In November 2015, Cardi B made her musical debut on Jamaican reggae fusion singer Shaggy’s remix to his single “Boom Boom”, alongside fellow Jamaican dancehall singer Popcaan. She made her music video debut on December 15, 2015, with the song “Cheap Ass Weave”, her rendition of English rapper Lady Leshurr’s “Queen’s Speech 4”. On March 7, 2016, Cardi B released her first full-length project, a mixtape titled Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1. In November 2016, she was featured on the digital cover of Vibe magazine’s “Viva” issue. On September 12, 2016, KSR Group released the compilation Underestimated: The Album, which is a collaboration between KSR Group artists Cardi B, Hood Celebrityy, SwiftOnDemand, Cashflow Harlem and Josh X. It was previously released only to attendees of their U.S. tour. KSR Group’s flagship artist Cardi B said “I wanted to make a song that would make girls dance, twerk and at the same time encourage them to go get that Shmoney,” in regards to the compilation’s single “What a Girl Likes.”
On January 20, 2017, Cardi B released her second mixtape, which is the second installment to her Gangsta Bitch Music series. In February 2017, Cardi B partnered with MAC Cosmetics and Rio Uribe’s Gypsy Sport for an event for New York Fashion Week. In late February, it was reported that Cardi B signed her first major record label recording contract with Atlantic Records. On February 25, 2017, Cardi B was the opening act for East Coast hip hop group The Lox’s Filthy America… It’s Beautiful Tour, alongside fellow New York City-based rappers Lil’ Kim and Remy Ma. In April 2017, she was featured in i-D’s “A-Z of Music” video sponsored by Marc Jacobs.
In May 2017, the nominees for the 2017 BET Awards were announced, revealing that Cardi B had been nominated for Best New Artist and Best Female Hip-Hop Artist. Although she failed to win any awards, losing to Chance the Rapper and Remy Ma, respectively, Cardi B performed at the BET Awards afterparty show. In June 2017, during Hot 97’s annual Summer Jam music festival, Remy Ma brought out Cardi B, along with The Lady of Rage, MC Lyte, Young M.A., Monie Love, Lil’ Kim and Queen Latifah, to celebrate female rappers and perform Latifah’s 1993 hit single “U.N.I.T.Y.” about female empowerment.
On June 16, 2017, Atlantic Records released Cardi B’s commercial debut single, titled “Bodak Yellow” via digital distribution. In June 2017, it was revealed that Cardi B would be on the cover of The Fader’s Summer Music issue for July/August 2017. On July 18, 2017, she performed “Bodak Yellow” on The Wendy Williams Show, where she was also interviewed by Williams. When the host asked where her moniker derived from, Cardi B responded with the distilled beverage Bacardi, as people would call her that. Her sister is also nicknamed Hennessy Carolina, referencing the French cognac: “My sister’s name, her name is Hennessy, so everybody used to be like Bacardi to me […] then I shortened it to Cardi B, and the ‘B’ stands for whatever […] depending on the day.”
In August 2017, “Bodak Yellow” entered the top two of the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song also reached number one on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. She performed at MoMA PS1 on August 19 to a crowd of 4,000. On the Hot 100 chart dated September 25, 2017, Cardi B claimed the top spot with “Bodak Yellow”, becoming the first solo female rapper to do so since Lauryn Hill in 1998. “Bodak Yellow” was certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). With her collaborations “No Limit” and “MotorSport”, she became first female rapper to land her first three entries in the top 10 of the Hot 100, and the first female artist to achieve the same on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
In October 2017, Cardi B headlined Power 105.1’s annual Powerhouse music celebration, alongside The Weeknd, Migos and Lil Uzi Vert, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. In December, she released her Spanglish collaboration with Ozuna titled “La Modelo”, and the second single from her debut album, “Bartier Cardi”.