One of the most famous rappers in the world, Cardi B blew up the music scene when she dropped her single “Bodak Yellow” in 2017. After that, she quickly became a household name, delighting fans with her unabashed personality, her bold and sexy style, her authentic candor, and her ability to drop quotable Cardi B wisdom seemingly every other sentence — lest we forget her epic and uncensored Instagram rants.

But Cardi B wasn’t always the powerful celeb that she is now. Rather, she actually had quite the rough start in life, and had to fight tooth and nail for literally everything she has. Plus, she faced multiple obstacles along the way, forcing her to take a route through life that wasn’t exactly ripe for opportunity. But Cardi B didn’t let the world knock her down. Instead, she managed to take it over. Read on to learn all about the stunning transformation of Cardi B, from rags to riches.

She was “a very fragile child”

Although the world knows her as Cardi B, the name she was given at birth in 1992 by her Dominican father and Trinidadian mother was Belcalis Almanzar, according to Fader magazine. She came of age in New York City and had a pretty strict upbringing, as her mother wouldn’t let her attend sleepovers for fear she’d become intimate too early, or fall prey to opportunistic and abusive men. Additionally, Cardi B described herself as “a very fragile child,” according to GQ.

The main reason Cardi B was so vulnerable was because of her health. “My mom used to cry a lot because she used to be scared that I would fall asleep and die of an asthma attack,” she revealed in an interview with the men’s magazine. Her asthma was so severe, in fact, that she would spend time in the hospital for weeks at a time because of it. “People used to tell my mom, ‘She’s not going to make it.'” she continued, showing just how dire the condition was. Fortunately for all of us, Cardi B is still here, and she’s stronger than ever.

“There’s no hood hooder than my hood”

New York City can be a pretty glamorous place, but the part of it where Cardi B is from — she moved from Washington Heights, where her grandmother’s house sits, to Highbridge in the Bronx in middle school — is not exactly a tourist trap. “There’s no hood hooder than my hood,” she proclaimed in an interview with i-D. “I had to toughen up when we moved to the Bronx in the sixth grade, because if you don’t then people will pick on you.” That’s a really intense experience for a child so young to learn — you’d think it would be more paramount to focus on things like band practice and math homework at that age, not basic survival.

Unfortunately for Cardi B, she stood out in her new school, and that attracted attention to her. “I was getting picked on for the way I dressed,” she continued. “I got jumped in the sixth grade real bad and after that, it changed me. It really, really did change me.” That’s nothing that any child should ever have to go through.

Here’s what she says were the positive takeaways from being in a gang

Growing up where Cardi B did, the pressure to join a gang was real — something she did when she was 16. But she wouldn’t advise doing the same because of one simple reason: it’s not profitable. “That’s why I don’t talk about it much,” she revealed in an interview with GQ magazine. “Because I wouldn’t want a young person, a young girl, to think it’s okay to join it.” That explains why she’s not more vocal about that aspect of her life.

She’s 100 percent sincere about that reasoning, too. “It’s not about violence,” she continued. “It’s just like — it doesn’t make you money.” And if you’re not making money, it’s going to be tough to pay the bills and put food on the table. You can’t argue with that logic!

That doesn’t mean Cardi B treats her gang affiliation with contempt, though. Rather, she actually says she took some positive things away from her time as an active gang member. “Then again, it’s a great experience,” she admitted in an interview with i-D. “I wouldn’t be able to rap about the things that I rap about now [without it].”

Work and school were hard to juggle

Despite the pressures that Cardi B dealt with growing up, she was interested in academics and enjoyed learning. She attended the Renaissance High School for Musical Theater and Technology, then enrolled in community college in Manhattan after graduation in 2010. There, she took courses in French, Western Civilization, and political science. “I thought I could be a history teacher one day, but what turned me off was when they told me what you get paid,” she recalled in an interview with i-D. “I didn’t like that.” Fair point!

Additionally, Cardi B had a lot going on during those years, so after a few semesters she ended up dropping out of school. At the time, she was also working full time at the Amish Market, a grocery store, which didn’t pay very well. “I was working all week [at the market] and I still was making only, like, 250 f***ing dollars,” she shared in an interview with Fader. Clearly, then, it was high time to find a more lucrative endeavor.

Stripping empowered her

After getting fired from the Amish Market for giving a co-worker items under cost, one of Cardi B’s managers at the store suggested that she try stripping. “He was like, ‘You’re so pretty, you got a nice body.’ He told me to go across the street to New York Dolls, the strip club,” she shared in an interview with Fader. So at the age of 19, she started stripping — and for the first time in her life, making real money.

With that money came freedom for Cardi B, as at the time, she was broke and living with an abusive ex-boyfriend (and his two pit bulls) in a room in his mom’s house. “It really saved me from a lot of things,” she confessed in an interview with Vlad TV.

But even though stripping allowed Cardi B to get out of an abusive situation and become financially independent, she didn’t exactly love it, and her self-esteem took some hits as she wasn’t as confident about her body as she used to be. To that end, she made some body modifications to stay fiscally viable.

“I don’t really know what’s in my a** right now”

Cardi B is well-known for her stunning bod, with her ample bosom and shapely, round backside. And she’s candid on how that shape came to be, and absolutely happy to flaunt it. “Do you think I paid for my a** and my t****** for me not to show it?” she asked in an interview with Vibe magazine. “If I like my body and I want to show it off, I’m well within my right to do so.” Amen, Cardi!

The rapper’s behind came to be at age 22 in a basement apartment in Queens, where in an illegal procedure, a woman injected her backside with filler sans anesthesia. “It was the craziest pain ever,” she revealed in an interview with GQ. “I felt like I was gonna pass out.” That sounds awful, but she says the end result was worth it — though she wishes she could have gone about it in a safer manner. “I don’t really know what’s in my a** right now,” she shared in an interview with Vlad TV. Yikes!

As for her bust, she got that taken care of in the Dominican Republic.

Read more: