What Cardi B was like before the fame

Love her or hate her, Cardi B is a chart-topping, history-making powerhouse. When "Bodak Yellow" debuted in 2017, the single shot to the top spot of the U.S. Billboard charts, knocking the tough-to-beat Taylor Swift off her throne and making Cardi B the first female rapper to reach No. 1 in 19 years.

Rewind a couple of years, however, and you'll find this superstar making moves as a stripper. How did she go from dancing for dollars to making it rain? Let's play back the track on hip-hop star Cardi B's rise to fame and fortune. 

She's a first-generation American

Born Belcalis Almanzar in 1992 to a Dominican father and Trinidadian mother, Cardi B has made it clear that family is very important to her. 

During a 2017 interview at her NYC condo with Fader, the rapper FaceTimed with her sister between questions. Her pad, by the way, was reportedly packed with people, including two aunts and a cousin who trekked across the city to use her washer and dryer. Her dad has his own room to crash in "when he's fighting with his wife." It's a nice place, but the rapper told Fader she still feels most at home at her grandmother's house, which is always crowded. 

"I live in a beautiful condo … but it's so empty and boring," she said. "My grandma's house is very, very tiny, but it's just a certain happiness there."

She performed Lady Gaga at a school talent show

While attending the Renaissance High School for Musical Theater and Technology, a 16-year-old Cardi B delivered one of her first public performances at a school talent show. Dressed all in red, she took to the stage with a handful of backup dancers to perform Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance." At one point, she even shows off some moves lifted straight from Mother Monster's music video.

According to Fader, "She was often cast in school musicals, only to be kicked out for her bad grades, which she attributes to being a 'loopy' person — that is, someone who always had to be in the loop, a popular girl who chose her friends over school … Her strict mom wouldn't allow her to go to parties at night, so she went to them during the day."

She joined a gang at 16

Cardi B's affiliation with Los Angeles' notorious Bloods gang may not be 100 percent official, but all signs suggest she is a proud member. 

When a hater took to Twitter to call Cardi B a poser, she clapped back: "B**ch, I been a big time Blood since I was 16 sooo f**k is you talking bout … ya just never peep it."

XXL pointed out that when the rapper calls herself Bardi, it could be a nod to the Bloods' habit of "replacing the letter 'C' with 'B' whenever they get the chance." Her decision to reportedly make everyone wear red (the official color of the gang) at her wedding also points to her potential affiliation.

Her first job was at a supermarket

At age 18, Cardi was working as a cashier "at this supermarket called Amish market [where] everything is, like, organic," she told Complex. However, showing up late and giving co-workers way too many discounts reportedly got her fired.

Life was tough. At one point, Cardi B said she was living with an "ex-boyfriend in his mom's house with two pitbulls, and his sister who used to steal my little bit of money and my little bit of weed, and there were bedbugs in there. I was so young," she told Complex

She needed a way out…

Her former boss suggested she try stripping

They say when one door closes, another opens, and so it went when Cardi B was fired from the grocery store. As she told Complex, "The manager from the Amish Market place said, 'You're so pretty and you have such a nice body. Why don't you go across the street and work at Private Eyes?'"

Cardi B wasn't convinced. "When I was young I used to think in the strip clubs you have sex," she said. "He's like, 'No, you just do lap dances and this and that.'" She decided to go for it. 

"In one day I made more than a week's pay. But I felt a little bit of shame," she said. "I imagined my mother shaking her head. Disgraceful. I had to survive, though."

Cardi B told Complex that she stopped stripping in 2015 "because I'm seeing that my career is taking a different path. I'm focusing on music now. I always felt like I could do music." 

She pursued risky cosmetic surgery

"I was never comfortable with my boobs," Cardi B revealed in a 2017 YouTube interview with DJ Vlad, adding that when she started stripping as a teenager, "I felt like it was a necessity to get them done, so I got them done."

The always honest Cardi also admitted that she received illegal (and potentially fatal) injections that were not FDA approved and not administered by a doctor in order to make her butt bigger. "I was desperate to have a bigger a**," she said, "and then almost every girl was going to this lady that was getting the shots in Queens, and it's like, well, 'Give me her number, and hook me up.'"

Stripping made her feel like she 'was never good enough'

Cardi candidly admits she struggled with body image issues during her time working as a stripper. 

"I used to work in what I would say was a white strip club … and I always loved my skin complexion, but I noticed that the Russian and the white girls [were] making more money than colored girls or a girl like me, and it started making me feel like, 'I wonder how it would be if I was to make more money if I was light-skinned?'" she told DJ Vlad in 2017. "When I went to the urban clubs. the clubs in the hood, I started to feel like, 'Damn, I'm not thick enough. Now I gotta get my a** done'"

"Your self-esteem always goes down," she said. "It kind of made me feel like I was never really good enough."

Her teeth 'ain't cheap'

When the public began speculating about whether or not Cardi had work done on her teeth, the always outspoken star took to Instagram to openly address her smile and the rest of her body. 

She said, in part, "…everybody used to talk s**t about my teeth, but I fixed them, so now it's like, 'Well, your t**ties look mad fake … I don't know why y'all body shame b****es that got their bodies done."  

She kept the honesty going on her breakthrough hit, "Bodak Yellow", rapping: "Got a bag and fixed my teeth, hope you hoes know it ain't cheap." 

According to TMZ, Cardi got her porcelain veneers done by celebrity dentist Dr. Catrise Austin, and they "cost as much as a luxury SUV."

Social media put her on the map

Cardi B built a major following with her #realtalk, hitting 1 million followers on Instagram by age 23. Some have called her a social media mastermind, but the up-and-comer put it this way in a 2015 interview with Complex: 

"When I started doing videos and everything, I just took a camera and was like, talking about how corny guys are, how corny b****es are. Just doing jokes that I do with my friends. A lot of people when they meet me will be like, you are just like your Instagram video. I'm like, b**ch I know. That's who I am. I'm not trying to be funny for Instagram.

As of January 2018, Cardi had upped her Insta following to a whopping 17 million and counting, but she'll be the first to admit that she "just can't believe it. I never thought I would be this popular. That was never part of my plans. It just really happened, thanks to social media."

Her reality TV infamy will live on 'foreva'

When VH1's Love & Hip Hop: New York premiered its Season 6 trailer, starring none other than Cardi B, the clip went viral almost immediately. 

In the footage, the aspiring rapper can be seen breaking a car window and delivering this warning: "If a girl have beef with me, she gon' have beef with me … foreva." That last word soon became a catchphrase, which Cardi B fully embraced, turning it into a single called (what else?) "Foreva."

As for how she was cast on the reality TV series in the first place, she told Complex, "Motherf***ers just hit me up and I said I'll think about it. All I saw was cons, I'm a very negative person. I was like, imagine if they ruin my reputation?" she said. "I know I talk a lot of hoe s**t on my Instagram, and people think that I put all of my business on there, but I really don't. I just give you a percentage of what I want you to have." 

Obviously, she agreed and appeared on the show for two seasons.

She debuted her sound on Love & Hip-Hop

During her stint on Love & Hip-Hop, Cardi B dropped her first real mixtape, Gangsta B**ch Music, Vol. 1which featured 13 tracks, including the viral hit "Foreva." 

Noisey called the project "easily the most enjoyable body of music to come out of Love & Hip-Hop," noting that Cardi B's sound marked "the first time a star created by Love and Hip-Hop even halfway nailed the 'hip-hop' part of its title." Reviews like that helped solidify her reputation as a legitimate artist and put her on the track to success.