Famed rapper, television and film star, and fashion icon Cardi B has managed to gain a tremendous fan following since she came to the attention of the mainstream. Since her appearance on VH1’s Love & Hip Hop New York and the release of her catchy number one debut single “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi B has been on a whirlwind of a journey called fame. Aside from her music, fans agree that what makes Cardi B a celebrity worth following is the fact that she is funny, entertaining, reliable, and blatantly straight forward commentary.
Despite the fact that she has had career moments filled with drama – namely, her ongoing conflicts with rapper Nicki Minaj – she continues to have committed fans who attribute her relatability to the neighborhood that she comes from in the Bronx, New York. So where exactly does Cardi B call home, at least the place where she grew up originally, and how has it shaped her life before fame?
Cardi B, perhaps the most famous female rapper at the moment, was born Belcalis Almanzar in the Bronx, New York City. Her parents – a Trinidadian father and Dominican mother – were inspired to name Cardi using the Arabic language. Cardi has discussed the inspiration of her name in many interviews and has indicated that both her first and last names are Spanish translations of Arabic words.
Her first name (Belcalis) means Queen of Sheba, and her second name, Almanzar, means watchtower or lookout point. As a child, Cardi bounced between Washington Heights and the Bronx – as her parents lived in separate regions in the New York City region. As a result of having a familiarity with all those places, fans can definitely hear all those geographies in her accent. As a result of her parents’ split and her difficult relationship with her stepfather, Cardi spent a significant part of her formative years coming to terms with disappointment.
As a child, Cardi was raised in Highbridge, South Bronx, with her sister Hennessy, which is how she got the nickname Bacardi. Highbridge has long been a residential neighborhood located in the central-west section of the Bronx, New York City. The neighborhood, which is part of Bronx Community Board 4, is bordered by the Cross-Bronx Expressway to the north, Jerome Avenue to the east, Macombs Dam Bridge to the south, and the Harlem River to the west. Known as zip code 10452, Highbridge takes its name from the High Bridge that was built in 1848 by Irish immigrants. The bridge was meant to carry Croton Aqueduct water across the Harlem River.
Highbridge, South Bronx
By the late 1960s, Highbridge residents were predominantly of Irish, Italian, and Eastern European Jewish descent. This would begin to change across the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s when the neighborhood demographics would shift to predominantly Dominican, Puerto Rican, and African American residents. While living in Highbridge, Cardi B remembers her neighborhood being tremendously multicultural. Aside from ethno-racial demographics, Highbridge has historically also been made up of working-class residents. To date, almost 40% of the families that live in the neighborhood live below the federal poverty line.
And yet, despite the notable poverty in Highbridge, as of 2017, statistics indicated that Highbridge was undergoing gentrification. By that year, statistics found that the median household income in the Highbridge community was $30,900. A year later, the numbers did not indicate a significant change. In terms of poverty, an estimated 32% of Highbridge residents lived in poverty. While a devastatingly low number, Highbridge did not have as much poverty as it’s the larger region of the Bronx (which hovered around 25%) and throughout the entire New York City region (with 20%).
Statistics suggested that one in eight residents (13%) were unemployed, and 61% of residents had difficulty paying their rent and found paying that amount each month tremendously burdensome. Despite the challenges that residents felt in relation to renting, by 2017, rental costs had risen more in Highbridge than in any other neighborhood in New York City. The rate of increase was approximately 22%.
Despite the challenges of living in Highbridge, Cardi B has always expressed a great pride in coming from the South Bronx. In an interview with AM New York Cardi B stated:
“It’s a great experience [growing up in the South Bronx]. I wouldn’t be able to rap about the things that I rap about now [if I hadn’t grown up there].”
She also agrees that no matter what a life of fame brings, she will always remain true to who she is. In an interview with Cosmopolitan Magazine she stated:
“Everybody got different beliefs and different religions and were raised differently, yet you are also supposed to be careful you don’t offend somebody. Everybody gets bothered about everything. Everybody got a f**king opinion about you. If I change myself, then I’m going to lose myself, and I won’t be who makes me happy.”
A Life of Stripping
As a teenager and young adult, Cardi really enjoyed school and learning history more specifically. After high school, Cardi B enrolled at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, where she took courses in History and French. Her studies eventually landed her a job at the Amish Market. Unfortunately, after a while of working while studying, Cardi found it quite difficult to balance working full-time and keeping up with her studies. After a few semesters, she found that she was far too distracted, and instead of leaving her job, she decided to drop out of school. In an interview Cardi admitted:
“I was working all week [at the market] and I still was making only, like, 250 fucking dollars.”
While Cardi continued to work at the Amish Market, she was soon going to be spending a considerable amount of time in Manhattan. It all began at the age of nineteen when she was fired for giving one of her co-workers a considerable discount. At the time, one of her managers commented on how beautiful she was and what a great body she had. He then suggested that she travel across the street from her current workplace to New York Dolls, a New York City strip club.
She then began stripping while lying to her mother about how she was making her money. Cardi decided to tell her mother that she was making all that money by babysitting. Cardi claims that her mom bought the lie. And yet, even though she was making a significant amount of money – as much as $3,000 dollars a night – Cardi’s choice to become a stripper was also inspired by romantic challenges – namely, domestic abuse.
Cardi B sought out financial freedom so that she wouldn’t be dependent on living with a guy that was physically abusing her and making her life miserable. Unfortunately, paying for a New York City apartment by herself would take the kind of cash that she could make in one night at the strip club.
Thankfully, with this newfound finances through the world of stripping, Cardi B was able to build up her resources and invest in her future. Eventually, she was able to use her thousands of dollars – though a very small amount in comparison to the amount of money she would be making as a mega superstar years later – to jump-start her rapping career after getting her start on reality TV’s “Love & Hip Hop: New York.”
By all accounts, betting on herself allowed her to hit the jackpot. She started to get her name out there on social media through her interesting Vines and Tweets. She was then able to get a deal with Atlantic Records, release her debut album “Invasion of Privacy,” record Billboard Hot 100 hit songs like “I Like It” with Bad Bunny, “Finesse” with Bruno Mars, “Bartier Cardi” with 21 Savage, “Boom Boom” remix with Shaggy, “Girls Like You” with Maroon 5, and many more. She has appeared on Saturday Night Live, countless music videos, and even the movie “Hustlers” alongside cast member Jennifer Lopez.
She has broken tons of records as one of the most renowned female artists. She made history as the first female rapper to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart in over 20 years since Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” — dethroning Taylor Swift in the process. She won a Grammy Award for best rap album in 2019 and has received several BET Awards. She now has a child, Kulture Kiari, with the rapper Offset from Migos.