Invasion of Privacy” had a few advantages in the race. First and perhaps most importantly, Cardi’s celebrity status was through the roof. Even if other albums sold as well as “Invasion of Privacy,” Cardi B was one of the most prominent public figures of the year, always making appearances on TV or going viral on social media. In addition, “Invasion of Privacy” gave the Recording Academy the perfect opportunity to finally honor women in hip-hop, especially as Cardi continued to achieve new historic feats (for instance, she was the first female rapper to score multiple chart-topping singles). Add those big hits and massive acclaim to her significance as a trailblazer, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

In other years “Astroworld” or “Daytona” could’ve taken the award, but that year everyone was living for whatever Cardi did, from her red-carpet looks to her uniquely funny vocabulary; She simply owned the public narrative. That’s similar to what Megan Thee Stallion did just a couple of years later: she won three Grammys including Best New Artist helped by how beloved she was in the public eye. In the end, voters love to award the artists themselves, not just the music.

By taking home the Grammy that year, Cardi proved that she was able to stand her ground in such a male-dominated genre. In her speech (watch it above), Cardi was clearly moved and showed us what a true artist looks like. Perhaps that’s why Cardi remains one of the biggest names in music, and has not slowed down in quality or numbers, becoming a consistent Grammy nominee. All hail one of the queens of rap.

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