NEW YORK >> Belcalis Almanzar, known as Cardi B to her growing number of fans, stepped into the W hotel in Midtown Manhattan wearing leggings, an Atlanta Braves “Los Bravos” logo jersey and white Yeezy sneakers. She breezed past a bellhop, who was rapping her hit song, “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves).”
This “regular degular schmegular girl from the Bronx,” formerly a stripper, built her career on her ability to rattle off one-liners like “I’mma get the schmoney” on the VH1 reality series “Love & Hip Hop.” During her time on the show, some viewers saw her as a hero of female empowerment, as she made pronouncements like “Ever since I started using guys, I feel so much better about myself. I feel so damn powerful.”
Aug. 12 was a big day for the 24-year-old hip-hop star. She had come to the hotel from a sound check at MoMA PS1, in Queens, where she would take the stage that evening.
After releasing two mixtapes, Cardi B signed a deal with Atlantic Records earlier this year. “Bodak Yellow,” which is No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, has been the rap anthem of the summer, and this night she would be performing it for the first time in her hometown.
In the elevator she asked her publicist, Patientce Foster, “What are we going to do to celebrate if I’m No. 1?”
“Don’t say ‘if,’” Foster said. “When.”
“When,” Cardi B said.
“Are you going to get a butler named Carlton?” Foster asked, laughing.
After the elevator reached the 18th floor, Foster opened the door to a suite with a balcony. Inside was an open suitcase containing three pairs of high-heeled Christian Louboutins with red soles. Cardi B said Louboutins represent wealth, and she refers to them in “Bodak Yellow” as “red bottoms.”
She said she got her first pair for her 19th birthday from an admirer at a strip club where she worked. At the time she was amazed at the $800 price tag. The most she had paid for shoes was the $300 she had spent on a pair of Jeffrey Campbells.
Cardi B announced that she was going to take a nap, slipped off her Yeezys and made her way to the bedroom.
Lately she had been going nonstop. She had just come from recording new tracks in Atlanta, the home city of Offset (of the rap group Migos), whom she described as “this boy I’m dating.” Before that she was in Toronto, where Drake conferred his blessing by bringing her on stage at the OVO Fest.
Not a half-hour of nap time had passed before Foster called from the living room: “Bells? I need to start taking out your hair!”
Showtime was 6:45 p.m., and Cardi B needed to have her hair and makeup done.
She took a seat in the living room. Shawnta Loran, who was the makeup artist for Cardi B (back when her stage name was Camilla) and other dancers at Sue’s, a strip club in Mount Vernon, New York, added some powder to her face with a brush.
“She knew me when I was a roach,” Cardi B said of Loran.
The rapper’s use of “roach” made news recently: Some Twitter users had dug up an old Cardi B tweet in which the word appeared, and accused her of using it as a slur against black women with darker skin. Cardi B defended herself, saying it was a common term in the Bronx, with no racist connotations.
She took out her phone and called her father to discuss a car she was about to buy: an orange Bentley Bentayga SUV with “peanut butter” interior, as she described it.
“To drive around Manhattan?” asked another member of her entourage, Marsha St. Hubert, a senior vice president of urban marketing at Atlantic Records. “To drive around Manhattan?”
“I am a rapper,” Cardi B said. “I need this car.”
Foster pointed out that she didn’t have a driver’s license.
“I don’t know how to drive,” Cardi B admitted.
At 6 p.m. her stylist, Kollin Carter, along with his assistant, helped her into a custom LaQuan Smith lace red dress. When she slipped on the Louboutins, she was ready to go.
She rode in the back of a black SUV toward MoMA PS1 with Foster; her 4-year old son, Brave; and Foster’s mother, Pamela Foster. Cardi B entered through the back and immediately found herself in a narrow hallway crowded with people trying to catch a glimpse of her. She had a hard time making her way through the crush of fans.
“We need Cardi right away!” a panicked MoMA employee yelled.
She could hear the crowd of more than 4,000 people chanting, “Cardi B! Cardi B! Cardi B!” She tucked her hair behind her ears and stepped toward the stage.