Stephen Niemeier

Having been a gang member and a stripper, Cardi B became popular on “social” media largely because of her unabashed and colloquial way of speaking. She gave the impression that she was telling you exactly what was on her mind, from frank remarks on her boyfriends, to compliments she’d received, shops she likes, and even advice on how to make money.

In 2015 she joined VH1’s reality TV show Love & Hip Hop and was one of the most popular people on the show. After two seasons she left television to pursue her music career. Between 2016-17 she released two mixtapes, Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. I and II, which, despite the name, didn’t provide the stream-of-consciousness spontaneity and sincerity which the fans were expecting. Her first album Invasion of Privacy, however, pleased her large following and gave them in rap the qualities they had liked in her videos.

Thinking and writing do not destroy feeling and spontaneity

Unlike most major rappers in Atlanta, Hip-Hop’s capital city, who enter a recording studio without any plans, hoping instead to record a mood or a feeling, Cardi B works hard and writes all her material before she records it. She differs from other rappers (and popular musicians generally) also by telling people that her development was a result of practice and study; she expressed admiration for the hip-hop group Migos by saying: “I see how hard they work. And that motivated me to work even harder." She has also admitted that she changes her music to match what sells, saying: “I have a passion for music, I love music. But I also have a passion for money and paying my bills.”

While one might suspect such a cynical approach to what is meant to be an art form, it is refreshing that a popular musician has cleared away some of the romantic fog which surrounds the production of music: being a musician is a job like any other, and if you want to get good at it you must work at it every day. Most people know that you must practice a musical instrument to get good at it, which is why this romantic fog is much thicker around the production of other art forms, such as poetry, which is often thought to be the result of divine inspiration rather than practice.

After the Romantics, the Confessional poets were the biggest contributors to this fog. American poets such as Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath wrote bold poems about mental illness, but their successors, thinking every other topic exhausted, and trying to be more confessional than their predecessors, told us about their latest trips to the bathroom. Not being as innovative as they thought (James Joyce had given us better bathroom scenes in Ulysses, published about forty years earlier), these poets have strengthened the canard which says that poetry must be sincere to be good, and must be personally revealing to be sincere.


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They eschewed rhyme and metre on the assumption that form and organisation – premeditation, in other words – dilute genuine feeling and sincerity. This assumption – that art is meant to reveal something about the artist – is dangerous because it breaks the important barrier between public and private and allows people to think that poets and musicians aren’t entitled to a private life because they end up revealing everything in their work anyway.

Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, a result of study and work, has showed us that this assumption is false. Thinking and writing do not destroy feeling and spontaneity and can in fact contribute to their preservation. While Cardi B has never admitted to rapping about things that never happened, it wouldn’t matter if she did so: it was her industry, not her feelings, which created the album her fans appreciated. It’s nice to hear her admit it. Having inhaled too much of the romantic fog, we have deprived our brains of oxygen and forgotten one of the most important and fundamental assumptions of our species: that made up stories matter.

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