Culture / Entertainment

Cardi B Becomes a Sexy Cowgirl, Breaks All-Time Houston Rodeo Record and Keeps It Beyond Real

A Rodeo Concert Like No Other Thrills Massive Crowd With Plenty of Charm (and Some Cursing)

BY // 03.02.19
photography F. Carter Smith

I recall a conversation with a friend after Cardi B performed a brief set at Day For Night in December 2017. He asked  if I caught her performance, and I said yes, even though I spent it trudging through a rainstorm and she only performed for literally 20 minutes, long enough for me to find a dry spot mere moments before her DJ ended the show.

He said: “Well I wish you had seen it, because that’s probably the only time you’ll hear from her.”

Fast forward 15 months later to another Houston date (at the Rodeo) and the Bronx-born reality star-turned-emcee is the biggest rapper on the planet. While 2018 featured face plants from the biggest names in hip-hop, whether it was Drake, Nicki or Kanye, Cardi released the tight, 13-song new classic Invasion of Privacy, which was the work of a thoughtful, dynamic writer and performer who on one song dreams of a marriage as wonderful as Ayesha and Steph Curry’s and on another interpolates the Project Pat classic “Chickenhead.”

Cardi kept her stature in hip-hop by working her butt off after “Bodak Yellow” became the song of 2017, whether it was by linking up with Bruno Mars (twice) and Maroon 5, or following her breakout hit with song-of-the-summer “I Like It,” flashing her Dominican roots with appearances by reggaeton superstars Bad Bunny and J. Balvin.

The self-identified regular-degular girl from the Bronx has eclipsed all skepticism on her way to becoming a full-blown star. Her status as a hip-hop heavyweight was solidified Friday night at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, where the all-time paid attendance record was shattered when 75,580 came out for Cardi B, breaking a mark previously owned by Garth Brooks.

Nearly 76,000 people aren’t paying money and showing out on a chilly, rainy Friday night for a one-hit-wonder. You have to really touch people to bring nearly 76,000 of them out — especially in Houston, where the bar for hip-hop is so high, and the music is so ingrained in the culture.

Tickets to Cardi B’s Rodeo moment sold out in 40 minutes — and this year’s Black Heritage Night provided a sharp contrast to last year’s when Leon Bridges, a controversial choice for the night, drew only 51,870, the lowest crowd of the entire 2018 Houston Rodeo.

Cardi B Performs at Rodeo Houston at NRG Stadium (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Cardi B shook up the Houston Rodeo. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Cardi B’s Rodeo set was tight, cohesive and a lot of fun. Punctuating her short, energetic songs, Cardi’s off-the-cuff remarks wedged between verses often brought the sold-out crowd to laughter. After one song, she said before sipping from a big plastic cup: “Thank you cowboys and cowgirls, I got asthma.”

She did not rely on a backing track, instead choosing to rap herself while dancing in her head-turning pink cowgirl outfit, which necessitated the frequent water breaks, and made the whole thing feel like a real rap show, in spite of her (about 75 percent successful) attempts at self-censorship. (Yes, she cursed at the Rodeo — get over it.)

The Refreshing Honesty of Cardi B

Before “Ring,” a slow-burn which normally features singer Kehlani on the hook, Cardi B asked the crowd if it felt like singing, because she said she didn’t, to rapturous laughter. These are the thoughts of someone who has not been neutered by the industry, who has not become jaded, who is thrilled to have turned a hot reality show into a hot mixtape into a hot song into a hot career by being only herself.

Even her awestruck mentioning that the Rodeo’s biggest function is to give out scholarships was charming — f-bomb included. It was punctuated by her DJ asking the crowd to “Give it up for scholarships!!”

In a trademark deadpan anecdote, Cardi B said before performing her verse from her collaboration with Maroon 5, “Girls Like You,” that when the band’s frontman Adam Levine asked her to be on the song she asked to listen to it first and she did.

“I said, ‘It sounds like a number one on Billboard,’ and then… it went number one on Billboard!!’ ” Cardi B exclaimed. Each time she punctuated the double-B’s of “Billboard” like Maya Rudolph’s loquacious Hormone Monstress on the Netflix show Big Mouth espousing the goodness of a nice hot bubblebath.

Armed with a comedian’s sense of timing, it was also funny because it was real — no one’s ear for hits is as fine-tuned as Cardi’s right now, and even though she may draw a sense of skepticism, you cannot debate her #1 bonafides.

Cardi B makes hit songs, and they are good rap songs, not watered-down rap-shaped pop things, but good rap songs people want to hear. “Be Careful” is a song you can hear on the radio right now and it’s as smart a song about marriage as anything by Kelis. And it’s on a great album that a record 75,580 people listened to and then those people went to see those songs performed live at the Rodeo.

And they all got their money’s worth.

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