Cardi B showcases her skills, Cardi B continues to solidify her position as a leading figure in the rap genre

Cardi B is the biggest star in hip-hop right now, but here’s how her rap skills actually measure up.

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She may not be your cup of tea, but there is no denying Cardi B’s appeal.

Since bursting onto the scene with her 2017 hit single “Bodak Yellow,” the 26-year-old star has smashed record after record, particularly with music streaming, and upended expectations with an astonishingly versatile debut album.

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She has also, however, been open about her lack of musical experience and technical skills in comparison to other rappers.

So how does she actually measure up to other comparable artists like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, and Nicki Minaj? Here’s a full breakdown of her skills, triumphs, and shortcomings.

Cardi B may be the most dominant person in hip-hop today, rivaled only by Drake.

Cardi B’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric; she hasn’t even been rapping that long. She released two mixtapes in 2016 and 2017 that felt more like rough drafts than clear artistic vision.

“Bodak Yellow,” however, dethroned a Taylor Swift single at the top of the chart and put Cardi in another lane entirely. She became the first female rapper to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with a solo track since Lauryn Hill did in 1998. Soon after, the seven-times platinum hit became the longest-running No. 1 single by a solo female rapper of all time.

The following year, with “I Like It” and “Girls Like You,” Cardi B became the first female rapper in history with three number one songs on the Billboard Hot 100.

Are you sensing a pattern?

Put simply, Cardi has smashed records in every possible category, from streaming services (14 of her songs charted simultaneously, besting Beyoncé’s record of 12) to album sales. Her first full-length LP, “Invasion of Privacy,” shot to No. 1 immediately upon release and has now become the first album ever by a female artist to have its entire track list certified gold or higher.

These numbers are not a fluke; it’s a truly astounding debut. Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield equated it to a “greatest-hits album” and praised the rapper’s ability to “steal any style of music that catches her ear and wear it home… stomping on everything tame or dull in hip-hop.” TIME dubbed “Invasion of Privacy” the best album of 2018.

It has now been nominated for five Grammys, making her one of the most-nominated artists this year behind Kendrick Lamar (eight) and Drake (seven).

Cardi B is the only artist in the running for both best rap album and album of the year.

She consistently elevates other artists’ songs, regardless of genre.

During her relatively short career, Cardi has appeared on G-Eazy’s “No Limit,” Migos’ “MotorSport,” Bruno Mars’s “Finesse,” and Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You,” all of which landed on the Billboard Top 10 (DJ Snake’s “Taki Taki” with Cardi, Selena Gomez, and Ozuna peaked at No. 11).

“She has yet to release a dud,” Jon Caramanica noted for the New York Times. “For someone who only started rapping a few years ago, that stylistic versatility is striking.”

But interestingly enough, her skills as a rapper are nothing to gawk at.

Cardi B is not delivering bars like many of her respected contemporaries. She is commonly compared to Nicki Minaj, largely because people tend to pit successful women against each other, but the two couldn’t be more different. While the former is serious about maintaining her MC status, the latter seems primarily concerned with making money and having a good time.

Read more: Everything you need to know about the growing feud between Nicki Minaj and Cardi B that came to a boiling point during a fight at Fashion Week

In fact, stylistically, Cardi B is more akin to artists like Kodak Black, Meek Mill, and Lil’ Kim — all of whom she has directly borrowed flows from.

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Cardi B copied Kodak Black’s rapping style for “Bodak Yellow.” Kevin Mazur/Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Of course, there are many critically acclaimed hip-hop artists whose rap skills are questionable: Travis Scott comes to mind, as he is largely praised for his production and artistic vision, rather than his ability to spit. Kanye West has been similarly appraised throughout his reign.

Cardi B is not a producer, though. More than anything, Carrie Battan writes for the New Yorker, she’s a “throwback artist.”

Though Cardi doesn’t have a signature, developed style, she has proven herself as a versatile, studious entertainer, learning and lifting from her predecessors.

“She is the first to admit that rapping takes work, and that her progress has required intense study,” Battan writes. “This makes her an outlier.”

She’s hardly an accomplished lyricist and has been open about relying on other writers.

Cardi B’s rhymes often work because they’re sharp, quick, and usually funny, but rarely because they’re particularly clever. She’s not in the same lane as wordsmiths like Lamar or storytellers like J. Cole. Her music doesn’t employ elaborate metaphors, revel in double meanings, or even claim to revolve around the lyrics at all.

This is a sharp contrast from typically lauded hip-hop. Rap is, by definition, a lyrical genre.

Two of Cardi B’s biggest hits, “Bodak Yellow” and “Be Careful,” are thanks in large part to the songwriter Pardison Fontaine. In fact, she purchased the latter from Fontaine directly, and has been candid about her weak spots as a songwriter — largely relying on professional writers and producers to create “Invasion of Privacy.”

“Pardison, he’s not a ghostwriter. He’s a co-writer. I credit him on all the songs he’s been in… I ain’t paying him off and hiding him. He’s right there!” Cardi clarified during an interview with The Breakfast Club. “People want to put me to these standards that I never asked for… I never called myself the greatest lyrical person.”

“Ghostwriter, co-writer, I don’t give a s—!” she brazenly proclaimed at an “Invasion of Privacy” listening party. “Ask your favorite rapper about their ghostwriter!”

For rap traditionalists, this knocks Cardi B clean out of the running for rap royalty.

Rap has historically been founded on authenticity — on clarity of purpose, honest experiences, and a defined sense of self throughout the writing process. Drake found the accusation that he uses a ghostwriter so abhorrent that he buried his accuser’s reputation in a years-long feud.

But it’s true that the current state of hip-hop is one of collaboration. The very man accused of ghostwriting for Drake is credited as a writer on a number of his tracks. Drake has written songs for West, the king of sampling other artists’ works.

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Both Cardi B and Drake have been accused of using ghostwriters. They are arguably the most popular rappers in the world right now, indicating that listeners don’t care as much as they used to about authentic lyricism. Scott Dudelson/Getty Images / Prince Williams/Wireimage

This isn’t specific to hip-hop, of course. Both Beyoncé and Rihanna employ whole camps of songwriters to produce hits. Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” was hailed for its specificity and vulnerability, but she’s just one of multiple co-writers responsible for its lyrics.

As Yoh Phillips pointed out for DJ Booth, “Jimi Hendrix covered Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan did an entire album of Frank Sinatra covers, it didn’t matter if they wrote the song, but if they could interject their personalities into the music. “

The trick, then — what is arguably the rarer triumph in modern pop music — is when an artist still manages to create music that feels intimate and true, no matter who wrote it, which producers were enlisted, or what beat is selected from a pile of faceless options.

“She’s way too creative and way too much of a personality to have no input or not know what she wants to say or not have her message out for the world,” Fontaine has said about Cardi. “So me being more musically inclined, I can help her do that.”

Ultimately, Cardi B is the best at selling her personality — and she’s created a lane entirely her own.

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Cardi B is as much a personality as she is a musician. Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

That there’s no subtlety to Cardi’s bars, no layered interpretations or detailed storytelling, is exactly the point; she has pulled off this titanic upset in the rap world by being exactly who she is.

Without Cardi B as a person, her music might be easily brushed aside. No one else can deliver her lines and truly sell it. She infuses the essence of Cardi B into every line, beat, and feature she gets her hands on. It’s her confidence that sells the story. It’s her refreshingly unvarnished self-presentation; her uncompromising attitude; her simultaneous grin and snarl.

“I’m so free-spirited,” she once told The Guardian. “Everyone has a me inside them, that loud girl that just wanna go ‘ayyyy!’ No matter if you a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, it comes out. Like, aha, I got you being yourself for a lil’ two minutes or three, huh?”

It’s also important to note Cardi’s openness when it comes to her shortcomings. Critics who decry her flow, lyrics, or technical skills are imposing a specific narrative on Cardi that she has never asked for. She has repeatedly insisted that she is not trying to be “the best” or to compete with “really great, big artists.”

It’s difficult to compare Cardi B to other major figures in rap, largely because she doesn’t seem concerned with proving herself. She’s an entertainer, a performer, a woman of the people — and she resonates with listeners on a scale rarely seen in this genre.

You cannot, in good faith, put Cardi B in the same running as modern rappers like Lamar, or greatest-ever MCs like Nas and Andre 3000. But it’s true that she is a singular voice in music today.

“Cardi B didn’t say, ‘I’m trying to de-throne Rakim.’ ‘Yo, screw Kendrick Lamar, it’s Cardi B season.’ That never happened,” Peter Rosenberg rightly pointed out on Hot 97. “She’s just being Cardi.”

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