Welcome Back, Cardi: Why Starting With ‘Bongos’ Just Makes Sense

Cardi B is back. Of course, she also never left. Over the five years since she released her groundbreaking debut album, Invasion Of Privacy, the Bronx rapper has been a near-constant force in the hip-hop/pop landscape. Her collaborations become instant classics. Her unfiltered observations on current events are the most salient commentary we’re ever going to get. Even her feuds dominate headlines — whether real, imagined, or just plain silly.

But with the release of her new single “Bongos” with Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi promises that she’s finally kicking off the rollout for her long-awaited second studio album. So, it seems important to say: Welcome back, Cardi (and if you sing it to the tune of the Welcome Back, Kotter theme song, it just resonates even better). And “Bongos,” Cardi’s second high-profile collaboration with Meg, seems like the perfect way to start the ball rolling, if only because it also represents a second chance for both artists.

In 2020, “WAP” was everywhere. Kids loved it, even if they didn’t understand it. Conservatives hated it, seemingly because they couldn’t relate. Everyone sang it, even if they had to adjust the lyrics in a way Cardi herself wasn’t too fond of. And it entered the social lexicon the way Judd Apatow movie quotes dominated dorm room conversations throughout the mid-aughts. The song was every bit as ubiquitous as Cardi’s first breakout hit, “Bodak Yellow,” seemingly presaging the inevitable release of another world-shaking full-length LP.

Cardi, though, had other plans. Despite the success of “WAP” and its follow-up “Up,” the outspoken artist decided to instead focus on her family and building her empire with a succession of endorsement deals, acting roles, and other business moves. Where many artists would have struck while the iron was white hot hoping to maintain the momentum, Cardi showed that she was perfectly confident that her brand would withstand taking a couple of years off.

She was right, of course, but mostly due to her own hustle. She maintained her iron grip on the public’s attention by releasing a string of high-profile collaborations. Smartly, she mixed it up; there were guest features from Cardi on songs from mainstream hitmakers like Normani, Lizzo, and Summer Walker, as well as a run of remixes to fan-favorite street hits from GloRilla, FendiDa Rappa, and Latto. In the meantime, roles in films like Hustlers and Fast And Furious sequel F9 kept Cardi’s face in front of appreciative audiences’ eyeballs until she was ready to return on her own terms, shaking off the anxiety that came from achieving so highly on her first musical outing.

“Bongos” displays that reinforced confidence deftly, while also expanding Cardi’s toolbox in fun and interesting ways. Back in 2018, I wrote in my review of Invasion Of Privacy that I wished Cardi had included more songs like the boogaloo-sampling, reggaeton-featuring “I Like It,” because the song’s Latin flair both evoked Cardi’s Dominican roots, giving listeners a better sense of who she is, and stood out from anything else in hip-hop at the time. She also sounded like she was having the most fun on the record, which resonated outward to the listener.

Apparently, audiences at least somewhat agreed with me; the song became Cardi’s second No. 1 hit and appeared at No. 7 on Uproxx’s Critics Poll in 2019. It was the sort of smash most artists can only dream of having. As far as hits go, I hope “Bongos” has similar success to “Bodak Yellow,” “I Like It,” and “WAP,” because it’s the sort of hard left turn that Cardi’s been executing her whole career, but at a higher level of performance. Not only has her flow improved — where it was once a locomotive, it’s now like a bullet train — but she also raps in Spanish, displaying yet another facet of who she is without needing to tell us.

The song also functions as a bit of a pick-me-up for her friend Meg, who’s had a rough go of it over the past couple of years. She could also use a fresh start, and what better way than with a reunion with the peer who helped her net her own first No. 1 hit? The song is certainly a departure for Meg, who has dipped her toes into the pristine disco-pop of Dua Lipa and house renaissance (sorry, not sorry) of “Her,” as well as a K-pop swing with BTS’s “Butter” remix. But so few of those songs have connected the way “WAP” did. “Bongos” offers her another chance for an inescapable ubiquitous hit like earlier singles “Big Ole Freak” and “Savage.”

I don’t know if it has record-breaking, culture-shifting potential like Cardi’s past big hits, but it’s a perfect place to restart her solo career and remind folks that she’s more than a “features artist” or a one-hit wonder. It reveals just enough of a peek at Cardi’s growth to leave us hankering for more. With its repetitive sample, quirky beat, and catchy lyrics (“he look like a brokie” is the one), “Bongos” is also guaranteed to get stuck in more than a few cerebrums as Cardi prepares her next album. Cardi never went anywhere, but now, it looks like she might never go away.

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. .