The backstory of Cardi B as a brash YouTube star known for 15-second “tirades” who suddenly went from working in strip joints to finding fame as an actor, model, and rapper with a smash hit and Grammy nominations reads like a movie script.

But the up-from-bootstraps, overnight sensation was a couple of years in the making for the “Bodak Yellow” hitmaker, with a little luck and strong support behind the scenes.


Photo: Theo Wargo/2017 GettyImages

Cardi B

Her agent, CAA’s Mark Cheatham tells Pollstar that Cardi B’s managers, known simply as Shaft and Jay of KSR Group, have steered her career from the streets in the Bronx, where she grew up as Balcalis Almanzar, to the brink of global stardom.     

“We didn’t start working with Cardi until after the record started to move,” Cheatham said. “The driving force behind Cardi are her managers, Shaft and Jay, who saw the potential and believed in what they had. Shaft, Jay, the KSR team, and Atlantic are really smart and plugged into the culture. I wouldn’t bet against them.They were in the streets building Cardi organically.”

Cardi’s come from the Bronx to Madison Square Garden Arena, which will host the Grammy Awards come February. She’s nominated in best rap song and performance categories, where she’s an equal with such heavyweights as fellow nominees Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar.

Cardi’s TV and fashion work – she appeared in “Love and Hip Hop New York” and walked for Gypsy Sport in 2015’s New York Fashion Week – are a good fit for a full-service agency and CAA stepped to the plate and is working closely with management to keep the momentum going.

“We are using the full resources of CAA to support Cardi,” Cheatham said. “We are fielding offers across all areas. Management is not looking to jump at anything.  We are being very strategic. as we are looking to build and sustain a long-term career and brand.”


Photo: Scott Roth/Invision/AP

Cardi B

Cardi has to date mostly made appearances at festivals and radio shows, but among her hard-ticket concerts is a sold-out 1,200 tickets at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Expect her to expand on that careful strategy in 2018.

“Cardi’s reach is global,” Cheatham said. “I am in London with her and the team now, and she is doing an event for Spotify and the Mobo Awards. Around these anchors, we booked a few small room plays, as well as select night club appearances. She started in the clubs in the U.S. and we want to continue to build her international profile in the same, organic way.

“In the U.S., she will be embarking on her first small-room headliner tour in March to support the release of her album. In addition, she has already locked in several major festival plays and will make those announcements soon."