Twenty six-year-old rapper Cakes da Killa could easily be the protagonist of an ultra-modern, black, gay, hip-hop version of Sex and the City -- and with a given name like Rashard Bradshaw, it's only natural that he be the wavier version of Carrie.
An artist who's been making crowds "gag," since 2011, he continues to do so with the release of his debut album, Hedonism, which is Cakes' most holistic project to date. The album presents itself as an amalgamation of all of his prior projects -- reflected in everything from the remnants of #IMF on the romantic "Tru Luv" to the amped-up the club vibes of "Keep It Goin'" to the dance-centric groove of the Peaches-featuring "Up out My Face". Needless to say, Hedonism is hip-house but still hardcore rap. And Cakes doesn't sacrifice lyricism for style, or technique for digestibility.
Cakes' talent is irrefutable, so recognition from industry heavyweights is just icing on the metaphorical cake, with cosigns from super producer Diplo and Hot 97's esteemed hip-hop hardhead, Ebro and Peter Rosenberg, whose praise-laden audio clip features into Hedonism's "Revelations" track.
One of the strongest technical rappers to emerge within the last five years, you can hear echos of all the rap greats in Cakes's nimble spit - the animation of Busta Rhymes, the humor and flamboyance of Cam'ron, the theatrical delivery of Nicki Minaj, and the hard hitting bars of any classic New York emcee. That said, Cakes isn't simply a "gay rapper." He could very well be your favorite rapper's competition, with five complete projects under his belt just waiting to turn a disbeliever into a disciple.
We spoke to Cakes during the making of Hedonism and again after its release about his craftsmanship as a wordsmith, recognition and self-validation in hip-hop, and what liberation and success really means to him.
I've noticed that you don't really like to call yourself a rapper. Or maybe I was just watching older interviews.
I'm a rapper now. I feel like the term 'rapper' has such a negative connotation to it, but I'm now growing to just accept that I am a rapper. It's just some people shouldn't consider themselves rappers.
It seems like it just comes very easy to you - to be a rapper. What is the process like?... Do you write?
I do write a lot. I edit myself a lot, which a lot of rappers don't do... If I'm going to record a track, it's already in my head... I know how my cadence is gonna go, I know where my inflections are gonna be… I write at night. Best time is like 2, 3 in the morning. Wine. Some type of alcohol to get me lit.
So you do write things down. But you can also freestyle, too?
Freestyling has too much pressure on it… But that's why I always consider myself a performer or a writer. That shit will get you in a lot of trouble, especially now because so many rappers are so bad. If you want to call yourself a rapper, you need to like destroy these rappers right now.
But all the really good rappers like Drake - now we're starting to question whether or not they are really good rappers because, you know, the writing credibility… What do you feel about that Drake situation and the 'not writing the lyrics?'
I think people should write their own stuff because it takes jobs away from people who can. But I also feel like it gets to a certain level when you are at that level of stardom where you need help. 'Cause you can't keep the machine going. And nobody's gonna wanna let that shit go.
Would you get a ghostwriter?
That's the thing that I always am against. I don't even like people telling me how to arrange my songs a certain way… I never wanted to be a mainstream artist... But a lot of people are saying, 'This year is gonna be your year. You have to break.' But if that means becoming somebody I'm not or saying words that I didn't write or can't relate to, I won't do it. I'll take a hook, but I'm not taking no bars… I would even co-write with somebody else. I have no problem with that. But when it comes to someone just giving me a song… that can't sit well with me.
Would you ever be a ghostwriter?
I was actually debating just to stop making music because I was so sick of talking about the gay shit and so sick of talking about everything... 'Are you gonna be on the underground? Are you gonna be on the mainstream?' Those conversations I never wanted to have. I just wanted to make music because it was fun. So yeah, I was thinking about being a ghostwriter, but I realized it's important for me to tell my story.
I was so upset with the Ebro [Hot 97] interview.
[Laughs] Everyone always says that… That's how conversations are. I've been gay. I came out in the third grade. I've had tons of straight people friends. It's not like I'm just in this gay bubble. These are the types of questions that straight men ask you… They don't know.
I don't feel like I'm obligated to explain to someone why something is problematic - why something is racist, why something is sexist. I don't feel like I have an obligation to be somebody's 'this-is-problematic-tour-guide.' Do you ever feel like people treat you like a 'gay tour guide?'
Speaking about the Hot 97 [interview] solely…It was kind of like... I was being the sacrificial lamb in a sense… I would never think about myself as being the best openly gay rapper of the face of the LGBT rap movement. Never. I'm just one person.
Not a lot of people are aware of openly gay artists. They're just not on their scope… I don't take that personally.
The international reception is a lot more open. People abroad…are also free in a sense where they just wanna enjoy something. If they pay five euros at the door, they just wanna have fun. They don't really care what's going on… I think I'm definitely bigger overseas than I am here. I've been traveling internationally for like the past four years.
Your last project, In My Feelings...It was softer than your other projects... You still have bars on IMF but it's - I don't want to say somber… Reflective, introspective… Each project is different… Easy Bake Oven was straight bars… Hunger Pangs was a little bit harder… With [Hedonism] your next project?
Sonically... bars. But I feel like I'm more hook-conscious… Trying to find the balance of not losing what the fans who've been here initially love about me, and also tryna figure out what the mainstream people expect of me. At this point in my career… an album… It needs to still be true to me as an artist but it also needs to be a little bit more… clean-cut.
How do you feel about the term...I know a lot of underground artists who hate the term 'underground.'
I don't have a problem with being underground… You might catch me at a mainstream event, like a D'Angelo album listening party, but that's not my thing. I'm more underground. I'm very rough around the edges. I'm not polished. There's nothing about me that's gonna give you pageant queen or seasoned-robot-artist. I'm just a real person. I don't shy away from the term 'underground.' To me, it just seems real.
When you become mainstream...?
I'm still gonna be me.... The check's just gonna be mainstream… A lot of these mainstream artists, they wanna be underground artists. If you look at people like Rihanna… FKA Twigs. These girls don't look the way divas and pop stars used to look… Their look is very underground… They're taking it there. That's why I feel like it's a lot more easy for underground artists to get those checks.
I'm not gonna forfeit my narrative, my truth or my personality.
Have you read Jay Z's Decoded?... He talks about Lil Kim in one portion of the book, and he was just like, "I love Lil Kim, I love her to death, but I was always afraid to listen to her music because I couldn't rap along."... If a straight man thinks you have bars, he knows you have bars, but he's just afraid… How do you feel about fans dismissing what they want to consume because of fear?... Fear of perception of what they're listening to?
I would see that as a problem for me and that's something that a lot of my people who I deal with bring to me, like, "Could you not talk about sucking dick maybe in this record?"... My presence is about visibility. When I grew up, RuPaul had a talk show. That to me was a lot. It wasn't about him being a drag queen, it was about interviewing people and getting to meet people. But RuPaul was in drag on television...
I feel like for me, I don't have to police what I'm talking about because I'm telling stories that a certain community can relate to, and there are gay consumers who listen to hip-hop, and there's no reason why their stories and their experience shouldn't be in the music. We don't police people who talk about murdering, drug dealing, disrespecting women… So you can't then say, 'Maybe you shouldn't talk about this if you wanna be on.' No. We need to check what's cool… If I did a track like 'Same Love' nobody would care. But a straight person does it and it's like, you know, ally awards… It's just about visibility for me… When I was little, there was no rapper that was talking about what I'm talking about. In my day, there are multiple rappers who are touring, talking about the stuff that I'm talking about, and that's important to me. That's all I care about.
Do you feel like there's more of stigma for gay male rappers?... Do you think it's easier for a woman to come into the game?
Yeah… I feel like homosexuality is still very taboo in a lot of people of color's communities for different reasons… It's so hard to even think about because there's so many layers to that conversation… I feel like my purpose is just to stay true to myself, be who I'm supposed to be, be talented and just keep going.
Honestly, I don't give a fuck who's gay or who's straight… People only give a fuck that I'm gay because people think I'm pushing it in their faces. I'm not pushing a gay agenda or my lifestyle in people's faces. I'm only talking about what's true to me... I'm just staying true to the art of hip-hop.
What does hip-hop mean to you?
Hip-hop is just like breathing… The vernacular of the streets and my community and people that look like me… It's always been there. It's just always gonna be in me.
My mother had me very young, so she listened to hip-hop. I didn't have a choice. But my mother also listened to different types of music, so music was always around me. But I did have my awakening... when I listened to Hard Core by Lil' Kim… It was just like wow - cover to cover - this is definitely like watching a movie… That was my moment. Hip-hop has just always been there.
I never went into this lane knowingly, I stumbled into it. So I don't know where it's gonna take me… Ten years from now, if Logo does a 'Remembering Gay Hip-Hop' I'm gonna be on the panel, I'm gonna be performing. So I feel like I'm kind of solidified in that sense of you know, 'You did something.' I pat myself on the back for that.
...I'm thinking more about the responsibilities of music and not just putting too much garbage out there... I don't think I do music to look for validation from the hip-hop community.
Who would you want to collaborate with?
I wanna do a song with Tink… She's so good. And Nicki… I would try to body Nicki… Of course I have my straight guys I would love to do tracks with but I'm not also gonna water down my shit… That shit is gonna make me wanna talk about dick in every way. Don't tell me what to say.
People just don't wanna be associated with me. If you google me, the first thing you're gonna see is the 'Goodies' video… Even though that song has bars in it of itself, but they're just looking at it like, 'Bitch, this motherfucker got on lipgloss. He's carrying…' But that's just a testament to where I was in my career and I would never delete that.
How do you know when you're done with a project?
If I become a perfectionist, it would kill me. I have friends that have been sitting on projects for years, and I get that, but I feel like I have to strike while the iron is hot. No shade. Because people will be over me… I have media outlets tell me that I was over. I can't be over… I still have to pay my rent. I have to keep working. I don't have that privilege.
Let's talk about craftsmanship in rap… Most rappers...the only literary terminology that people seem to know is "a metaphor."
Not a simile or a hyperbole, honey...[Laughs]. They don't know… They did not do their summer reading… As an artist, you do have the free will to do what you want to do and the free range to be true to yourself, but you also have a responsibility for the culture… A lot of these kids are not reading books and it's in the music. You have to like give them something to chew on.
I'm also a theater kid… I'm going to prove a point lyrically but... when I record, I record like I'm performing… I'm different from the typical rapper because I'm going in like a monologue. That's why you hear the inflections, you hear the breaths and you hear all that 'cause it's bigger than just the record. It's about the moment.
Where do you think you're going to be at 30?
I hope I'm happy. I hope I have somebody that's holding me down. And I hope I'm doing things to better the community… Just being creative. Holding a position - executive producer or some shit. Rap school for girls. I don't know [laughs]. Something cute.
I thought I was gonna be a writer. I thought I was gonna have my own apartment. My last name was Bradshaw, for real. I thought I was gonna be Carrie Bradshaw! I thought I was gonna have a man. None of that shit happened [laughs]. But I don't have a void in my life. I just have things I'm working toward… I don't take myself seriously and everything I get is a blessing.
How do you want to be remembered?
A real ass bitch… I wanna be remembered as Cardi B.
PHOTOGRAPHER: BRIAN DEPINTO
FASHION EDITOR: PAUL-SIMON DJITE
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