Growing up in the Bronx, a young Jennifer Lopez would dabble in anything that might one day make her famous: acting, dancing, choreography, even gymnastics and track. Oh, and singing—but it was Lopez’s least-pursued talent prior to her mid-twenties. As she rose to prominence during the 1990s, Lopez was, variously, a regional theater actress and choreographer; a backup dancer for the likes of New Kids on the Block and Janet Jackson; a televised backup dancer—a Fly Girl—on the Wayans Brothers’ sketch series In Living Color; and a well-regarded actress in midtier Hollywood fare or, in the case of Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, highly acclaimed Hollywood fare. It was only after she recorded a Spanish-language demo on a lark—after winning plaudits for her star turn in the 1997 musical biopic Selena, at age 27—that Lopez began seriously weighing a singing career. Even then, it took a bit of coaching from Sony Music executive Tommy Mottola, the man who discovered Mariah Carey, to convince the future J. Lo she could get over singing English-language pop with a Latin flavor. In 1999, she finally issued her debut album and single (the latter an immediate No. 1 hit) only after she’d tried, and succeeded at, everything else.
I offer this thumbnail history of Lopez—a woman who’s sold some 80 million records worldwide, and on whose Wikipedia page the word “singer” is now the first descriptor before “actress” and “dancer”—to offer some perspective on a fellow Bronx-born woman who takes over Billboard’s Hot 100 this week.
That would be Cardi B, the nearly 25-year-old woman who started as an exotic dancer and passed through phases as an Instagram celebrity and reality-show star before arriving as a late-blooming M.C. Barely two years after a manager told her she might have a good voice for rap, Cardi’s booming, braggadocious “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” completes a dozen-week climb to No. 1. In a head-to-head chart contest the whole music world was watching, Cardi rings the bell in grand fashion, ejecting a musical giant, Taylor Swift, whose presold “Look What You Made Me Do” succumbs after three weeks on top.