With ‘Bongos,’ Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion have something to prove
The collaboration comes with high stakes for both rappers
Just over three years ago, the “wet and gushy” hit “WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion not only broke records on the charts, but also in outrage. Then-Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, and right-wing talking heads Candace Owens and Ben Shapiro were “scandalized” by the concept of two women who were not only rapping about their sexual desires, but also had the audacity to pair it with eye-catching visuals.
At the time, the song was inescapable on radio, television, the club, and memorialized by the duo’s Grammy performance. But despite “WAP’s” success – it debuted atop the Billboard’s Hot 100 Global 200 – the frenzy was eclipsed by the harassment Megan endured after being shot by rapper Tory Lanez in July 2020. “This week should have been a happy a– week,” Cardi B said after the song dropped. “Instead people are harassing [Megan] and calling her a liar.”
Three years later, Cardi and Megan have returned with “Bongos,” their highly anticipated reunion – and one that comes with high stakes for both women.
It’s been five years since Cardi B dropped her Grammy-winning album, Invasion of Privacy in 2018. Since then, her fans have been asking when, if ever, the Bronx, New York, native will drop her sophomore effort (Cardi said it’s coming in 2024), and she’s under pressure to deliver another hit. Meanwhile, Megan Thee Stallion is not only easing back into public life after Lanez’s conviction, she’s also navigating a legal battle with her label, 1501 Certified Entertainment, and has largely stepped back from social media, save for promotional posts. Given Cardi B’s bond with the Houston Hottie, it would seem that another collaboration between them would reap dividends, both professionally and personally. “I’m not fooling with too many people that don’t give me good vibes, good energy. I have literally created boundaries,” Megan said during a conversation with Cardi to promote “Bongos.” “[Cardi’s] been nothing but real for me, the industry is so f—ed up … At a time you could have jumped ship, you never jumped the ship.”
Besides never abandoning Megan, Cardi told her friend and “work wife” she was “fighting in the back.” Why? As Cardi explained, “You can’t talk about [Megan Thee Stallion] around me.”
Cardi B, whose real name is Belcalis Almanzar, has a Cinderella story — from the Bronx to Hollywood — and has managed to hold on to the charm that made her so popular in the first place. She parlayed her early Instagram fame into a spot on Love & Hip-Hop on VH1, and later a record deal. These days, Cardi graces one red carpet after another, sporting couture from designers such as Fendi, Balenciaga, Schiaparelli and Gaurav Gupta. The hits from Invasion of Privacy have aged well. And she’s branched out into brand endorsements, film, a Facebook series, and a sustained and irreverent presence on social media. Yet she’s gone five years without a follow-up album.
A feature run has kept Cardi B in the musical conversation. She not only released “WAP” in 2020, but also “Up” in 2021, an earworm built for the public’s transition into obsessing over Tik-Tok trends. And she has followed a tried-and-true recipe of augmentation by collaboration. In 2021 she appeared on Normani’s “Wild Side” and a remix to Kay Flock’s Bronx-drill record “Shake It” in 2022. July 2022 heralded the widely beloved “Tomorrow 2,” a collaboration with GloRilla and in April, she teamed up with Latto for “Put It On da Floor Again.”
While the tactic is far from unprecedented, the guest appearances make Cardi’s impact reverberate throughout music. She embraces every record as if it was her own single, giving it the full Cardi B dazzle — social media promotion, videos, joint Instagram Lives, and full-press rollouts — engaging her fan base alongside the artist she is working with to maximize impact and minimize public restlessness for new music. Cardi’s star power often brings emerging or early career artists some of their highest-charting hits, as was the case with Kay Flock and Glorilla. The records also maintain a sense of relatability for someone who quickly rose from being an Instagram darling to a millionaire. Cardi’s guest appearances indicate a sense of awareness of incoming trends and local hits, despite a lack of independent output. Take the recent joint venture with Chicago newcomer, FendiDa Rappa, “Point Me 2.” After a snippet of the original record spent months bubbling on TikTok, Cardi B’s platform gave it new life, introducing fans to a rumbling and rambunctious hook paired with Cardi’s verse replete with cheeky strip club double entendres.
However, she’s the last of her peers to not drop a sophomore album. After a five-year hiatus, Cardi B collaborator SZA put out SOS, her follow-up to 2017’s Ctrl. Kendrick Lamar also followed suit in 2022, releasing Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. Megan has dropped numerous projects since releasing Tina Snow in December 2018, most recently Trauamazine, which spanned a number of topics in the wake of her tumultuous last two years.
If the campaign to promote “Bongos” is any indication, the song is intended to be a salve for years of anticipation: a smash record, paired with an extravagant music video. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion clearly have fun working together and try to make it evident in their performances — the former leaves the playful line “I ride d— like a pony” as a breadcrumb for her partner to pick up in the following verse with “this a– sit like the stallion/All these wannabes my lil’ ponies.”
Forgoing the current wave of nostalgia-laden samples, “Bongos” is driven by a booming, if rudimentary, mixture of Dominican dembow and Brazilian funk, with a bassline that is clearly meant to resonate on the dance floor, while leaving much to be desired while streaming. There is a bit of a spark, but it has yet to reach a full flame the way that “WAP” delivered on impact — there’s also a sense that Megan is taking this phase of her career to play around with flows and lyrical dynamism, and as always, sounds sharp as a tack. Perhaps Cardi B will play around more with Latin sounds, but they haven’t fit all the puzzle pieces together just yet with “Bongos.”
Cardi B’s anxiety is palpable, and self-confessed — there is a marked pressure to recreate the lightning in a bottle moment from Invasion of Privacy. But both she and the market have evolved over five years. These days, Cardi’s a wife and mother of two, 10,000 new tracks are added to Spotify every day, and the likelihood of 255,000 in sales the first week is a nearly impossible. The future in which Cardi keeps giving us the best of her — at least in album form — requires that she free herself of that burden and realize that she’s already beaten the game. In the meantime, as long as Cardi and Megan continue to fight for each other, we will be here to enjoy the ride.