SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) — Rapper and songwriter Cardi B had a sharp rebuke for the man suing her when she took the stand on Wednesday: "It’s insulting to me, as a woman, that a man is claiming responsibility for my fame, from a portion of his tattoo."
Testimony would later grow so heated the judge was tempted to declare a mistrial, though in the end he did not.
Kevin Michael Brophy is suing Cardi B, real name is Belcalis Almanzar, in federal court over the cover of her 2016 album, "Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1." The album art depicts a man with a full back tattoo appearing to perform oral sex on the rapper in the back of a limousine. Brophy's elaborate back tattoo was photoshopped onto a male model's back without Brophy's knowledge, an affront that he says amounted to stealing and devaluing his image and identity.
"This image," Brophy testified Wednesday morning, "it completely ruptured my world." He likened the image to a "digital molestation."
Brophy and his lawyers say what Brophy has always wanted, more than anything else, was for the image to be replaced.
"I’m battling to get this image removed," Brophy said.
But both the cease-and-desist letter that Brophy's lawyers sent Cardi B and the lawsuit asked for something else: an amount in excess of $5 million.
"You guys have been asking for $5 million again and again and again," a visibly angry Cardi B testified during questioning by Brophy's attorney Barry Cappello. "The money I have worked my ass off, with two kids, these past years." She noted that the mixtape itself made her very little money — around $226,000 in royalties.
In his testimony, Brophy remained calm and serious, never cracking so much as a sly grin. Even when asked to remove his shirt to show his back tattoo to the jury, he did so with the humorless disposition of a coroner. Cardi B, by contrast, was electric. Though agitated, she frequently had the courtroom breaking out in laughter, including the judge and much of the jury.
Throughout the testimony, Cappello played clips of a video deposition of Cardi B recorded in 2019. In the video, she wore a bright pink tracksuit, with comically long yellow fingernails ending at a sharp point, almost like Nosferatu. In one clip, a lawyer asked Cardi B if she had received the cease-and-desist letter. She said she hadn't.
"I don’t really check my mail," she said.
Then Cappello asked Cardi B if she had said "mail is for old people." After dissembling for a few seconds, Cardi B acknowledged, "Yeah, I said it." The eight jurors, who all appear to be middle-aged or older, laughed.
"Sorry, I didn’t want to offend anybody," Cardi B said in her thick New York accent.
In another video clip from her deposition, Cardi B spoke of Brophy dismissively, saying, "This man works in a damn fucking surf shop." Brophy works in marketing for the clothing brand RVCA.
In court, Cappello stopped the video and asked Cardi B, "Has your fame gotten so far that you forget where you came from?"
She answered, "The point that I was making was, how has his life affected?"
Cappello followed up: "He can’t suffer like you suffer?"
Cardi B answered: "Yeah but he hasn’t suffered. He hasn’t gotten fired, he hasn’t gotten divorced. How has he suffered? Please, tell me how he has suffered?" As Cardi B continued, nearly shouting, Cappello turned his back on her, glanced at the audience, and looked at his watch — a pantomime suggesting the defendant was stalling.
"I feel like I’m taken advantage of," Cardi B. said. "I missed my kid’s first step by being here. And so much."
Tensions between the rapper and attorney only grew as the star continued to lapse into tangents.
"Let’s try to get through this," Cappello said. "The jury is here for all of us, including you. So let’s respect everyone in the courtroom if we can.” He then suggested that Cardi B was giving "canned testimony."
Cardi B's lawyers objected. For the first time in the trial, the affable, even-tempered U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney appeared to become angry.
"That totally crossed the line, sir," Carney told Cappello. "I don’t know what to do." He said he was considering his options, including a rather extreme one. "And I’m thinking of a mistrial. Which I’ll do on my own." With that, he walked into his chambers.
Carney returned a few minutes later and announced that he was putting a time limit on Cardi B's testimony.
"I feel both sides have told the jury both theories of the case," he told the jury. "It’s not productive. We’re arguing with one another. It’s not professional, and our brand is being diluted."
The rest of the recording artist's testimony was less volatile. With Cappello, she discussed the meaning of some of her songs. When asked about the track, "Lit Thots," she said, "There’s a lot of hoes in this building," clarifying, "Not this building."
She also went through some of the photographs from the limo photoshoot. When asked why she didn't like the original model's tattoos, one of which depicted the tiger from "Calvin and Hobbes" with his finger in his mouth, she said her objection had more to do with something else.
"His back got a lot of acne, I’m sorry," she said. "His tattoo is funny, it’s cute. It’s unique. I just don’t like that pimples. I wanted more my face to be like, yeah, that’s me. I never cared about the tattoo."
Closing arguments are expected Friday.Follow @hillelaron
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