“I flip the script and kill shit” — Cardi B, “Lit Thot”
I nerd out when I see someone “flipping the script” because poetic victory against “powers that be” can help create courage and unity in the fight against them.
“Flipping the script” means creating a role reversal to subvert authority, often by way of a cheeky rap lyric. For example, see how Jay-Z illustrates an evolution of chains from slave shackles to the gold jewelry associated with rapper-swag:
Hop off the slave ship
Popped off my chain, and took it to Jacob,
I got it gold plated
Walked in that bitch like “N***a we made it!”
I own my own masters
— “We Made It” ft. Jay Electronica
Hova creates an unapologetic celebration of how hip-hop propelled black culture into running popular culture (and making loads of money) as a triumphant crescendo in the black-American narrative beginning with slavery.
America remains so depressingly far from perfect, but I think we can at least find hope in how this black art form creates poetic victory celebrated by people of all races through music. And while poetic victory itself does not keep people safe, I think anything that helps people stay hopeful, present, and engaged matters. This is in large part why I am a student of hip-hop.
And yet, while hip-hop flips, it in turn creates some scripts of it’s own worth challenging, such as how things shake out for women (from violent misogyny to pornographic objectification to the barbed cattiness of Drake). Check out the cover art from Ty Dolla $ign and E-40’s recent radio hit “Saved.”
But Hip-Hop is a many-faced God: while I love it in conflict with how it can make me feel as a woman, Hip-Hop grants anyone the power to put words to beats, including women using self-expression to create opposing forces to misogyny.
Enter Cardi B, a 23-year-old retired stripper of Trinidadian-Dominican descent from the Bronx. She dropped her first mixtape, Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1 in March, but had been building her career by winning over fans of the reality show Love and Hip-Hop and gathering a dedicated Instagram following. I first stumbled across her when her mixtape cover caught my eye on the Datpiff app:
Throughout the mixtape, she spits her learned wisdom from her struggle, with no sign of a filter for pop appeal or radio play. It’s gangster, for sure, but it’s not just that: it’s gangster stripper.
The verses in “Trick” list 10 rules that give an intimate look into how she conducted her body as a business, reminiscent of Biggie’s gangster classic “Ten Crack Commandments”. Tink borrowed this format too, with a conscious theme, but Cardi’s rendition is a raw code of survival.
I know that I myself am ignorant of what a stripper goes through, but I feel a vicarious rush when “Cardi Exotic” goes up to bat on the mic to taunt masculine dogma. I also know two wrongs don’t make a right, and blind eyes leave the world blind etc., but every time Cardi says “trick” I feel like we use a mushroom speed-boost in the Mario Kart race against patriarchy.
Female artists knowingly call upon the flip Cardi uses: rapper and retired stripper Brooke Candy once explained it (I’m paraphrasing): “If women are just ass, then men are just cash. ATM machines.” To that end, Cardi B wields that power of tits and ass like Biggie does the power of a Tec and a 9:
Now give me all that money you be spending on your chick
Now give me all that money you be spending on your kid
Now give me all that money you been stacking for your rent
— “Wash Poppin”
She gives Tupac-esque honesty in “Everything,” but as a woman speaking to other women to help guide those who will face the same challenges she did:
Don’t be fucking trick niggas just so you could eat
That’s the shit I did and it really makes me weak
I would close my eyes die and pray it to be over
The thought of a stranger inside I just can’t be sober
Dirty ass breath breathing all over my shoulder
And no bitch gon tell you that, just respect a soldier
Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1 offers some highly enjoyable heat, but its lyrical contributions to the Battle of the Sexes make this mixtape next-level. To recognize these moments of rebellious wit means to acknowledge fighting spirit against oppression. With Cardi B flipping scripts in the process of following her dreams, we have a fine new champion:
After I got kicked out of my house when I was 18, its like I didn’t have 200 dollars to invest in a studio session like I had to pay bills I had to pay my rent. Now that I’m making that shmoney, it’s like, why not invest on my dreams that I always dreamt of… You got to follow your dreams, like fuck you mean.
– “Intro Skit”
To quote a Great Dame of Hip-Hop:
Girl, girl, get that cash
If it’s 9 to 5 or shakin’ your ass
Ain’t no shame, ladies do your thing
Just make sure you ahead of the game
– Missy Elliott “Work It”
Cardi B is the definition of ahead of the game because she’s flipping it:
Hopefully, this is just the beginning. Keep slaying, Cardi B. We’re rooting for you.
Olivia Forman gets a C- in Adulting but has figured out that singing along to “Still Tipping” is great therapy.