The Safe House
As CARDI B + OFFSET manage marriage, music and money moves,
FAMILY SECURITY ALWAYS COMES FIRST
The first time I meet Cardi B and Offset, it’s during Art Basel. We’re in a cabana atop Pharrell Williams’s Goodtime Hotel in Miami Beach for the launch of Cardi’s newest business venture, Whipshots. I make small talk while hoping to close the deal on the ESSENCE cover offer we extended a month prior. As Cardi lets Offset in on the news that we want to feature their family as the stars of our anniversary issue, he replies with a smile and a casual “Let’s do it.”
It will be just shy of three months before I see the couple again. Cover locked in, they graciously allow me into their Beverly Hills home for a joint interview. Standing on their doorstep,
I admire the spiral staircase I can see through the large window in the entryway. I recognize it from a picture on Cardi’s Instagram. Moments later I’m sitting on a brown sectional across from Cardi herself, in the family room of the luxurious multilevel home, my voice recorder and a laundry list of questions queued up. But Offset isn’t there. He’s somewhere boarding a plane to do a show. “Before this interview, I hadn’t seen her in like seven days,” the Migos rapper tells me five days later, when we all finally reunite in their sprawling New Jersey mansion. Exhausted from trying to keep up with their ever-changing schedule for just a few weeks, I wonder how they do it.
After we got married, that’s when I first met his kids. I always wanted them to love me, and they really do. They tell me that. I feel it, and I hope that we always have a great relationship.”
It’s a blessing to be able to have them all together, and to have a wife who’s open and treats them as if they’re her kids. It could be an issue, but I don’t have to go through that, and that’s beautiful.”
Cardi B, 29, and Offset, 30, aren’t just mega-successful music superstars in their own right. They’re husband and wife, and parents to their 3-year-old daughter Kulture and 7-month-old son Wave. Offset is also a father to three older children from previous relationships: daughter Kalea, 7, and sons Jordan, 12, and Kody, also 7. It was Cardi who asked on a Zoom call whether she could talk to our editorial and creative team, woman to woman, about the possibility of including her stepchildren in our photo shoot. While she doesn’t want to disturb the relationships she has with the other mothers of Offset’s children, more than anything, she doesn’t want any of his kids to feel left out.
“After we got married, that’s when I first met his kids,” Cardi says during our sit-down interview. “I always wanted them to love me, and they really do. They tell me that. I feel it, and I hope that we always have a great relationship.”
Cardi and Offset knew about the realities of blending families long before they had to navigate those waters themselves. “I have two brothers, and we have three different dads,” Offset says. “I never heard of a half-brother—those are my brothers.”
While Cardi and her sister Hennessy have the same mother and father, she has an additional six siblings from her father’s previous relationship. That family dynamic shaped Cardi’s desire for all of Offset’s kids to forge a close bond. The graciousness of that attitude isn’t lost on the father of five.
Stylist for Cardi B, Kollin Carter for
The Carter Collective
Hair Stylist for Cardi B, Tokyo Stylez for Chris Aaron Management
Makeup Artist, Erika La Pearl Roman for GKG Management LLC
Stylist for Offset & the children,
Stylist Assistants for children, Lucia Canales, Keithington Reed, & Yoko J for Four Styling Group Inc.
Hairstylist for Offset, Ebony “Lady Lockz” Wright
Manicurist for Offset, Alexis Manivanh
Barber for Offset & Jordan, Marcus P. Hatch
Barber for the children, Robert McBride
Hairstylist for children, Michelle-Nichole Jones, Joel James, & Tabitha Boyd
Tailors, Carol Ai for Carol Ai Studio & Baba Jagne for Mastermind Management Group
Set Designer, Anthony Asaro
Prop Stylist, 11th St. Workshop
Deputy Editor, Cori Murray
Senior Creative Director, Allyson Brown
Creative Director, Nia Lawrence
Senior Entertainment Editor, Brande Victorian
Senior Photo Editor & Producer, Michele Brea
Style & Beauty Editor, Blake Newby
Graphic & Motion Designer, Imani Nuñez
Social Media Director, Charisma Deberry
Supervising Video Producer, Meghan Allen
Senior Web Developer, Victoria Sumner
Cardi B wearing a Lever Couture gown, Christian Louboutin pumps and Cicada Jewelry earrings. Offset wearing full Louis Vuitton. Jordan wearing Marc Jacobs turtleneck, Lanvin pants and shoes, and Ganni cardigan. Kalea wearing Richard Quinn dress and Comme Des Garçons Girl jacket. Kody wearing Bottega Veneta jacket, Bonpoint pants and Thom Browne shoes. Kulture wearing Lillie Couture dress and Mini Melissa shoes. Wave wearing full Bonpoint.
Cardi B is wearing Jean Paul Gaultier couture dress and Mugler corset. Offset wearing MM6
Maison Margiela trench, pants, shirt and shoes and Balenciaga glasses and gloves.
Wave is wearing full Bonpoint. Kalea wears ShuShu/Tong dress and Thom Browne cardigan
and shoes. Kody wears Balenciaga shirt and Thom Browne suit and shoes. Jordan is wearing full Thom Browne and Jordan shoes. Kulture wears Thom Browne dress and Mini Melissa shoes.
Offset wearing a Marni cardigan and Marc Jacobs shirt. Boys are all wearing Marni.
Offset wearing a Marni suit and shirt.
Cardi B wearing a Jean Paul Gaultier couture gown. Kalea wears Amelia Symone dress. Kulture is wearing a Lillie Couture dress.
Cardi B wearing a custom Richard Quinn gown.
CLOTHING CREDITS (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE):
CLICK TO VIEW OUR OTHER DIGITAL COVERS
BY Brande Victorian | PHOTOGRAPHY BY AB+DM
“It’s a blessing to be able to have them all together, and to have a wife who’s open and treats them as if they’re her kids,” he says. “It could be an issue, but I don’t have to go through that, and that’s beautiful.”
Cardi (née Belcalis Almánzar) and Offset (née Kiari Cephus) met for the first time in January of 2017. After sliding into the DMs of one of Cardi’s friends to let her know he was interested in the budding rapper, Offset invited Cardi to a “Bad and Boujee” dinner he was hosting, to celebrate his rap group’s Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping single of the same name.
“When my friend told me that he was trying to holler at me, I was like, ‘I’m not trying to deal with no industry rappers, because I already know what type of time they’re on,” Cardi candidly admits. “I was scared. I’m a relationship girl.”
Though she accepted the dinner invitation and even gave Offset her number after he piqued her interest, she was a bit more hesitant about agreeing to go on a first date—to Super Bowl LI, no less. Cardi, who at the time was four months away from dropping her career-defining debut-album single “Bodak Yellow,” was trying to protect not just her heart but her image. Before agreeing to the extravagant date, she had the friend Offset had previously messaged talk to him about her concerns. “I said, ‘I don’t want to be seen in public with a rapper if he’s not serious about me,’” Cardi explains. “It would be embarrassing to go on a date with a guy, and my career is just starting off, and then the next day he’s not into me anymore. I would’ve been crushed.”
It might sound weird, but
we don’t always put love first—because sometimes you can put love before work and mess up your career, because you’re not focused,” Offset says. “Love is important, but if you’ve got that foundation, we should respect each other and what we have going on. I had never experienced a woman that was working like me and doing what I’m doing. It turns me on. She does her own thing. She likes the hustle, so that ain’t never getting in between our love.”
On the brink of turning 4, Kulture is rambunctious and doesn’t yet have the same poise as her big sister in front of the cameras—but it’s not hard to see the burgeoning star within her, even with famous parents who want to make sure she stays grounded. “We still teach our kids like normal parents,” Offset says. “I’ve never told my daughter she’s a celebrity. I want her to have the mind of a working person. I always tell my kids how hard I worked, how many years I put in to be in a position where everything is good.”
It took some time for Cardi and Offset to create a solid marital foundation as well. In December 2018, five months after Kulture was born, Cardi announced via Instagram that she and her then newlywed husband had split. Couples often say the first year of marriage is the hardest, and their union was a testament to that. “I feel like our first year, even though we were in love with each other, we had a lot of lust,” Cardi says. “We didn’t really know each other like that, because he was doing four shows a week. I was doing four shows a week. We would see each other about three or four times a month.”
When I first got pregnant, a lot of people used to be on some ‘You’re a fourth baby mom’ sh-t. But when I had my baby, I felt like things were going to be alright, because I know the type of man that he is with his kids. It’s hard for me to explain, but I see how much he loves his kids and how passionate he is about his kids, and I love that.”
While Cardi was worried about public opinion, Offset was focused on making a good impression. “I was thinking, Let me go big, man,” he says of securing prime time seats for one of the biggest sporting events. “It was a vibe.” Fortunately, the good vibes continued as the pair got to know each other better—though Cardi notes, “The smooth sailing wasn’t that smooth in the beginning.”
“I had a little luggage,” Offset admits before Cardi jumps in. “And I had to unpack it,” she says.
It’s still early in our interview, and I’m trying to read the room. It’s a $69 rideshare away from my hotel in Midtown Manhattan—$127 if I decide to splurge on an Uber Black car, to get picked up at the couple’s multimillion-dollar home in grand style. It’s 36 degrees outside, fresh snow is on the ground, and I know it will be an excruciating wait in the driveway in front of the gate of their not-so-humble abode if this man kicks me out for mentioning his alleged aversion to monogamy before we’ve built a proper rapport.
“I was really nervous because everybody around me was nervous,” she says. “People who work in the industry said that nothing like this had really happened before, when somebody was at the height of their career and they got pregnant.”
Cardi leaned on her new husband during that time of uncertainty. “He kept telling me, ‘Trust me. It’s going to be alright. You’re huge. Everybody loves you. People are going to understand.’ And I just kept telling myself, I have to put out my album before I get big and I can’t do these music videos. I can’t let everybody in the industry that believes in me down.”
It wasn’t just Offset’s words that provided comfort during that first pregnancy, Cardi says—it was also the example he’d set as a dad. “When I first got pregnant, a lot of people used to be on some ‘You’re a fourth baby mom’ sh-t. But when I had my baby, I felt like things were going to be alright, because I know the type of man that he is with his kids. It’s hard for me to explain, but I see how much he loves his kids and how passionate he is about his kids, and I love that.
Offset understood Cardi’s fears, as he had his own when he first became a father at the age of 17. “I was scared because I was a kid,” he recalls. “I was still living with my mama.” After his first son, Jordan, was born, Offset welcomed his second child, Kody, when he was 23. By that time, his rap group Migos had already dropped popular singles “Versace” and “Fight Night.” “I was in a better space,” Offset says. “I was on. I was able to do way more than with my first.”
I’ve never told my daughter she’s a celebrity. I want her to have the mind of a working person. I always tell my kids how hard I worked, how many years I put in to be in a position where everything is good.”
Thankfully, I don’t have to make that call. Knowing that his wife is glossing over the details, Offset sets the record straight. “She’s being nice, but she was pressing,” he says. “She was letting it be known: ‘Listen buddy, I’m about to chuck the deuces if you don’t tighten up.’” His response, he says, was, “I’m finna make you mine.”
On September 20, 2017, Offset and Cardi made the relationship official when they got married in the bedroom of his Atlanta home, on what was something of a dare. “We were making out and he was like, ‘You’re going to have my baby one day,’ and I was like, ‘We ain’t having no baby. You have to marry me,’ and he was like, ‘Alright, let’s get married,’” Cardi recalls. The moment of passion took a left turn when the couple got into an argument-one that Bronx-bred Cardi thought would mean the end of their relationship. So she decided to test Offset’s sincerity. “I was like, ‘Let’s just get married then. You said you wanted to marry me.’ And we did.”
Seven months after saying “I do,” Cardi announced during an April 2018 performance on Saturday Night Live that she and Offset were expecting their first child together. Instantly, she felt pressure to maintain her status as not just the hottest female rapper in the industry but the biggest emcee, period.
It’s Kody, the pair says, who’s most like his Grammy Award–nominated pops. It’s not just because he, too, has a perfectly lined-up set of locs, aspires to be a rapper and will randomly ask his dad to call a music engineer to record him spitting lyrics—a request Offset regularly obliges. It’s also his easygoing demeanor. During the photo shoot for this story, he doesn’t utter a single complaint when we ask him to pose for hours, not even to whine as he fights off sleep during the last shot of the night. There’s an undeniable cool about him, which is the same word Cardi and Offset use to describe Jordan. “He’s quiet and observant, and that’s a side that Offset definitely has, too,” Cardi says of her husband’s firstborn. “They’re paying attention, and they’re analyzing everything.”
Offset’s third child, Kalea, was born less than three weeks after Kody. On set, she’s a natural, posing in Richard Quinn and Lillie Couture as if she were born with a modeling contract in her hand. Yet she’s as sweet-spirited as she is aware of her angles, and it’s clear Cardi adores her as much as she does her birth daughter, whom she gushes over. “Since the day she came out, she was so gorgeous,” Cardi says of Kulture. “She’s like a breath of fresh air.”
Cardi B + OFFSET
A little more than a year later, they reconciled; and though the couple’s professional obligations haven’t necessarily slowed down—Offset is preparing to release his second solo studio album this summer, and Cardi is working on new music while filming her Meta original series Cardi Tries—things are much better. As Offset says, “We understand our job.”
As such, the couple give each other freedom to prioritize their careers when necessary. “It might sound weird, but we don’t always put love first—because sometimes you can put love before work and mess up your career, because you’re not focused,” Offset says. “Love is important, but if you’ve got that foundation, we should respect each other and what we have going on. I had never experienced a woman that was working like me and doing what I’m doing. It turns me on. She does her own thing. She likes the hustle, so that ain’t never getting in between our love.”
Cardi and Offset are balancing work responsibilities with another little one in the home: Wave was born on September 4, 2021. This time around, it isn’t just industry pressure they’re up against. It’s Internet bullies—like those who recently led Cardi to make Kulture’s Instagram page, which has more than 2 million followers, private.
“We went through a lot of sad things when it comes to Kulture—terrible behavior that not even the older kids have ever been through,” Cardi reveals. “So many people will post mean, disgusting things, just to get a reaction from us.” It was for that reason the couple waited to show Wave to the world. Cardi admits: “We want to protect our feelings, because we get very, very angry and upset."
Protection is an important element in the couple’s relationship, particularly when it comes to finances. Even before they were married, Offset took an interest in Cardi’s business deals. “From the beginning, I remember he used to ask to see my contracts, and I would be like, ‘Boy, I don’t know you like that,’” Cardi says. “But when I started letting him in on more things, I started seeing things differently. People have cut me short a lot, and ever since I have involved him in my business, I’ve been doing so much better. Sometimes people will make you feel you deserve less than what you’re worth.”
Offset chalks Cardi’s early experience up to the nature of the business, which is designed to take advantage of newer artists. Admitting he had to bump his own head a time or two, he says when it comes to his oversight nowadays, “I just want to make sure the family’s straight. We have children together. We have family behind us. They’re depending on us. The industry, it’s a little slick. You’ve got to have your eyes open—and I’ve been in it a little longer, so I know how things can be. I just want to make sure the business is correct.”
The combination of that concern with their love for each other and their family is what has sustained their marriage. “We just became closer,” Cardi says of how they’ve weathered storms over the past five years. “We understand each other more now. To me, it’s serious, locked in for life—partnership sh-t, best friend sh-t. Sometimes it’s like, okay, he’s my husband, but he’s really my best friend. We pick each other up when we’re down. I feel like nobody has my back like him—and he knows I got his back all the way, no matter what, and nothing could come in between that.”
“It’s a safe house,” Offset sums up. That security is magnified by being part of a large family. During summer and Christmas holidays, the kids are with him and his wife under one roof. Cardi describes their time together as “lit,” saying, “When they leave, it is like a big sadness.”
Reflecting on the beauty of her blended family, she adds, “I feel like sometimes people go into a relationship with a man or a woman who has kids with negativity—and I feel like people should embrace it, and love it. I love our family, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
We understand each other more now. To me, it’s serious, locked in for life-partnership sh-t, best friend sh-t.”
Director of photography, Jean London Dia
Camera Operator, Justice Malik
Second Camera & Video Editor, Amir Muhammad
BTS Videographer, Alan Daher