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Does Cardi B Really Need to Drop Her Sophomore Album Now? The Cases For and Against

Fans have been bothering Cardi B to release the follow-up to her blockbuster 2018 debut Invasion of Privacy for a half-decade now — and the chatter has gotten even louder since the release of her new “Like What (Freestyle)” last Friday (March 1). But does Cardi really need that second album to solidify her current standing and her overall legacy — and does she really need it *now*? Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop writer Michael Saponara and deputy director Carl Lamarre present the opposing cases.

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WHY CARDI NEEDS TO DROP HER NEW ALBUM NOW

The year 2018 was a long time ago. COVID-19 wasn’t a thing yet, LeBron James left his Cleveland roots for Lakerland and Cardi B dropped her blockbuster Invasion of Privacy debut album.

It’s been 2,160 days since Cardi’s acclaimed first Invasion, to be precise – with the sixth anniversary of her debut approaching next month. That counter shouldn’t go too much higher, as it’s time for Cardi to finally deliver on her long-anticipated sophomore LP.

The Bronx bombshell lit the fuse for 2024 on Friday (March 1) with the fiery “Like What (Freestyle),” which serves as Cardi’s first entirely solo single since 2021’s “Up.” That single went on to earn her a fifth Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit, along with a Grammy nomination for best rap performance.  

Cardi tantalized fans once again seemingly about an album possibly being in the works at the end of the Offset-directed music video for her new single. “This is just the beginning… Stay Tuned,” the clip’s closing credits left fans with a glimmer of hope.

Even without a sophomore album, the rap superstar has maintained her star power and found a rhythm tending to the Bardi Gang over the past half-decade by dropping off a few loose singles a year (“WAP,” “Money,” “Bongos”), many of which have performed very well on the charts. When Cardi hasn’t been catering to mother duties, going off on Chick-fil-A or inking lucrative brand deals, she’s also been hopping on (and helping elevate) other artists’ waves with a handful of guest features, like on Kay Flock’s menacing “Shake It,” Latto’s “Put It On Da Floor” and GloRilla’s star-making “Tomorrow 2.”

And there’s no doubt Cardi B set the bar high with Invasion of Privacy extremely high, and being compared to those standards is a daunting proposition. IOP soared to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 226,000 album-equivalent units upon its April 2018 debut. The project also produced a pair of Hot 100-toppers, as her breakout anthem “Bodak Yellow” and the Latin-tinged “I Like It” with Bad Bunny and J Balvin reached the chart apex. It won rap album of the year at the 2019 Grammys, had every track at least certified platinum by the RIAA, and became the first by a female rapper to spend over 200 weeks on the Billboard 200 in the years after. The album was later ranked by Billboard‘s staff as one of the 20 best of the 2010s, and by Rolling Stone as one of the 20 best hip-hop albums of all time.

But some pundits have begun to theorize that Invasion‘s success has her shook about a potential follow-up. While deeming the “girl rapper wave over” in a recent episode of The Joe Budden Podcast, Budden speculated that Cardi B was “scared” to drop her sophomore effort. 

“Cardi B is afraid,” the rapper-turned-podcaster declared. “And I’m tired of just nobody saying it. Cardi B is scared to come out [with her new album]. It don’t take this long to come out. They recently found every year where she plugged where she was coming dating back to 2019. It’s six different slides of you saying you were coming. Even this freestyle was previewed a year ago.”

Budden believes Cardi’s scared of the backlash and reputation hit she could take if the anticipated LP doesn’t live up to expectations. “I think that she’s afraid to put a project out. Because the wave of if you put a project out and it don’t do what it’s supposed to do, you’re donezo,” he added. “Rates go down, prices go down.”

Last week, Offset lent Cardi B an encouraging push to drop the album while listening to unreleased heat from his boo in an Instagram Story. “Stop being scary and drop the album s–t goes crazy [fire emoji] @iamcardib,” he wrote.

It’s nearly impossible to build a decorated career legacy with just one official album. Even The Notorious B.I.G. released two prolific bodies of work – the second of which arrived 16 days after his murder. While some will point to Lauryn Hill’s one-and-done strategy with the immaculate The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which she’s still touring off the strength of over 25 years later, that’s obviously more the exception than the rule — and even Hill had achieved blockbuster success as part of the Fugees prior to going solo. 

More importantly, a half-decade layoff is hardly a death sentence for an album artist’s momentum — there are plenty of recent R&B and hip-hop examples of artists successfully going five years or more between projects. 

SZA silenced the doubters with her lethal SOS album in December 2022, which has remained a staple in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 since its release. She earned an album of the year nomination at the 2024 Grammys and was one of Billboard’s biggest snubs of the night. And even though other factors were at play contributing to the lengthy hiatus such as the tragic Astroworld Festival, Travis Scott followed up 2018’s ASTROWORLD with UTOPIA, which was the best-selling rap album of 2023. Both artists also embarked on lucrative arena tours following their projects.

Meanwhile, the early returns on ScHoolboy Q’s Blue Lips album have been overwhelmingly positive compared to the lukewarm reception to 2019’s tepid CrasH Talk. Rival Nicki Minaj went over five years between 2018’s Queen and last December’s Pink Friday 2, a versatile and well-received sequel that debuted atop the Billboard 200.

Cardi has heard all of the noise, and she’s again promising the Bardi Gang her long-awaited album will drop at some point in 2024. During an Instagram Story video over the weekend that showed off her dossier of tracks in the stash, the 31-year-old relayed that she’s determined to brush off the critics and those in her ear while sticking to her intuition when creating.

“I promise y’all this year, I’m not letting my anxiety, I’m not letting what haters say, I’m not letting what fans say [get in the way] – if I do a song, I’m just gon’ f—-ng drop it,” she said. “Well, I have no choice because I’m dropping my album this year. So stay tuned for the announcement, but don’t play with me.”

Many of music’s A-listers (Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Ariana Grande) are lining up to drop albums in 2024 and Cardi B should be adding her name to that list. Between hitting turbulence in her relationship with Offset, becoming a mother of two and finding increased competition in the rap game, she’s got plenty of lyrical content at her disposal to hit the booth with. 

She also arguably has fiercer competition than when she last dropped an album. Rap peers like Sexyy Red, Latto, Flo Mill, Coi Leray, BIA and Ice Spice have entered the rap race, making the lane steered by Cardi and Nicki busier than years prior, while Megan Thee Stallion came out of the gate guns blazing in January with “HISS” topping the Hot 100, While Cardi and Nicki Minaj are always going to be pitted against one another, Nicki will maintain the historical edge when it comes to her robust discography until the Bronx native delivers another LP.

If Cardi wants to maintain her status atop the rap food chain, she needs another LP in her repertoire, which will not only fortify her current position in the game, but strengthen her argument when it comes to being taken seriously as an all-time great rapper. If those are the conversations she’s looking to hold her own in one day, another album will cement her status in rap lore.  

It wasn’t that long ago that Cardi B was looked at as the new superstar on the block in hip-hop, but dating back to her 2016 and 2017 Gangsta B—h Music mixtapes, she’s pushing a decade in the industry with a lone album to show for it. And if folks like Budden are going to keep proclaiming a premature end to the “girl rapper wave,” it may be more important than ever for Cardi to stand up and let the industry know that female rappers owning real estate in hip-hop’s mainstream is not some novel trend dying out soon. 

“Every single time people tear me down, it gives me more hunger to prove them wrong,” Cardi told TRL in 2018. Betting on herself has proved to be a winning formula time and time again, and what better time to take her own advice than now? — MICHAEL SAPONARA


WHY CARDI DOESN’T NEED TO DROP HER NEW ALBUM NOW

Cardi B won at life even before 2018. She first won when she slammed her locker shut, retired from the strip club, and became an all-time reality TV favorite in 2015 on VH1’s Love & Hip-Hop. The Bronx dynamo’s next and best pivot came when she pursued rap full-time and unleashed her club firestarter “Bodak Yellow” in 2017. Her magnetic hook, “Little b–ch, you can’t f–k with me if you wanted to,” became the year’s most unavoidable chorus chant, helping “Yellow” become the rapper’s first Billboard Hot 100-topping smash. 

The blast was seismic. At a time when Nicki Minaj had female rap in the Cobra Clutch, nobody was close to toppling her Pinkprint behemoth. Once “Bodak Yellow” detonated, Cardi rocketed to the moon — and kept her foot on the gas from there, vigorously sweeping through features, sprinkling her sauce on hit records like Bruno Mars’s “Finesse” and G-Eazy’s “No Limit,” and even trading verses with Nicki on Migos’ “Motorsport.” Finally, the release of her 2018 debut album Invasion of Privacy placed her in hallowed territory: a Grammy-winning, Billboard 200-topping rap debut album, one that dominated year-end critics’ lists and earned RIAA platinum certifications or higher for each of its 13 tracks. Shortly after delivering her masterwork, questions arose about an encore. Could she recapture the magic? Could she go back-to-back like Jordan did in ’91 and ’92? 

There’s no reason to think she couldn’t. But the real question is, does she even need to? 

If Cardi B retired today, she’d already be a Hall of Famer. She has five Hot 100 No. 1’s, to go with 11 top 10s, and 46 entries on the chart, all in a seven-year span. Following the release of Invasion, she landed two No. 1s with “WAP” in 2020 (alongside Megan Thee Stallion) and the solo “Up” in 2021. During that span, she also embarked on a storied features run: Her sixteens elevated careers a la Drake, as her Midas touch brought mainstream awareness to hitmakers and/or future stars like GloRilla (“Tomorrow 2”), Blueface (“Thotiana”), Kay Flock (“Shake It”), and FendiDaRappa (“Point Me 2”). 

For Cardi, the formula from now on should be simple: release records quarterly and demolish every feature on sight. This blueprint allows Cardi flexibility and keeps her in the Big Three conversation with Nicki and Megan regarding the female rap hierarchy – even amidst the stiffer competition from some impressive rising stars in this decade, who still have nonetheless only racked up a fraction of Cardi’s career highlights and accomplishments. 

As Mike mentioned, Lauryn Hill has enjoyed success over the last 25 years, and remains in rarified air, primarily due to her only solo studio album, 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She has been able to perform at festivals and even embarked on a tour last year celebrating the album. But even with just one official LP, each, Cardi’s post-Invasion output still sets her apart from 21st century Lauryn. Cardi’s ability to hopscotch on records and release one-off singles, along with her business dealings with Reebok, Whipshots, Pepsi, NYX Cosmetics and other brands, will always keep her in the conversation. 

While following the schedule of quarterly singles and appearing on features, Cardi would also do well to finally embark on that long-awaited U.S. tour. Because Cardi has yet to hit the road for a full trek and now has a laundry bag of hits, she could quickly sell out an arena tour. Even then, touring doesn’t have to be an immediate option for the “Money” MC, because Cardi has proven she can easily net one-off shows, like in 2022 when she performed 35 minutes for $1 million. To take it up a notch, she could probably do a Super Bowl performance right now, just off her discography alone. If you give Cardi 12 minutes, you’ll get the hits and some fantastic guests on the side. 

If and when Cardi elects to drop her sophomore album, she’d undoubtedly go No. 1 off of fanfare and curiosity alone. But would it automatically elevate her legacy? The gift and the curse with Invasion is that she dropped a landmark album that comes once in a blue moon. Those expectations for a potential follow-up have only grown to fever-pitch levels, especially since she keeps mentioning that the album is coming and it never does. It would be daunting for any artist to live up to.

Unfortunately, this has allowed critics like Joe Budden to have a field day with her. After taunting Cardi and Megan last year, deeming “Bongos” as an inferior sequel to “WAP,” he doubled down following her “Like What” freestyle, calling her “scared” for not dropping the sophomore set yet. 

Does Cardi really need to endure this kind of pressure when she’s already reached the mountaintop of music? The only modern-day artist on Cardi’s commercial and critical level to release an acclaimed debut album and then surpass that first project the next time out is arguably SZA: S.O.S. came five years after CTRL, and while the TDE’s singer’s explosion on the scene was a sight to see, it didn’t shake the room a la Invasion, ultimately proving more of a slow-burning success. 

An 8/10 wouldn’t get it done for Cardi at this point, because of the massive expectations that her debut album established. With the attention span of listeners nowadays, music appreciation is different from 2018: Cardi released an album the same year that Daytona, Victory Lap, and Astroworld dropped. These were all seminal albums, yet hers rose to the top. 

So, my message for Cardi: Take your flowers and be happy. While the noise from those beneath her can be pretty deafening, just remember that what you told your haters seven years ago still applies: “Little b–ch, you can’t f–k with me, if you wanted to.”

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