Cardi B took the witness stand in a California federal courtroom on Wednesday, questioning how a man who accuses her of misusing his distinct tattoo on her mixtape cover has been harmed and angrily disputing any notion that the tattoo contributed to her fame.
“There is not one evidence where people believe it’s actually him,” Cardi testified in the civil lawsuit. “He hasn’t gotten fired from his job. He hasn’t gotten a divorce. How has he suffered? … Please tell me how he’s suffered.”
She also said the tattoo as it appears on the cover of Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1 “was modified, which is protected by the First Amendment, by the way.”
While Kevin Michael “Mike” Brophy is suing her $5 million for likeness misappropriation, only a small portion of his full backside tattoo is included on the cover, and the man who appears to be performing oral sex on Cardi “is a Black man that’s fit,” she testified.
“It’s not Mr. Brophy’s back. It doesn’t look like Mr. Brophy at all,” Cardi said.
“There has been not one receipt he has provided in the court claiming, ‘Hey that’s you on Cardi’s mixtape,'” she added. “I wanted an image to be like, ‘I’m in control,'” Cardi said. “Usually men are in control. I’m in control. The roles are reversed. … I’m not literally receiving oral in real life. It’s art work.”
The superstar rapper’s testimony erupted into a chaotic back and forth with Brophy’s lawyer Barry Cappello, prompting U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney to send the jury out of the courtroom as he considered how to address the mayhem, including a possible mistrial. Trial resumed about 15 minutes later with Carney restricting Cappello to 30 more minutes and directing Cardi to answer yes or no and explain further if necessary. He also did not allow Cappello to ask more questions after Cardi was questioned by her lawyer.
Just before the judge called the break, Cappello had scolded Cardi, telling her: “Do you want to be here all afternoon? Let’s try to get through this. The jury is here for all of us, including you. So let’s respect everyone in the courtroom if we can.”
The blow up followed testimony about Cardi’s career, with Cappello asking about the fame she achieved through the mixtape, and how Brophy’s tattoo contributed to her image, which is key to their damages request. He played clips from her April 2019 deposition in which Cardi said, “I feel like I’m a gangster.”
“I’m a good girl, but you know, I have a lot of heart,” Cardi said in the deposition. “I consider myself a gangster. I’m from the hood.”
“I have the heart of a lion, so that’s what I am,” Cardi continued. “I’m not a pretty girl, or I am a pretty girl but I’m not like this pink girly girl. I’m like the Buttercup,” referencing the animated TV show The Powerpuff Girls.
On the stand, she explained why she calls herself Cardi B. Her younger sister’s name is Hennessy, and people often called Cardi “Bacardi,” she said.
“So I just wanted to shorten it and put Cardi B because my first named started with a B [Belcalis] so I just said Cardi B,” she said. “I just wanted to be a little bit different form the pop girls, the girls that’s going on right now.”
Cardi also said Atlantic Records controls her mixtape, not her, so Cappello asked if she’s told the record label to remove the portion of Brophy’s tattoo that appears on the album.
“My lawyers have been taking care of this! You guys have been going back and forth with my lawyers for so long!” Cardi testified. “You guys don’t budge! You guys just ask for 5 million dollars over and over again!”
She said she learned of the lawsuit from TMZ.
“I just told my manager, like, ‘What the fuck? What’s going on?’ And he told me he was going to handle it for me. He got a lawyer for me,” she said.
Cappello pointed out that one of her social media followings jumped from 2 million to 69 million after the mixtape was released in 2016.
“Actually no, it’s not right,” Cardi testified. “Bodak Yellow was the one that made me huge.”
“Everything in life is a stepping stone. … Every year of your life is a stepping stone,” she continued. “But my mixtape wasn’t as successful as my record Bodak Yellow, which turned me into a superstar. Bodak Yellow turned me into a superstar and that song came out in 2017.”
Cappello played clips from her April 2019 deposition, including one in which she said “I don’t really give a fuck about this mixtape anymore.”
Cardi said on the stand: “There was a lot of problems that came with the mixtape.” She referenced how a song can remind someone of an ex-boyfriend.
“Certain mixtape experience reminded me of hard times,” Cardi said. She said she “didn’t really make profit much from it” and “didn’t really care about my mixtape like that; I just didn’t.”
She said she’s “worked my ass off with two kids these past years” while Brophy alleges in his lawsuit her success is because of his tattoo.
“It’s really insulting to me as a woman that a man is claiming responsibility,” Cardi said, adding: “When it’s my voice that has made me famous since 2014.”
“And that’s what got me here,” she continued. “Not Mr. Brophy’s portion of a tattoo.”
“Are you done?” Cappello asked.
“Yes,” Cardi answered.
Cardi said she said she never saw a cease and desist letter Cappello’s Santa Barbara-based law firm, Cappello & Noël LLP, mailed her, acknowledging that she said in her 2019 deposition “mail’s for old people.”
The day began with continued testimony from Brophy, who described seeing a girl wearing a shirt with a photo of the mixtape cover on it at the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach.
“It took me everything I had to not just go back and yank that shirt,” Brophy testified. “Obviously, I had to control myself.” He also recalled a “friend of a friend” who had the shirt and “thought it was pretty funny that he was wearing it around me.”
The image, Brophy testified, caused him to feel “a crazy amount of shame.”
“I felt like it was a digital molestation,” he said Wednesday.
“Did you ever think this portrayal is less offensive because Cardi B is a woman and you’re a man?” Conlan asks.
“Not at all. I felt a crazy amount of shame … I felt like it was a digital molestation,” Brophy answers. pic.twitter.com/xcCQDdFWmc
— Meghann Cuniff (@meghanncuniff) October 19, 2022
He was followed on the witness stand by his wife, Lindsay Brophy, who said of the mixtape cover, “It’s like a pornographic act is happening, and to me it looks like my husband is doing that to another woman.”
“For a split second I thought ‘Did he cheat on me? Did he do something?” Lindsay Brophy testified, explaining how she soon understand what had happened. “This goes completely against our values and we work really hard to raise our kids a certain way and protect them.”
Cardi testified hours later: “His wife believed him that that wasn’t him!”
Cardi also reminded jurors of text messages they’d seen earlier between Brophy and his tattooist, Tim Hendricks, in which Hendricks said someone ripped off Brophy’s tattoo “unless you grew hair,” a reference to the hair on the man featured on the mixtape cover. The rapper pointed out that the messages show Hendricks knew it wasn’t Brophy at first glance.
Cardi’s questioning from her lawyer Lisa Moore took a much softer tone, with Moore asking her about her background and if she grew up in a religious household.
Cardi she did and “it was always kind of confusing to me” with her father Catholic and her mother of another Christian belief.
“Now that I’m a grown up I’m not like a traditional religious person as in I don’t go to church, but I have a very strong belief in God and I always put that message out there,” Cardi testified.
She said she believes God has helped her succeed.
“I have put the work in, but I feel like God has done the miracles. I always like to push that to people,” Cardi testified. She looked at the jury.
“Sorry if anyone is atheist here, but He is real,” Cardi said.
Acknowledging her rebellious teenage years, Cardi said her mother kicked her out so she moved in with her boyfriend and worked at a grocery store. But things started getting “really rocky” with her boyfriend and “he started beating my ass constantly.”
“I just felt like I was in a serious abusive relationship,” Cardi testified, but she didn’t feel like she could go home. “I have to show my mom that I’m strong and it’s OK, I got this shit.”
She said she was fired and told to work at the strip club across the street.
“I used to make like $250 a week, the first couple of hours that I worked there I made $300,” Cardi testified. “So I started dancing and I eventually got my first apartment. … That was a big deal to me”
The judge established Wednesday that jurors won’t be hearing about the defamation case Cardi brought against YouTuber Tasha K, in which she was awarded $4 million. Cappello wanted to ask Cardi about to draw comparisons between her experience in that case and Brophy’s experience in this cases, but her lawyers objected, and Carney sided with them.
The trial continues Thursday at 8:30 a.m. local time in Carney’s courtroom in Santa Ana, California. Follow reporter Meghann Cuniff on Twitter for live updates from the courtroom.
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