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Cakes Da Killa Makes Music to Empower & Embolden

November 29, 2016
  • Photographs by Myla Dalbesio
    Styling by Shea Daspin
    Beauty by Emily Amick
    Text by Taylore Scarabelli

    In 2013, a slew of buzzworthy performances from little-known, New York-based rappers like Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz and Le1f gave rise to a series of profiles and essays announcing the rise of NYC’s “queer rap scene” and the end of homophobia in hip-hop. The following year, Pitchfork published an essay placing artists like Blanco, Katz and then up-and-coming Cakes da Killa at the forefront of the New York-based movement. But so-called gay hip-hop is nothing new (bounce music star Big Freedia has been around since the 90s), nor is it, according to Jersey-born rapper Cake da Killa, a genre on its own.

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    Jacket by Off  White, t-shirt by KYE, undershirt by Nicopanda

    “I don’t think there was a movement,” Cakes says of the blog-induced “queer hip-hop” phenomenon. “When you think of things like a movement it makes it seem like they were starting at the same time, but there have always been openly gay musicians.”

    Cakes rejects the queer rapper label, citing different scenes and sounds in deference to the supposed gay rap trend of the early 2010s. “It’s just at that time you had key figures who were based in one area who were doing a lot,” he says of the era’s underground hip-hop scene. “All pop culture is a lifestyle. It’s not really a trend, it’s just changing the way we think about gay musicians.”

    Hip-Hop isn’t as homophobic as it once was, and, according to Cakes, isn’t necessarily a homophobic genre. Still, the press continues to cover gay rappers in a way that disrupts their identities as musicians by focusing interviews on taboo, personal, and often irrelevant topics. Just this past August on The Breakfast Club, Young M.A. was faced with a series of unsettling questions about her sexuality and gender identity in an interview that sounded like more of an introduction to lesbianism than a segment on the country’s most popular rap radio show.

    On an equally bizarre episode of Ebro in the Morning, Cakes skillfully deflected questions about his sexuality, only getting defensive when the radio hosts went as far as to ask him about his assumed to be genitally-oriented desires (“is it all about the dick?”). To many, these conversations are offensive, even triggering. But to Cakes, who studied journalism in college, they’re necessary for change.

    “I think we need to have these awkward conversations because if we have them we won’t be having the same conversations in the future,” he says. “It wasn’t any different from a conversation I have when I go visit my family for the holidays and my uncle comes up from Jersey City and he’s not really used to dealing with a gay person. You get put in awkward situations, you check it, you stand up for yourself and you move on.”

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    Jacket, pants & top by Nicopanda, t-shirt by KYE.

    In his music Cakes reiterates the importance of self-empowerment, expressing his identity through raunchy beats and rapid-fire lyrics heavily laden with uncensored, self-promoting mantras and sexually explicit overtones. “I’m definitely pro-always walking in your shoes and and living your life not restricted by whatever society’s definition of masculinity or femininity or even what it is to be African American,” he says of the message in his music. “Just me being the figure I am and representing the community I represent is empowering because I maneuver through a lot of lanes and channels that aren’t open and accepting of people like me…just the physical act that I do is political at times.”

    Currently touring Europe with his inaugural album, Hedonism, the 26-year-old rapper-cum-writer is already working on a follow-up project. “Hedonism was coming from a really self-loving, fresh out of a relationship, let me get back to my basics, let me get back to myself [place].” He says of the album. “It’s very connected, a very empowering moment, from the club to the bedroom.”

    In a moment where the civil liberties of Americans are being threatened by the encroachment of a radically conservative political system, artists like Cakes serve as a reminder of the power the personal over the political. “I definitely use my music to empower myself. And I think my music definitely empowers a lot of other people who listen to it,” he says, reminding us that it’s more important than ever to express our true identities, whatever they might be.

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