Cardi B, we’re really happy for you and we’re gonna let you finish, but girls from the hood been at this for a minute ...
Belcalis Almanzar, better known as the reality star-turned-star rapper Cardi B, has arrived. She fixed her teeth, made Billboard chart history, and finessed her way into the ears and hearts of pop culture and into the arms of Offset—one-third of Migos, the hit squad behind club banger “Bad and Boujee”—all without actually being bougie herself.
She didn’t achieve any of this without merit: Cardi B was on her grind as an exotic dancer, established herself on social media and parlayed Insta-fame into a Love & Hip Hop feature, which became the springboard for her current success. Her most recent achievement? Being included among a gaggle of seasoned artists nominated for the 2018 Grammy Awards—in not just one category but two.
And notably, she did all of this by being herself—all while being “hood.”
Hailing from Highbridge, a neighborhood in New York City’s South Bronx, Cardi B is the personification of LL Cool J’s 1980s hit “Around the Way Girl.” Her baby hairs are perpetually pumping, and her lip gloss stays popping. Her snarl game is infectious, compliments of a new, blinged-out grill. She is full of street wit and unafraid to spit whatever truth needs to be heard, at any given time—but so did the Lisas, Angelas, Pamelas and Renees from Any Hood, USA.
These women immortalized bamboo earrings. They wore extensions in their hair way back when black girls were ostracized for wearing weaves and braids, before “protective styles” were trending, before buying bundles was a thing.
I’m talking about the “regular, degular, shmegular” girls from around the way, holding down 9-to-5s and side hustles; juggling school, raising kids and going hard in their ascension to be their best selves. They are a special brand of go-getter who often outperform those around them. They get it done while wearing colossal Havana twists that fall to their waistlines, thick glamour lashes copped from the beauty-supply store and/or blinged-out stiletto acrylic nails.
Some pop gum while speaking a language peppered with neck-rolling colloquialisms and four-letter words that convey the type of wisdom one can only gain coming from where they come from. Cardi B is of the same ilk, and although she has upgraded herself materially and physically—in the ways that money and fame allow—we adore her. The girl next door? Not so much. The two are unequally celebrated.
Collectively, we cape for Cardi B. We want to see our favorite underdog win because she is the antithesis of political correctness. And yet we revel in jokes and memes that mock all aspects of the “hood chick.” Many are dragged on social media for being body positive, for loving the skin they are in. They’re objectified and policed by trolls and the online respectability police. Meanwhile, Cardi B gets over 7 million views for proudly showing off her cosmetically enhanced tits and ass, and her notoriously long tongue.
Seldom do we read tales of charming rappers asking for the around-the-way girl’s hand in marriage. Hip-hop is often obsessed with shitting on them and referring to them as “thots,” while Cardi B is offered 3-carat-diamond validation.
And the film and television industry is equally complicit as it remains culpable in the erasure and portrayal of our beloved homegirls through exaggerated characters such as Martin’s Sheneneh Jenkins (insultingly played in drag). Like the Sambos of the Jim Crow era, around-the-way girls have long been stereotyped and caricatured. Their image is for consumption and degradation.
Bottom line: We, as a people, need to check our respectability politics and selective classism.
It is clear that Cardi B reigns supreme in the same spaces where others like her are dismissed. Instead of side-eyeing our sisters in the hood—for being extra, for doing “the most”—perhaps we could salute them for their relentless negritude; for establishing a culture within a society that prefers conformity; for the courage to be themselves. In the age of continued anti-black and anti-woman rhetoric—let alone in the age of misogynoir—these are acts of real resistance.
So when we gather in front of our televisions on Jan. 28 for the 60th annual Grammy Awards and root for everybody black—including Cardi B—be mindful to applaud and pay homage to the girls from around your way, too. Because they invented her aesthetic. They deserve applause, too.