“It doesn’t work, we throw another one out. It doesn’t work, we throw another one out, until it works… Look at Cardi B. She’s a prime example. She came from Love and Hip Hop, she came from the strip club. She came in and grinded [sic]. What’s more hip hop than that?” —Rapper N.O.R.E
Whether you like her music or not, I think the meteoric rise to the top of Cardi B is a beautiful, extraordinary, magical journey to watch.
Now, for those of you who don’t know: Cardi B — the hip hop artist who, last week, had three songs in the top 10 of the Billboard charts — began as a “regular degular girl from the Bronx,” and started her career in the entertainment industry as a dancer in a New York city strip club at age 19, which she has said she did as a way to make her own money and to escape domestic violence she experienced from a boyfriend at the time. Cardi B (whose real name is Belcalis Almanzar) became a sparkle in the public eye as she grew to prominence on social media, particularly Instagram, where her comedic side really came alive in her hilariously candid and unfiltered videos. After growing to more than one million followers before the television cameras began to love her, she was “discovered” by producers of the popular reality TV show Love and Hip Hop: New York, where it seemed like each time she was on-screen she was able to deliver unforgettable one-liners that have now become a part of the culture. (I don’t even watch the show, and I know most of them, still.)
During this whole time while Cardi B was cracking jokes, though, she was serious about one thing: her music. She has said that she always loved hip hop and dreamt of being an emcee. But limited resources often kept recording and making videos to a minimum. When she got a “bag,” she could use some of the money toward booking studio time and making records. (In one of her Instagram videos, Cardi confessed that when she first started to rise in her music career, she was still focused, primarily, on making money; but then — as every true emcee does — she started to have a burning desire to prove herself as a real artist, someone able to hold her own alongside other hip hop stars, who were respected for their work. Her passion took over, and she went all in to prove herself. All. In.
The immediate result? Nothing spectacular, when compared to where her career has taken her today. Last Sunday, January 28, Cardi B performed alongside Bruno Mars at the Grammy Awards, where she was also nominated for two Grammys herself. (Bruno Mars took home six that evening). But a couple of years ago, when Cardi began taking her career seriously and consistently releasing music — including a number of videos and two fully-packed mix tapes — there was no certified hit.
Until: Bodak. Yellow. You’ve heard it. Even if you don’t know you’ve heard it, you’ve heard it. The summer of 2017 might as well be called the summer of “Bodak Yellow.” The song, released on June 16, 2017, has an infectious bounce and with Cardi B’s combination of a thick New York / Dominican accent and lyrics that make you both giggle and go hard, it steadily rose to the top. Not only the top of the Billboard charts, peaking at #1 and making her the first woman hip hop artist since Lauryn Hill to reach this milestone with a solo record in nearly 20 years, but it also rose to the top as one of the most beloved songs among a long list of celebrities — from Demi Lavato to Miley Cyrus to Kevin Hart and DJ Khaled — who posted videos on their own social media platforms blasting the song and declaring it as one of the hottest. JLo and Janet Jackson did their own versions of the song during their concerts, and Cardi B performed “Bodak Yellow” onstage at, let’s see, everywhere, documenting the journey and the growing crowds, of course, on her social media platform of choice, Instagram.
And as stated in the quote above from longtime rapper N.O.R.E., who shared his thoughts on the popular New York morning show, The Breakfast Club, Cardi B is not only a prime example of hip hop, she is also a glowing example of grinding. And no matter what industry you’re in or what your “hustle” is, I believe there are lessons to be learned from Cardi B’s grind.
Here are the 7 top lessons Cardi B taught me about entrepreneurship:
1) Stay focused on your overall goal. Ask yourself: What is your vision? Where do you see yourself going? What does it look like? What does it feel like? You won’t start there, but what’s the ultimate vision? As my favorite quote from tennis legend Arthur Ashe says: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” But always have in your mind’s eye, a vision of where you want to go.
2) Outwork everyone. Everyone. This isn’t about comparing yourself to other people so that you can “beat” them. This is about putting in work. You have to go all in, show up each and every time, be consistent, push yourself beyond what you may currently feel is your capacity, and block out the noise, the distractions and the naysayers who, if you let them, will take you off the course of your dream. I personally become obsessed with what I want to accomplish when it comes to my goals. Sound crazy? Maybe. But this is what I have both witnessed and experienced as a route to success for entrepreneurs. Knowing, of course, that other things come into play outside of your control – like timing, for example. Still, become obsessed with your goal, be intensely focused and leave those distractions behind. Keep going and outwork everyone, even when no one is watching.
3) Make space for what’s next by removing those sexy distractions. This isn’t just a about a “sexy” person, this could be a sexy, shiny opportunity. But if that opportunity is outside of what your vision is, it’s a distraction. Focus on the ONE THING that you’re going to double down on to reach your goal. Maybe that distraction is not something you ignore forever. But is it something you should jump into right now? Take an honest assessment and ask yourself: Is it an anchor (something that will hold you back) or an engine (something that will help you move one step closer to your vision)?
In Cardi B’s case, she gave up being on the hit TV show that made her a household name, Love and Hip Hop: New York, in order to pursue her music career – a decision questioned by many, who thought she could (or should) continue to milk the platform for all that it’s worth (and for a rising star and popular cast member like Cardi B, it could have potentially been “worth” a lot). But she and her team evidently decided that the show would have been an anchor, not an engine. Ask yourself: Is this thing that you’re holding onto the thing that’s actually holding you back from your vision?
4) Don’t be afraid to experiment. Perfection is a myth. And if you’re holding out on trying something until it’s perfect or until you’re sure it will work, you will be stuck in a state of pursuing perfection rather than making real progress foreva. As rappper N.O.R.E. said about Cardi B, she continuously and consistently – as most rappers do when they’re trying to get a hit – put out work. Put it out. Get feedback. Repeat. As N.O.R.E. says, if it doesn’t work, you put another one out, if that doesn’t work, you put another one out. In business, you can not be unafraid to experiment, to launch with your MVP (minimum viable product), then continue to weigh the feedback of your customer or audience and iterate as needed. Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Sara Blakely – all of the top entrepreneurs in the world have stories of how they started down one imperfect path after another in their businesses, and refined as they went along. The guiding light, though, is always your vision.
5) Be prepared to pivot. Compared to some of her earlier work from her mix tapes, which had much more of a New York hip hop-centric feel, “Bodak Yellow” was a departure in style for Cardi B. The song was inspired by the song “No Flockin” by Kodak Black, and the cadence was a much slower flow than normal for the snarky, quick-witted Bronx rapper. Her team, she has said, wanted her to try something different, and she initially had reservations about whether or not she could deliver, or if it would work. The pivot paid off.
Just as in business: Sometimes you’re heading down the road in one direction, but not gaining traction with your audience, or not even certain within yourself that you’ve found the right flow. By daring to pivot – even if it’s a slight adjustment here or there; not throwing away all of the work that you’ve done to that point – you may open the window into a part of your own genius that you didn’t even know existed, and that your audience or customer has been waiting to experience.
6) Recognize when you’re on to something. Love it or hate it, “Bodak Yellow” was (and still is) a bonafide hit. And based on the number of times (hundreds, I would guess) that we’ve seen Cardi B perform the song, she and her team know that when you’re onto something, you have to keep working it. And every time you perform it or deliver it, do it like there’s someone out there who is experiencing that song, that offer, that business for the very first time. You want them to love it as much as the people who are, in Cardi’s case, already singing along.
This is what I do for every episode of the Support is Sexy podcast, which I host five days a week featuring hundreds of inspiring women entrepreneurs around the world. At this point, I’m 400+ episodes deep; yet I still do my all to show up to each episode with every bit of energy and enthusiasm I can, as though this is someone’s first time listening – because, more than likely, that someone is out there!
7) Never give up. Now, there are times when you do need to quit something. The pivot we discussed may mean that you stop doing one thing completely and you’ve moved on to the next. Or maybe you’ve decided that some habits (or some people) that you were accustomed to no longer serve you – or may even be dangerous to you and your health. If that’s the case, by all means, quit it!
But never give up. Never give up on your dream. You have the vision, and there certainly will be low moments along the way; but there has to be something to keep you inspired. Whether you’re driven by your obsession to live your dream, or you’re lifted during the low times by your team, stay inspired.
Clearly, Cardi B has a team around her who believed in her dream, who encourage her to keep it moving, and who help her have the courage to try, and then try again. Your chart-topping year is coming. Don’t stop believing in the possibilities, even when it seems impossible.