Like pretty much everything else about Cardi B, her years-long love story is exceptional.
From their first date—the 2017 Super Bowl in Houston, an outing Offset labeled as "a power move"—she and the Migos rapper climbed aboard a rollercoaster that saw them experience dizzying highs (a September 2017 spur-of-the-moment wedding in their Atlanta bedroom; his proposal a month later in front of a packed crowd at a Philadelphia concert) and get thrown for more than a few loops, the biggest coming in the waning weeks of 2018.
Offset's ill-advised decisions ("I was partaking in activity that I shouldn't have been partaking in," he obliquely confessed in an online video) led his bride to the brink. "I guess we grew out of love," she shared in an Instagram post that December as she tried to make sense of what exactly had gone wrong in their nascent marriage, "but we're not together anymore. I don't know. It might take time to get a divorce."
So, in theory, the Grammy-winning "WAP" rapper's Sept. 14 filing shouldn't have been all that shocking.
Except it came after a very public reconciliation that saw the parents to 2-year-old daughter Kulture steadily cruising along for nearly two, unfettered years as 28-year-old Offset poured on the charm, the heart-shaped diamonds and the Birkin bags. Bronx-bred Cardi, meanwhile—her husband's name newly inked on her thigh—chatted to Vogue about why they remained such a formidable pairing.
"Everybody has issues," Cardi, 27, explained to the mag in January of weathering the storm of infidelity. "I believe in forgiveness. I prayed on it. Me and my husband, we prayed on it. We had priests come to us. And we just came to an understanding like, bro, it's really us against the world."
And with that the hip-hop power couple—between them, they lay claim to 11 Grammys nods with one win, seven BET Awards and countless Hot 100 tracks—truly seemed poised to continue their steady ascent.
That is, until their thrill ride came to an abrupt halt, Cardi's request for legal and physical custody of her only daughter (Offset is also dad to sons Jordan, 10, and Kody, 5, and daughter Kalea, 5) and declaration that their union is "irretrievably broken" with "no prospects for a reconciliation" flooring more than just her fans.
"The divorce is very shocking to everyone around them," an insider told E! News of the pair, just days shy of what would have been their third wedding anniversary Sept. 20. "They have been living together, parenting Kulture and seemed to be doing fine from an outsider's perspective."
But behind the social media veneer that saw them pumping up each other's accomplishments—"WAP," Cardi's seemingly ubiquitous August track with Megan Thee Stallion, went No. 1 pretty much everywhere as Migos was dropping their "Need It" music video—and proving their chemistry was still hot enough to incite much pearl-clutching, the pair continued to struggle with the same issues.
Simply put, "Cardi does not trust Offset," the insider explained. "It's been hard for her since the last cheating scandal and there have been rumors of him being unfaithful again."
Publicly, she brushed off such chatter. When a fresh round of rumors cropped up in December 2019 following a hack of Offset's Instagram and Twitter, she shared her response on Instagram. "Everybody knows he's done some dumb s--t," Cardi said in a Dec. 3 video. "But come on now, [he's] not dumb, he's not crazy, we've been so good, we had a sweet weekend, our life has been good, he's not going to play himself like that. That's why I'm not going to entertain that, that's why I'm not getting rowdy. Simple as that."
But when the accusations kept coming, the situation stopped feeling so cut and dried. Offset mounted his case: "He has been pleading with her that he hasn't," the insider said of the cheating allegations, "but many girls have come forward with claims."
And at a certain point, the refrain just became too tired for Cardi.
After all, she'd already forgiven him once. When a late 2017 iCloud hack seemed to catch Offset with another woman she tweeted, then deleted, "I'm going to make a decision in my own times with my heart and mind. I don't need to be rushed or be told what to do. It's my life! I belong to me not to the world," adding that while "it's not right" to cheat, "What you want me to do? Go f--k me another n---a? start all over again and get cheated on again? This s--t happens to everyone."
And then once more, Kulture factoring heavily in her decision to move past Offset's late 2018 indiscretion.
"When I was 13, my parents separated, right?" she explained during a February 2019 appearance on Good Morning America of her Trinidadian-born cashier mother and cab driver father who hails from the Dominican Republic. "So I always feel like it's important to have, like, a two-parent household."
But when she agreed to round three—following a forgiveness campaign from Offset that saw him crash her performance at the December 2018 Rolling Loud Festival mid-set with an embarrassing display of roses—her terms were unequivocal.
"He has my back for everything, I have his back for everything, so when you cheat, you're betraying the person that has your back the most," she reasoned to Vogue. "Why would you do that? We have come to a clear understanding. For me, monogamy is the only way. I'll beat your ass if you cheat on me."
So they exchanged phone passcodes—"We are so open about everything," she told E! News in 2018—and did everything they could to recapture the feeling that led them to charge forward into forever just months after that first, high-profile date. Her suggestion to just go ahead and make it official in the middle of their bedroom without a dress (they each wore sweatshirts) or rings came mid-argument as the pair's passion spilled out. "We still had a lot of doubts because our relationship is not like everybody's," she explained to W in 2018. "But we really loved each other, and we were scared to lose each other."
For all the bling, the joint red carpets, the intense, unyielding fame, "I feel like we just really are a very regular couple," she noted to People after their early 2019 reconciliation. "We just do regular things."
Sure, they had their problems, but who didn't? "My thing is, everybody on social media acts like relationships is perfect," Cardi reasoned to Vogue. "And that's crazy to me. I'm around so many women, and there's always a woman talking about how she loves her man, but her man is not financially stable, or she has a problem with his mom, or the sex is not as good anymore. Everybody has issues."
And she truly felt theirs weren't too large to overcome. "People that be in marriages for years, when they say till death do us part, they not talking about little arguments like if you leave the fridge open," she continued to Vogue. "That's including everything." So while she knew a large swath of her fans disagreed with her choice—"A lot of people were so mad at me; a lot of women felt disappointed in me,"she lamented of the backlash—it was hers to make. As she put it, "It's real life s--t."
They just needed to find some real life solutions. So they worked to navigate their disparate living preferences—he's partial to Atlanta; she's more comfortable at home in New York—by switching back and forth between their preferred home bases ("It's not an easy thing," Offset acknowledged to Vogue. "We both have our own households. But you grow,") and honed their communication skills.
"I know his moves," she stressed to E! News in that 2018 chat. "There has been so many rumors that he's doing this, that he's doing that and it's like, you've just got to know your man, he's got to know his woman."
But at a certain point, you also need to know when it's simply not working. "She's really tried for the last two years and has tried to forgive him," the insider told E! News. "She had enough and decided to file."
Just like before, Kulture factored heavily into her decision, the insider sharing that Cardi "wants to be a good example for her daughter and women out there that you can be independent."
Not that Cardi needs to remain single to prove she's killing it at the mom game, the rap game and really any game lucky enough to count her as participant.
"I could shake my ass, I could be the most ratchet-est person ever, I could get into a fight tomorrow, but I'm still a great mom," she noted to Vogue. "All the time I'm thinking about my kid. I'm shaking my ass, but at the same time I'm doing business, I'm on the phone with my business manager saying, make sure that a percentage of my check goes to my kid's trust."
And she's going to continue "busting my ass" to ensure that Kulture will live the good life. "So you could have a good car when you're 18, so you can go to school and have an apartment that I could pay for," she explained of the thought process behind her hustle. "If my daughter wants to go to college, that's okay, but I just want her to be an owner of whatever the f--k she wants to own. Just be an owner. Be the boss."
Good thing she has an experienced guide.