Cardi B

Rapper Cardi B calls herself “the trap Selena”

Cardi B, rapper and self-proclaimed “regula degula shmegula girl from the Bronx,” is the first solo female rap performer to hold the number 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 list since Lauryn Hill did 20 years ago. According to Billboard, “Bodak Yellow” achieved this feat via social media and video streaming sites and is therefore one of most listened to singles since its release in June 2017. This is a huge achievement, especially given the barriers women of color face in the music industry, particularly in rap and hip hop.

Beyond her hit single, Cardi B is known for her daily Instagram videos and role in Love & Hip Hop: New York. After deciding to pursue her music interests, she made two mixtapes and signed a deal with Atlantic Records. Now she is one of the most beloved and contested female icons in the industry. She rejects respectability politics by challenging the mainstream embodiment of womanhood with her fashion style, accent, and expression of her sexuality. She is a proud Bronx Dominican-Trinidadian woman who loves being real with herself and others.

Last week she released a mix, Motorsport, with Migos and Nicki Minaj. In this track she spits, “I’m the trap Selena/Dame más gasolina,” stirring strong reactions on Twitter and on Remezcla’s coverage of the new release. In the Remezcla comments section, some fans applauded, while others ridiculed her comparison to Selena Quintanilla, beloved Tejana star:

Cardi needs to be real, Selena was never on the pole!

Pinche pendeja! How dare this STD ridden stripper compare herself to the class act that is Selena!

Fuck yes. Cardi is the #trapSelena
She breaking barriers in her own way and i respect her hustle

Latinos hating on latinos at its finest Im down with it! everybody just be hating on Cardi B yall needa get a life and stop with that salty ass shit 1st of all shes not dissing Selena or even disrespecting shes REPRESENTING Selena’s name in her style of TRAP “The SELENA OF TRAP”

I understand people’s love and respect for Selena. I grew up listening to her songs, yearning to own a purple jumpsuit, and can recite every line of her 1997 biopic, starring Jennifer Lopez, who coincidentally is another girl from the Bronx like me and Cardi. Selena’s fan base has an unwavering commitment to celebrating her life posthumously.

However, celebrating and respecting one woman while denigrating another is anti-feminist. Suggesting that Cardi has STIs because of her sexual expression stigmatizes sexual freedom and shames people with STIs. Adding that Selena was not on a pole refers to Cardi’s experience working as a stripper and devalues her autonomy and informed decision-making capacity as a woman. Questioning Cardi’s comparison to Selena is rooted in questioning her Latinidad, which highlights the problem of anti-Blackness in Latinx communities: Afro-Latinxs’ racial and ethnic identities are often categorized as never being enough of one.

Cardi B image and quote

Homegirl Box recently featured Cardi B as one of their visionary women. Box sales open on November 10, 2017.

It is important to understand Cardi’s career—and the reaction to her claim to be “the trap Selena”—through a lens of trap feminism. Feministing’s very own Sesali B., coined the framework of trap feminism three years ago. Trap music is a male-dominated rap genre that centers sex, money, and drugs. Sesali juxtaposes it to “luxury” rappers like Jay-Z who spit lines about their wealth and material goods. Trap is about the money and stardom you don’t have in your hood and how you plan on getting it. Given the male dominance of the genre and extracting from its gender dynamics, trap feminists are active agents as they “negotiate the terms under which they use their bodies and sexuality.” When people critique trap music for its coverage of sex, money, and drugs, they often miss the point of trap music as an escape and form of expression.

Cardi’s use of “trap” pays homage to this framework. Her embodiment as a self-determined, sexually autonomous, and independent Afro-Latina rapper is groundbreaking. Yet people critique Cardi for her “unladylike” deportment, missing the point that trap feminism subverts female standards of chastity and modesty and celebrates challenging gender norms. They are quick to slut-shame and question her Latinidad, as the comments above do. These critiques perpetuate the virgin/whore dichotomy with Selena as the virgin and Cardi as the whore. Selena as a Mexican-American Latin pop sensation is portrayed as an acceptable symbol of Latinidad, whereas Cardi’s Dominican-Trinidadian identity is challenged as her identity is inextricably linked to her Blackness. The erasure of Afro-Latinidad in pop culture and mainstream media perpetuates a monolithic understanding of Latinx culture and identity.

Cardi B is not devaluing Selena’s legacy and achievement. She is making a distinction that there is no singular way to practice feminism, especially in the music industry. She models herself as an Afro-Latina feminist by strongly claiming her cross-cultural identity. She is not calling herself the next Selena or even suggesting she holds the title of La Reina. Cardi is claiming her Blackness, her Latinidad, and her sexuality all in one verse while paying respect to Selena’s impact on so many people, including herself.

Cardi has said that being a feminist isn’t “being a woman that has an education, that has a degree…[If] you’re discouraging a certain type of woman, that definitely doesn’t make you [a feminist].” All too often, feminism suggests that the success of one woman comes at the detriment to another, and that to be a successful woman, standardized markers of success like wealth and education deem you as the ultra-feminist. Cardi aspires towards a feminism where she supports all women, no matter their level of respectability. Before jumping to shame Cardi’s embodiment of womanhood, we should internalize her very own advice.

Header image credit: Natalia Mantini via Complex

Amanda R. Matos, proud Nuyorican from the Bronx, NY, is the co-founder of the WomanHOOD Project, a Bronx-based youth-led organization for young women of color. She is dedicated to empowering communities of color through capacity building, political education, and civic engagement. Amanda has led community organizing and policy initiatives at Planned Parenthood of New York City and Girls for Gender Equity. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as a Sheila C. Johnson Fellow. On her free time, Amanda eats doughnuts and watches great TV shows like Jane the Virgin and Blackish.

Amanda R. Matos is a community organizer and reproductive justice activist from the Bronx, NY.

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