PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL's Star of the Year Cardi B: "I've been blessed"
The worldwide musical sensation Belcalis Marlenis Almanzar, better known as singer Cardi B, honors her Latin roots in an explosive year that yielded her greatest treasure: daughter Kulture Kiari.
Night was falling over New York City's Central Park and some 60,000 souls were going crazy over Cardi B's imminent return to the stage at the Global Citizen Festival in late September. Behind the scenes, the rapper, who had given birth to her first-born, Kulture Kiari, just two months before, was a bundle of nerves. But with the initial chords of her hit “Drip,” Cardi B — dressed in head-to-toe red and sporting Lady Godiva–like blonde hair— exploded on the scene with ferocious assuredness and her characteristic honesty, to the delight of her fervent fans. “Hi, y'all doing today?” she said to the euphoric crowd during a break from singing hits such as “I Like It,” “Bartier Cardi,” “Be Careful” and her anthem “Bodak Yellow.” “Good, 'cause I'm nervous, I'm sweaty.… But it's all right though, 'cause I'm here trying to change the world.”
More than changing it, Cardi B has conquered it with her can't-get-them-out-of-your-head lyrics and colossal personality. In all the media that matters — musical, digital, television, print — this 26-year-old, multimillionaire singer with Dominican and Trinidadian roots has crowned herself, breaking one historical record after another. She has owned the No. 1 spots on multiple Billboard charts (where she has taken the top spot from herself, firmly planting another hit in the last one's place); her first CD, Invasion of Privacy (Atlantic Records), was universally acclaimed and No. 1 upon release; her shelves are full of American Music Awards and MTV Video Music Awards, among others; and her uncensored Instagram videos and hilarious appearances on shows like Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Ellen have delighted her more than 45 million social media followers and made her new fans. Which meant the most to her? “It's my proudest and my happiest [achievement being a mom],” the singer shares exclusively with PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL as its 2018 Star of the Year. “When you're famous, so many things are being thrown at you: so many gossips, so many problems, so many beefs, so much money, so much of everything, it just kind of drives you crazy. And then when I see my daughter, it's like a piece of mind. [I say:] ‘Ahh, I do this because of you.' It cracks a smile on the most stressful days.” And she adds about her current situation: “I've been blessed.”
Her biggest treasure by far is her first-born daughter with husband Offset. The Migos rapper — whose real name is Kiari Kendrell Cephus — actually came up with the baby's name, culture with a “K,” a name Cardi loved from moment she heard it. The baby, who was born in July, is all smiles and very alert — and keeping her mom on her toes. “When I get home, she's most likely gonna be up,” says Cardi B at the end of this shoot, already late at night. “And she's gonna go to sleep whenever she feels like it; so, if she feels like going to sleep at 6 o'clock in the morning, I'm gonna have to go to sleep at 6 o'clock in the morning. I can't sleep until she's completely asleep.”
Reluctant to hire professional nannies, Cardi B has gotten support primarily from key women in her clan: her mother, sister and grandmother. “[When she's] with my grandmother or with my mother, I balance it out because everybody gets tired,” says Cardi, who feels at ease leaving the baby in her family's home in New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood. “I don't like going to sleep and leaving them with the responsibility of my baby because I know they just as tired as me. Same way I wanna sleep, they wanna sleep.”
The few times she has been away from Kulture Kiari for work — like her blink-and-you-missed-it trip to Paris Fashion Week in September — she's counting the minutes until she's back with her. “I don't want to miss nothing from my baby,” she says. “I read that babies forget people so quick; I don't want her to forget me. I don't want her thinking that somebody else is her mom; I want her to love me as her mom. I want to be the one that when she cries, I'm the one that stops her from crying. Seriously. I had to pull out from a tour [with singer Bruno Mars].… Being a week away, it would just drive me insane.”
True, her daughter will have a life that is very different from hers, but she will never forget where her family comes from. “She's gonna be raised in a big mansion. She's most likely gonna get whatever she wants from me and her dad, but I also want her to be humble,” says the new mom, who was born in the Bronx, joined the Bloods gang as a teenager and went to Renaissance High School for Musical Theater & Technology. She also worked as a cashier in a Tribeca supermarket and later on as a stripper, before joining the cast of Love & Hip Hop: New York (VH1) and making her mark in music. “So, yes, I will be taking her to her cousin's, her grandmother's house, and I would like her to see how the people in my community live. I would like for her to be humble, for her to want to share, for her not to be snobby. I want her at least to speak four languages: Spanish, English, French and I'm really loving Italian. I love how those people talk!” And, she adds: “I'm very proud of my Hispanic heritage.”
But not everything has been peace and love for Cardi B — the moniker that took over her real name, Belcalis Marlenis Almanzar. Two incidents grabbed headlines in September: The first was her confrontation with fellow rapper Nicki Minaj during a New York Fashion Week event (from which Cardi emerged with a welt on her head after reportedly throwing a shoe at Minaj. According to her, Minaj criticized her role as a mother, something Minaj denied). The second was a fight in a strip club in which two women allege the rapper ordered an attack on them because one of them supposedly had had an affair with Offset. (The day after this photo shoot, Cardi B turned herself in to New York authorities in connection to the latter case. As we were going to print, she had a pending court date to answer those charges.) To those who criticize her, she has this short answer: “I don't really care much.”
What she does care about — a lot — is to be able to count on her base, her nuclear family and friends who accept her just as she is. “My sister [Hennessy Carolina] has been very helpful, her and her girlfriend, very helpful,” says Cardi about the model, businesswoman and television personality, and her partner. “It's like [Hennessy] had a baby because she's learning with me. I call her right now and she would drop anything to be with Kulture.”
She may be world famous now, but not everything has changed in her life. “Yeah, people recognize me right away, but I feel like sometimes I have to go certain places. I go to a mall. I go to Target a lot. I was there about two weeks ago; I was in Target in the Bronx,” she laughs. Can she shop in peace? “No, but you can't be rude to people, you have to talk to people nicely,” says Cardi, who has mansions in the New York area and Atlanta with her husband but feels at home with her family in Washington Heights. “I need to be around positive people,” she says. “I know [my family is] gonna make me feel a little better even though they don't understand my life or the things I go through.”
None of them have ever treated her like a diva. “When I go to my mother's side of the family, my father's side of the family, they treat me the same,” she says. “They're not like: ‘Hey sit down and put your feet up on the table. It's not like [me saying]: ‘Hey, go clean my plate after I'm finished eating.' They don't treat me like that. I feel like I have the same friends.”
Some of them tease her, saying she acts just like a “grandma.” “I'm a very funny person, a very loud person but I'm also a very calm person. I'm a true Libra. I could be the loudest person, but I could be the quietest person, the most shy person. I'm a big loner; I prefer to be by myself. I need alone time, I overthink,” says Cardi B. “People around me, they say I'm like a grandma because I don't do a lot of activities. I like to work; I like to make my money. If I go out, I go out and show face, but I'm over it.”
Fans who know her lyrics by heart know how important money is to her — and all it has been able to buy her: luxurious cars, expensive jewelry, designer clothes and shoes. But for her, money represents much more than that, something essential. “Stability, stability, stability. I love stability,” she says. “I'm not a gambler, I think about 15 years from now, I don't think about now.” And she adds, playfully: “I like MO-NEY. Ten years from now, there's always gonna be somebody better, that everybody's gonna be like, ‘That's the best lyrical person ever.' Ten years from now, I'm still gonna have money from a hit that I made.”
In search of her shmoney, 18-year-old Cardi began working as a stripper in a New York club. Her goal: earn enough money to go back to college and save some $50,000 to buy houses, fix them and flip them. “I went to college because I didn't want to disappoint my mom,” says the singer who took history, political science and French classes at Borough of Manhattan Community College. “My mom is the biggest influence [in my life] because my mom worked so hard. She would work seven days just to pay bills, and I don't want to work so hard to pay bills. I want to be able to enjoy my money and save some money,” says the star, whose parents worked as a taxi driver and cashier. “I'm a very realistic person, I'm not the type to [be like a] dream chaser.”
Those goals she was able to dream up — and even those she couldn't even conceive — have materialized. In 2019, more hits are on the horizon, more collaborations with other superstars, acting offers, and a reported clothing line and Super Bowl appearance. What about more babies? “I definitely wanna have more kids,” she says, all the while taking inventory of her life and remembering another little girl with much love: herself a decade ago. “I like 15-year-old Bacardi,” she says using her original nickname, one she flipped around to become Cardi B. “She makes me happy, she was cool. There's nothing that I regret. Even my mistakes, I go back, I think of it and it's funny because it's a life experience.”