With just one song as a lead artist, Cardi B made her presence felt in 2020. Her highly controversial and highly successful “WAP,” featuring Megan Thee Stallion, was one of the biggest pop culture moments of the past year. For her first major release of the new year, Cardi has taken a conscious step away from the purposeful explosiveness of a song like “WAP.” Instead, the Grammy winner has presented us with “Up,” a middling three-minute track that sees her flexing her sexual prowess, wealth, and success.
Produced by Sean Island, DJ SwanQo, and Yung Dza, “Up” is a combination of smart choices, familiar territory, and some downright puzzling decisions. Over a beat that sounds equal parts “Nonstop” (Drake) and “Money” (Cardi), without the urgency of either track, Cardi makes the smart choice to employ a relatively unconventional song structure. She begins with the refrain, pre-chorus, and hook before launching into the song’s first verse. By doing so, Cardi is able to disguise redundant concepts and lyrics with a fresh structure which makes “Up” less immediately unimpressive. Nevertheless, the song can’t help but to be average. Whether or not the choice to “play it safe,” as she says in the outro, was intentional, the result is a track that isn’t necessarily terrible, it just doesn’t try to be anything more than passable. From corny lines like “hoes speakin’ cap-enese, hit ’em with karate chop” to plain awful bars like “tell that bitch back back, breath smell like horse sex,” “Up” does not bring much to the table, lyrically. To Cardi’s credit, however, she remains consistent with how energetic she is in her delivery, particularly in the pre-chorus and hook. That energy oddly comes to a halt with the inexplicably short tease of an outro.
Although the phrases “broke boys don’t deserve no pussy” and “I know that’s right” are far from new, you can’t help but think of City Girls and Saweetie, respectively, when Cardi recites those phrases throughout the track. This is interesting because, in the grand scheme of things, Cardi has normally kept herself ahead of the curve in comparison to most of her peers, but on “Up” it sounds like she’s either regressed or remained stagnant musically. “Up” benefits from the delightfully alliterative pre-chorus, and with every new listen the hook gets catchier. “Up” is fine playlist filler. The video is great, and the track will get you moving. Nevertheless, this is the artist that put out landmark records like “Bodak Yellow” and “WAP.” The bar is higher for Cardi, and “Up” just doesn’t quite cut it.