Cardi B burst onto the music scene in 2017 with her smash hit “Bodak Yellow,” announcing herself as a bold and unapologetic new voice in hip-hop. While Cardi B’s style is decidedly her own, her diverse musical influences are clear in everything from her vocal delivery to her genre-blending production. As she continues to top charts and break records, it’s worth looking at the artists who have shaped Cardi B’s vibrant and eclectic sound.
Missy Elliott: The Hip-Hop Trailblazer
One of Cardi B’s most frequently cited influences is hip-hop icon Missy Elliott. From her early days listening to Elliott’s groundbreaking albums in the 1990s and 2000s, Cardi was drawn to Missy’s unique blend of hip-hop, electronic, and R&B sounds. Missy’s fusion of styles resonated with Cardi sonically, while her bold persona and sexually-empowered lyrics provided a model for the unfiltered, assertive femininity that Cardi would later project in her own music. In interviews, Cardi has gushed about Missy’s artistic versatility and ability to constantly reinvent her image and sound. It’s clear that Missy’s genre-bending innovation and fearless individuality laid the groundwork that allowed Cardi B to shake up hip-hop decades later.
Lauryn Hill: The Authentic Storyteller
Another major touchstone for Cardi B is Lauryn Hill, the lead vocalist of seminal hip-hop group The Fugees before launching a massively successful solo career. Cardi frequently praises Hill’s stripped-down authenticity and soul-baring lyrical content, noting her ability to seamlessly blend hip-hop and reggae with raw poetic expression. Hill’s 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which fuseed rap, soul, and reggae while tackling themes like love, faith, and heartbreak, has had a clear impact on Cardi’s desire to share her personal experiences through music. She strives to emulate Hill’s artistic purity and vulnerability in her own songs. Much like Hill, Cardi B uses her music as a means for intimate self-expression, connecting with audiences through honest storytelling.
Trina & Khia: Miami Bass Legends
Cardi B has also regularly cited fellow female rappers Trina and Khia as major influences. These two Miami hip-hop icons rose to prominence in the late 90s and early 2000s with Trina’s single “Da Baddest Bh” and Khia’s viral hit “My Neck, My Back.” Both featured aggressive, sexually explicit lyrics and became girl power anthems within hip-hop. Their hardcore, in-your-face styles resonated deeply with Cardi B, shaping her own confrontational lyrical content and bold persona. Trina and Khia gave Cardi models for proudly owning her sexuality and displaying self-confidence through music. Their lasting influence is clear in Cardi’s explicit lyrics and her embodiment of the “bad bh” ethos in songs like “Money” and “WAP.”
Lil Kim: A Rapping Risk-Taker
During the mid-90s, Lil Kim established herself as one of hip-hop’s most influential female MCs. Her raunchy lyrics, provocative fashion choices and fierce rhyme delivery provided a template for the unapologetic sexuality and attitude Cardi B would later embody. Interviews reveal Cardi was particularly drawn to Kim’s ability to shatter expectations for how women should act and dress within hip-hop. By boldly
expressing her sexuality, Kim opened doors for future artists like Cardi to freely embrace their femininity and prioritize self-expression over meeting societal expectations. Cardi also gravitated toward Kim’s penchant for taking musical risks, blending hip-hop with pop, dance and funk sounds. Kim’s adventurousness in production and style inspired Cardi B’s own artistic daring.
Tweet: The Soulful Storyteller
Neo-soul singer Tweet is lesser-known than Cardi’s other influences, but just as formative. Cardi has frequently praised the raw emotive power of Tweet’s 2002 debut album, Southern Hummingbird, and hailed Tweet as one of her all-time favorite artists. Tweet’s sultry vocals and confessional songwriting demonstrated the depth and nuance that R&B storytelling could bring to hip-hop, while still retaining an edgy hip-hop edge. Tweet’s use of melody clearly shaped Cardi’s own soul-inflected vocals and vulnerability-driven lyrics. Songs like “Be Careful” reveal Cardi B’s ability to bare her soul and connect emotionally with audiences, directlyinspired by Tweet’s model.
Chicago Drill Music: Gritty and Uncompromising
In recent years, Cardi B has credited Chicago drill music as a major influence on her sound. The nihilistic, often violent drill scene that emerged out of Chicago’s South Side in the early 2010s, was spearheaded by rappers like Chief Keef, King Louie and Lil Reese. Its grim subject matter is worlds away from Cardi B’s fun-loving image, but she gravitated towards the scene’s hard-hitting production, confrontational energy and no-nonsense swagger. Drill music’s appeal for Cardi lay in its gritty authenticity; it pulled no punches in depicting raw street life. While she puts her own spin on it, traces of drill music’s blunt lyrical content and pummeling instrumentals can be heard across Cardi’s catalog, adding edge and texture to tracks like “Bodak Yellow.”
Biggie Smalls: Masterful Storytelling
The legendary Notorious B.I.G. has unsurprisingly influenced rap icons from Jay-Z to Nicki Minaj, and Cardi B is no exception. She has frequently highlighted Biggie’s intricate lyricism and narrative-driven songwriting as inspirationfor her own musical storytelling. Biggie’s cinematic raps and novelistic attention to detail opened Cardi’s eyes to the possibilities of hip-hop as high art. His bold wordplay and slick punchlines also contributed to Cardi B’s own rap style, shaping her dexterous flow and clever bars. Though their content differs, Biggie’s talent for torrential rhyming and lyrical wit clearly supplied a blueprint that Cardi has built on with her own distinctive flair.
Latin Music: Connecting to Her Roots
While hip-hop is at her core, Cardi B’s Latin heritage providesa key ingredient in her sonic stew. She has Dominican and Trinidadian roots on her mother’s side and Spanish blood on her father’s side. Influences from Caribbean music permeate her vocal style and rhythmic sensibilities. Early tracks like “Tumbao” spotlighted Afro-Caribbean beats, while Cardi’s love for Latin trap is evident across her discography. Reggaeton and Latin pop superstars like Bad Bunny and J Balvin have frequently collaborated with her. Cardi even landed her first #1 hit on the Hot Latin Songs chart in 2017 with “La Modelo” alongside Latin sensation Ozuna. These Latin music influences connect Cardi to her heritage while expanding the range of her hybrid sound.
Pop Music: Mainstream Crossover Appeal
Though she is firmly anchored in hip-hop, Cardi B’s chart-topping success owes much to her ability to blend in elements of pop. She has an innate ear for catchy melodies and hooks that ensure her tracks appeal to wider mainstream audiences beyond just rap fans. The pop inclinations of artists like Rihanna and Bruno Mars, who Cardi has expressed admiration for, surface in the bubbly choruses and danceable rhythms of her hits. Even when delving into deeper topics, Cardi B’s music is infused with pop sensibility, keeping it fun and accessible. This pop edge has been key in propelling her from a rap sensation to bonafide global superstar.
Contemporary Hip-Hop Stars: The New School
Of course, Cardi B is also heavily influenced by current stars who emerged alongside her. Fellow New York rapper Nicki Minaj has been a particular inspiration, especially for her lightning-speed flow and razor-sharp wordplay. The trap-driven sound of rappers like Migos and Gucci Mane has also seeped into Cardi’s music, evident in bouncy, triplet-heavy flows. Vibes from Drake, Travis Scott and Post Malone-style melodic rap surface in her hit singles too. But while she absorbs their sounds, Cardi still maintains a voice that is distinctly her own. She takes the swag of today’s rap stars and fuses it with an array of retro influences to build something new.
Cardi B’s Influences: The Musical Melting Pot That Shaped a Star
When reviewing Cardi B’s wide-ranging musical influences, her appeal starts to make perfect sense. She has absorbed hip-hop history from its early innovators like Missy and Kim, to its poetic greats like Lauryn Hill and Biggie, while also keeping her finger on the pulse of current sounds. Her music amalgamates deep-cut R&B storytelling, raw drill aggression, Latin spice, and pop gloss. Just as Cardi’s own heritage bridges disparate cultures, her artistry bridges genres. She is a product of the streaming era, where young artists grow up exposed to vast musical canons via playlists and algorithms. For Cardi B, everything goes into the blender – old school and new school, mainstream pop and street rap, English and Spanish. The result is a singular sound that has connected with millions of fans worldwide. Cardi continues to make history precisely because her influences transcend eras, genres and cultures. Her ability to synthesize a melting pot of styles speaks to her intrinsic talent as an artist. Each influence only augments her voice rather than overpowering it. In an age of unlimited access, Cardi B demonstrates the potential of an unlimited musical palette when wielded by a visionary artist.