Cardi B brings her best 50 to Des Moines

The number 50 is beast with two faces. It can be good. If you’re 50 miles into a 100-mile trip, you’re halfway home. It can be bad. If you’re 50 years old, your life is more than half over.

Numbers don’t lie.

The saving grace of 50, however, is that it’s as much a number of perception as it is reality. With 50, your glass is half full. Or it’s half empty.

So when firebrand rap star Cardi B surprisingly exited stage right of Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena Friday night following an abbreviated (here it comes) 50-minute set, the 12,550 concert-goers in attendance were left with a “50” choice: be happy about what did happen, or be angry about what didn’t.

They overwhelmingly chose the former, and their joy overfloweth.

The 26-year-old rapper from the Bronx, fresh off adding six Billboard Music Awards to her resume earlier in the week, could do no wrong in the crowd’s eyes. The small (*cough) hiccup of a 90-minute delay to start the show? No big deal. The house music provided ample beat for breakout dance-offs to pop up here and there around the arena floor sporadically, not to mention the opportunity for the consumption of more gin and juice to line the pipes for when Cardi decided it was time to show up. (Editor’s note: Although the delay was long, it still fell short of Justin Bieber’s almost two-hour delay a few years ago. Maybe next time, Cardi.)

Getting Cardi to Des Moines in any capacity was a score in itself and served as a pseudo warm-up for the artist’s headline date at the Flyover Festival in Kansas City, Kansas Saturday night. At times it felt like it, too. Missing was a backing band, but dancers made appearances at times to “liven” things up. The light show was modest at best. Smaller video screens flanked each side of the stage, with a larger screen set behind a small, staircase-style riser in the middle.

For a star of her magnitude, it was subdued.

The reality, however, is that Cardi could have taken the stage with a flashlight in one hand and a mic in the other and still have been treated like a goddess. And she was.

When she did make her grand entrance onstage in her red, skintight top and fringed thigh-highs, the crowd went nuts. From there, it was off to the races. Literally. The clock was ticking.

“Money bag, bitch, I’m looking like a money bag,” Cardi exclaimed as she stalked the stage, dropping the names of Versace and Bentley during “Money Bag.”

The one-two punch of “Please Me” and “Girls Like You,” her most recent chart topper and collaboration with Maroon 5, were delivered with razor-like percussive precision and exorbitant amounts of confidence. “Bartier Cardi” saw the rapper regaling the joys of “Bardi in the ‘Rari/Diamonds all over my body.”

Her between-song audience banter came in the form of no-bars-held bursts, from an informative gem about her recent breast augmentation, to “I have to go take a piss and put some deodorant on my underarms.” “Bitch, I am the clout,” led to, you guessed it, “Clout.”

The Latin-tinged and chart-topping “I Like It” added the pinch of musical diversity that songs like “Bickenhead,” (dedicated to her “nasty hoes”) did not.

Show closer “Bodak Yellow,” her major label debut single that went to No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100 chart, featured her best singing performance of the night. Told by her DJ prior to the start of the song that they were headed to Kansas next, Cardi responded with the first bar of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” showing that, if needed, she can indeed sing. Until then, rapping will remain her bread and butter, and rightly so.

Like it or not, she’s good. Her staccato raps are as spot-on as you’ll hear with any artist of the genre.

Look, this writer is going to commit reviewer’s cardinal sin No. 1 here and go into first-person mode with an admission: This is a culture that I do not understand. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s stark and startling.

But that alone doesn’t give me the right to proclaim that it’s right, wrong or otherwise. My parents grimaced at my teenage-years foray into heavy metal, the “devil’s music” that was pipelined straight to my boombox from the bowels of hell itself thanks to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Last night, I saw and heard things at the Cardi B experience that made me cringe as well.

I was initially upset for the fans who doled out their hard-earned money, only to get short changed. Or so I thought. As it turned out, there was nary a complaint to be heard from the masses as I exited the arena with them in our cattle-like process.

They were happy. All the “n” words dropped onstage and off (hundreds, if not thousands), and the posturing, “tough” guy (and lady) lyrics, seemingly had the same effect on audience members as songs about the devil had on me: zero. It’s just entertainment, whether we like it or not.

Lesson learned. At 50.