Cakes Da Killa Pushes His Own Agenda

Cakes Da Killa Pushes His Own Agenda

By Joan SummersApr 30, 2024

Cakes Da Killa is, admittedly, a little bit hungover. The globe-trotting rap legend has just woken up after the first party he’s thrown in a while, and we’re talking about it over Zoom. “It was really, really cute. We sold out, and it was very celebratory. I haven’t done a party in New York in a long time. I was really happy for the family reunion.” As for the hangover? “You know, the life and times of a party girl!”

The deluxe edition of Black Sheep dropped last Friday, an album met with near universal acclaim from longtime fans of the NYC rap maestro and new listeners alike. It’s a fulfilling culmination of Cakes’ collaboration with producer Sam Katz, who also worked on 2022’s excellent Svengali. Black Sheep +, which features five new tracks and further builds out Cakes’ kingdom, over which he presides as a wholly singular master of both lyric and flow. “I wanted to drive home Black Sheep as a more lyrical rap album. To be like, 'Here's the last final little hoo-ra of this rap moment and then I’ll get back to making more club music.'”

Before BlackSheep and Svengali, Cakes consistently demonstrated a preternatural ability to pull in reference points and sounds from beyond the sometimes insular world of New York nightlife. I ask about one audio sample in particular, on the deluxe’s first track “Black Sheep,” which declares: “I’m not going to say nothing, ‘cause I have footage of you, though, saying ‘I’m not a gay spokesperson! I’m not pushing a gay agenda, bitch.’ Bitch! I need you to step into your power, bitch, you are pushing a gay agenda, bitch, you are the gay agenda, you are the gay moment.”

Cakes laughs. “So that’s actually an artist named Ja’Tovia Gary, she’s a mixed-media artist, and she is the director for the 'Goodie Goodies' video. I met her back then, like, very early in my career.” Gary also worked on a short film about Cakes back in 2015, No Homo, shortly after. “She basically had called me one day and left me that voicemail. Months later, I was like, ‘Oh, can I put that in a song?’ I think it applies to me, but also applies to a lot of different people. I think we sometimes need to hear it.”

The sentiment of the voicemail permeates Black Sheep + and the album it follows. I mention to Cakes that critics and commentators alike have pointed out that he seems his most “comfortable” or settled on this album. “I don't care anymore about being perceived. But that comes with age. And that also comes with just doing things. It's like, either you like it or you don’t, but I’m gonna work. I'm gonna do me,” he says. Perhaps that’s what people have picked up on, I say. “It is what people are picking up on, because I'm happy. That's what my energy was when I first started making music, so I had to get back to that.”

The deluxe album is positively bursting with that energy. Aside from “Black Sheep,” the closer “Standing Ovation” is the standout of the new tracks. It’s a fitting close if, as Cakes tells it, Black Sheep + marks the end of his sonic expedition with Katz over the last few projects. Like the album itself, the track’s frenetic, jazzy instrumental is the perfect kinetic pairing for Cakes’ signature style, as flow and percussion chase each other around the arrangement. On “Fly Trap,” Cakes pitches the voice down to a deeper register, a fitting choice for the stickier, more brooding beat. But I could talk about the music all day, well into the next, and maybe even for a few weeks after that. It’s much better to hear Cakes tell it.

Cakes talks partying in New York, the Berlin club experience, the shifting tides of queer nightlife and more. Catch our full conversation below. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)

I was reading an interview you did recently with the Creative Independent, and you talked about how, in the beginning, on those early mixtapes, you had a very clubby sound. And then you've evolved that sound over the last few projects.

Well, I'm not 21 anymore!

I sensed that, from the way you talk about it. How does your life look different now, since you say the newer work reflects the stage of life you find yourself in now, as opposed to when you were 21 and beating down the doors of clubs.

I don't think the external aspects of my life are different, because New York is a city for the young. It will always give back. But I think my internal self has changed a lot just through experiences and existing and also learning and failing. That's more of what it is; the external is New York will always be New York. Which is why I love it. I love that contrast.

They all want us to keep partying like we're teenagers still.

Which I love. But now I'm like, hunched over doing a press day.

Has it been fun getting back to a stage in your career where you’re performing and touring and doing shows and throwing parties for your new albums? Fun sounds like I’m downplaying it.

I mean, I'm not curing cancer. So it is very that. It's fun. I think this is what I'm here to do, the curation and the community. No, not community, I hate that word.

You know, speaking of community, I was reading this old story that you did for Vice back in the day during the Stunt Queen tour, with Mykki Blanco.

I’m gagged at Vice, and I’m gagged at the Stunt Queen tour.

I actually saw you at The Independent in San Francisco on that tour, it was my birthday. You talked about how, at the time, there was a conversation going on about the convergence of queer nightlife and straight nightlife and how everyone in New York was navigating the shifts in the community. Have you felt at all like that conversation has settled from the perspective of an artist, because I feel for myself, those lines feel so blurred still.

I don't know. I feel like a lot of people are trying to emulate a very Berlin-centric nightlife moment, which to me is very genderless. I like that energy. I just don't like the wrapping that it's wrapped in. As a nightlife goer, a consumer and a curator, I'm gonna go everywhere. I'm the girl who’ll like, be up in Harlem. I'll also be in Bushwick. I want the full scope. I think a lot of the time people only stick to one spot, and that's what could get kind of boring. But the real gag for me is when people tried to make nightlife a “safe space.” To me that's what kind of fucked it up.

I want to pick at this a bit, because I’m curious. Can you describe more the wrapping of Berlin you mentioned, because everyone has opinions about this.

I think whatever the perceived freedom that people associate with Berlin, like the essence of it, I love that, but I don't think it’s sustainable. It's not practical. It's not reality. To me, the tension of nightlife is what makes it fab, and what makes it the world. But that Berlin packaging of nightlife is what makes it corny, is what I’m trying to say.

I mean, is there a time that you’re maybe nostalgic for?

When I talk to a lot of my older friends, people who have partied at Limelight, people who have partied at Paradise Garage, and all those clubs, they are not nostalgic. For me, as someone who was looking at club footage and club culture from then, I don't want to be nostalgic for my 20s. I just want to exist. And I think that age mentality is very American, because I've been going to Europe for years. I could be at a fucking sex party in Berlin or in Italy somewhere, and it’s ageless. You will see all the people! So for me, I’m just living, I’m just existing.

I mean, from back in your early mixtape days to now, the scene and the community, one of the words you stay away from —

It’s just overdone. It’s like a marketing ploy!

It used to probably mean something, but less so now. Back to it, though, the culture you came up from in New York was a very New York scene, and that scene has since broken through the mainstream. Ballroom, queer nightlife, etc.

Everybody’s a faggot!

From your perspective, what has it been like to see those influences disseminate into culture?

I’m always more of a big picture person, because I don’t own that, and none of us really own it. I could think of a time of me growing up where to see a drag queen on television would be a gag. So it’s like, I live that everybody wants to be a faggot. Because it’s better for so many other kids growing up. But I think the downside of that is it’s very performative. People use it to be very corny. But that’s humanity, it’s going to be flawed. The bigger picture is great, but the cheap shit is going to be cheap shit.

As a retired faggot myself —

I love that! Me too, I’m a retired faggot.

I was going to say, one thing I’ve always connected to your music with, as do so many people, is the faggotry. It’s like yes, everybody wants to be a faggot, but it seems we’ve lost the recipes on it, people are mimicking something that was mimicking something.

It’s interesting, because being a faggot is actually very counterculture. It’s an essence, and that’s the issue with social media dissolving the underground. There was a difference between being underground and mainstream. Now there is not because globalization has happened. We’re all on the same playing field, which benefits some but it deters a lot of other things.

I wouldn’t even make a claim to original flavor faggotry, but it is funny that we’re at a place where people in ASOS button-ups and white jeans post “dolls' night.”

That’s the thing, though, where I’m just like: Look at the silver lining. I remember when even going to a drag bar was looked down upon. Like, “You’re going to see drag?” I remember going to a ball, or even going to a gay party, and if people were vogueing, people would look at them and turn up their noses. I’m not talking about straight people, I’m talking about other gay people! The bigger picture is like, I love that that level of expression is being accepted in the community more, but it does water it down and make it corny.

It comes back to the nostalgia you mentioned earlier. It’s easy to look back and feel we were all so free, but it was as dangerous as it was fun. It was scary and sometimes not fun to be that person.

That’s what I always say. To be a faggot, it was the tension of it, it was the nerve of it. If I get on the L Train now and everyone’s wearing a skirt, that’s not nerve. I’ve seen girls go to the club, and they would have to fucking get into the effect, and into their gender-affirming clothes, on the train. That’s my reality.

Right? I remember going to the club with my outfit under my oversized t-shirt on the train.

I’m happy that it’s not that anymore, but that’s what made it.

I’m going to ask a variation of the dreaded question. So much has changed in the media, and it’s interesting from my perspective to have watched the media landscape that was like, “Cakes Da Killa is a new generation of gay rap, queer rap,” turn over completely in the last decade, and that conversation to just become the norm. Has it felt like a relief that the prescriptiveness of that time has loosened on your art?

No, because I feel like it’s a very case-by-case scenario. Some people have the privilege to do faggotry. Everybody can be a faggot but a faggot. When I started making music, it wasn’t about the money. I was just doing it. So that’s always the essence of what I do. I can’t get caught up in it, even though I do see a lot of that. It’s just about making music. Because I was making music for drink tickets! I’m happy other people are able to benefit from the zeitgeist and the shifts that I do feel like I contributed too.

God, those drink tickets! That’s a good way of putting it, because there was a time when you did nightlife to get free drink tickets.

They fucking gave me drink tickets yesterday! I was just like, oh my god, nostalgia. But that was your ticket. Once you got a drink ticket at Westgate, you were just like, the doll. You were just like, "Oh, I made it!"

I’ve been doing these shows at C’Mon Everybody, and every time I buy a Red Bull with my drink ticket, I’m like, New York is so back! Nightlife is so back!

Oh my god, those tickets, everyone is so poor!

Last question, are there any parties or clubs or places that you are either looking forward to performing in this year, or want to perform at this year?

Whoever pays me the most, that’s always my fave, which I would have to look at my notes. But speaking of clubs, I'm super, super sad. I don't know if this is drama. But Nowadays! I don't know if they're closing down. I don't know when this article is coming out. But shout out to Nowadays! One of my favorite places in New York. Love the energy, it’s very curated.

Love it or hate it, everyone has their memory at Nowies. It’s 5 am and the sun is up and you’re outside and wondering how you got there… staple New York experience! No matter how much my friends complain about finance bro partying there.

See, that’s the tension of New York. It’s like, do a bump, get your taxes done, see a techno DJ.

Photography: Ebru Yildiz