Truth be told, no one really knows what kind of rapper Cardi B is or could be –maybe not even Cardi herself. Her career began in earnest two years ago with Gangsta Bitch, Vol. 1., a mixtape that came on the heels of her breakthrough role on Love & Hip-Hop: New York and her carefully cultivated social media fame. After “Bodak Yellow” dropped and became one of the biggest songs of 2017, she became too big to ignore. The flip side of making a great song though is having to follow it up—her appearance on the remix of Bruno Mars’ “Finesse ” was inspired and her first-post “Bodak Yellow” single “Bartier Cardi” was charming, though not without its own controversies.
Still, she’s growing into her own voice: trying out different cadences and styles and that’s all on display again in “Be Careful,” a scornful and melancholic warning to an unidentified man (who may or may not be Offset) that has done her wrong. “Guess you actin’ out now, you got an audience / Tell me where your mind is, drop a pin, what’s the coordinates? / You might have a fortune, but you lose me, you still gon’ be misfortunate, nigga” she spits with the kind of venom and exhaustion that is straight out of Waiting To Exhale. Lyrics like “I wanna get married, like the Currys, Steph and Ayesha shit / But we more like Belly, Tommy and Keisha shit / Gave you TLC, you wanna creep and shit / Poured out my whole heart to a piece of shit,” contain the kind of naked honesty that won her a fanbase in the first place, and it remains just as engaging on record. And though it’s up for debate how literally we’re supposed to read “Be Careful,” dropping the song in the midst of a very public relationship with a rapper who’s been rumored to have cheated on her is, at the very least, incredibly savvy marketing that shows Cardi truly understands her own appeal. It also makes the exasperation she conveys in the song all the more sympathetic.
“Be Careful” is not “Bodak Yellow,” but what will be? It is an entrancing, meditative kind of dance record that skillfully interpolates everyone’s favorite breakup song (Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor”) and also finds her channeling Drake and Nicki Minaj in her hoarse rapping and aching melody. The song feels may feel overly familiar, but Cardi drips charisma and passion—you’re willing to go wherever she wants to take you. There are a lot of expectations for Cardi’s music, a lot of which feel unfair, but so far the slow-drop of music has continued to deliver something that is worth talking and thinking about. “Be Careful” displays a different angle of her persona, one that is removed from the uber-confident swaggering of her other records and instead drips with a sincerity and unrestrained emotion that flips gossip on its head. Cardi’s willingness to lay out everything she feels on her own terms with little-to-no filter hints at a far more interesting and complex artist than she sometimes gets credit for being.