This week Cardi B has achieved heights that few artistes of any genre ever ascend to. She hit number one on Billboard. Not on the RnB/Hip Hop charts eh, the Hot 100.
It’s a a rare feat in rap. It’s even rarer for females in rap. Even rarer at top of the charts are rap songs without a “sung” hook. Drake couldn’t reach number one with hotline bling and that was basically a ballad. And you never see rap songs dedicated to getting back at bitches because that isn’t exactly a universal topic right? Well…I might be wrong on that last one. After all we’re in the era of #tapout. But the point is, the odds against this occurrence are stacked. Heavily.
Also of note is the fact that she is the first female rapper since Lauryn to hit number one on the Hot 100 as the sole artiste on the song. Lil Kim did it on an ensemble joint. Which got me rewinding all the way back to the Lauryn Hill hit released nineteen going on twenty years ago. Damn it I’m old.
For those of you who may be too young let me paint the picture. In 1998 Lauryn was THE Queen, down here in Trini and worldwide. By that time she was already fresh off the hugely successful and critically acclaimed album “The Score” with her group the Fugees and had already proved herself to be one of the best female singers and female emcees at the SAME damn time.
In Trinidad we especially loved her.It started with her first film role in Sister Act 2. I remember my sister attending National Cinema in Sando (or was it Empire?) with her friends to watch it and all she could talk about was the brooding girl who sang “Eye of the Sparrow” and “Joyful Joyful“.
At that point I still wasn’t yet convinced. As a youth of the 90s I was still mostly listening dancehall and wasn’t into the sing songy stuff so much. But when I heard her first verse on “Hip Hopera” I was sold. I mean she went toe to toe with Bounty Killa and came out on top. This is 90s Bounty Killa too who was the trini warlord general in those days. No small feat!
Rap creds? Check her verse on “Ready or Not” (it taught me the word defacate). She makes tracks like she’s homeless. Vocal chops? Her cover of “Killing me Softly” is perfection. Like it was unanimous. This isn’t like now where Drake can do both but isn’t really top ten in either. It was understood like gravity or the fact that politicians lie that Lauryn was THE queen in both. And she was bringing out a solo album.
It didn’t hurt that she looked like this either.
So it was no surprise to anyone at that time when “Doo Wop (that thing)”, a single off that solo album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and a song that showcased both of those talents to the max debuted at number one.
Lauryn’s lyrical style can be compared to a female ninja warrior armed to the teeth. Think Ibuki from Street Fighter. Rooted in a poetry slam style with a superb vocabulary her method is to batter the beat with intellectual metaphors and astute observations till the listener is completely KO’d. On this track she expertly takes what could be a preachy topic and fills it with enough colour and realness to make it a summer jam. “Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem” – so may years later and that line still gives chills. And the chorus is pure sweet throwback cooing sealed with Lauryn’s signature vibrato.
Lauryn was a weird one. Keep in mind that prior to the social media era it was a lot more difficult to get in depth information on artistes. There were magazines but dem tings were heavily orchestrated. There was no Twitter to watch them implode on and no Wikipedia entries to peruse.
Even in such times L-Boogie was more mysterious and stranger than most. Her personal ethos tended towards the afrocentric and spiritual but the details of her philosophy always seemed in flux. She seemed existing outside everything, floating above and looking down at everything.
She also seemed to be burdened by the fame she received and relayed a growing weariness with what she concerned hypocrisy by the media and those who provided the platform on which she was now the center of.
Contrast that with Cardi B a stripper who rose to fame by mastering the attention grind on social media. She graduated to Instagram Jefe status through her magnetic and infectious ratchetness before pole vaulting from that to literally attacking bitches as a reality star on Love and Hip Hop.
Cardi B is the polar opposite to the afro Queen regality and “woke before woke was a thing” aloofness of Lauryn. She is an “Animaniacs” character with a potty mouth and a temper. She’s Harley Quinn without the respectable back story.
As a rapper Cardi B is very green. To be fair to her, unlike Lauryn she is a brand new artiste, still finding her footing as an emcee. Her best assets as a rapper are her voice and the realness of her lyrics. Bodak Yellow is far from a lyrical masterpiece but what it lacks in lyrics it makes up in energy, personality and moxie. Unlike Lauryn, Cardi B carries herself like she’s been anticipating this attention her whole life and seems better suited to deal with the ills of fame.
In recent weeks she has parried alleged shots from Nicki Minaj and several judgemental barbs regarding her past as a stripper all while staying true to her crazed cartoony persona and climbing the charts. Her years as a social media general seems to have made her battle ready for Internet fame and her stripper stint has primed her for her new found ‘exposure’. Ok lol on that last one.
After “Doo Wop” Lauryn would never have a hit that big again. The pressures of fame seemed to get to her and she no longer wanted any part of it. Despite that, she would go on to win a crocus bag of grammy awards including the prestigious, hardly ever awarded to black people, “album of the year” award. To this day “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” is still revered as a classic. But Lauryn was no newbie by then and we already owned a decent amount of her work by that point.
Cardi B on the other hand is a new artiste on the come up. She’s poised, hungry and ready. Her first album is scheduled to drop this month. Unlike Lauryn Hill, she doesn’t seem to have the gifts to drop a good album let alone a classic. In fact, her handlers seem to be trying to maximize the hype before it dissipates. I think she has too much personality and drive to be a one hit wonder but it will be interesting to see how her career develops.
Two female rappers at different points in their career who could not be more different, achieving the same lofty heights in what was and still is a male-dominated industry and genre nineteen years apart. Very interesting. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.