“In your life, is it directly penis that excites you the most?” asked Hot97’s “Ebro in the Morning” co-host Peter Rosenberg to Cakes Da Killa during the rapper’s 2014 radio feature—one of countless ignorant questions Cakes was forced to navigate two years back. Then, mainstream hip-hop was just beginning to grapple with the reality of LGBTQ emcees having talent, the label, “gay rapper,” still lazily dominating headlines. But by the end of his segment, Cakes managed to pierce through their naiveté and prove he’s a real killer when it comes to free-styling under pressure, winning over Ebro Darden with lines like, “I’m a mink fur coat and you not even a rabbit.”
Throughout New York’s underground scene, Jersey-born Cakes has been a respected force for years, but now he’s focusing his aim to flip even more fans—especially critics a la Hot97—with the long-awaited release of his debut studio album, Hedonism, due out Oct. 21. Defined as “the pursuit of pleasure,” or, “sensual self-indulgence,” Hedonism is the product of Cakes learning to love himself after a life of being socially defined an “Other,” and most recently breaking free from his first ever monogamous relationship. Cakes’ existing discography may be packed with cocky anthems, like “Goodies” and “Serve It Up,” but his newfound self-awareness and self-love seems stronger and more genuine than ever.
You can see it in the way he carries himself—a carry, in most cases. Arriving to meet me at a Tribeca café, Cakes confidently power-struts down the sidewalk—headphones-on—happily unaware of passersby catching passive glimpses of his spectacle. He’s a natural performer, his every move oozing with the same panache he delivers on-stage. Later that week, I run into Cakes at a queer Caribbean party in Brooklyn, called RAGGA, where he’s not on the bill, but still performs until its 4 AM close, just from within the sweaty crowd—not from stage. When DJ LSDXOXO plays one of Cakes’ tracks, he immediately lights up, twerking on any and every body in close proximity.
They may not love Cakes, they may love to hate Cakes, but they still see Cakes, which served as the catalyst for Hedonism’s lead single, “Talkin’ Greezy.” An appropriately aggressive album introduction, Cakes rips apart his naysayers through distorted vocals with lines like, “Why these baby fags on my dick like they pacifiers,” and, “How you hatin’ on the come-up; don’t be mad lil’ mama, getcha funds up.” The single, now available on iTunes, will appear alongside 10 total tracks on Hedonism, featuring production from LSDXOXO, BoyGenius, Noah Breakfast and Jeremiah Meece. BULLETT recently caught up with the NY rapper to learn more about his breakout project.
How long have you been working on this new album, Hedonism?
I’ve been writing this album for maybe two years and it’s all about me feeling like an underdog, but also realizing that, even though I may be this character in this scene, or in the landscape of the music world, I know I’m the shit at the end of the day because I pay my rent—I pay my bills. It’s all about that. I’ve got Peaches on it; I’ve got Rye Rye on it; I’ve got this new kid Josh Dst on it.
Did you work with Peaches together in-studio?
Peaches tours so much, that would’ve been impossible. Basically we’d send each other emails back-and-forth, and communicate about the song’s theme. We would run into each other and talk about it, like, ‘What are you feeling? What do you like?’ We do a lot of shows together, but it wasn’t us sitting in the studio. I think that can be kind of boring. For a lot of artists, linking up could be organic, but for me, I need my own space to work. Our song is called, ‘Fuck Out My Face.’
How did working with Rye Rye come about?
She’s one of the reasons I started making music—she’s everything to me. We did a song on my last album, so I got a new song with this producer I’ve been working with and sent it to her, and she liked it. Basically, [I do] very new generation collaborations, like, ‘Do you like this beat, yes or no? Record your verse and send it back.’ I trust my taste level, where if I send someone a track and they do it, I know it’s going to be amazing. There’s a lot of female energy going on this record.
Turtleneck & Shorts: Lucio Castro, Blazer: Topman, Rings: Bario Neal x Linder
Was having femme energy on your album a priority for you?
It was important for me because I feel like I [understand] the anger a lot of female DJs and producers have for not getting representation. So for me, every time I have a moment to reach out, I’m normally going to reach out to women first because I think they’re so dope and men come with a lot of drama.
Many of your posts lately have been about men versus business.
That’s the whole thing about the album. It’s like, I’m 25 and it’s a business now, where before, if you’d met me like two years, even a year and a half ago, it was like, ‘Oh this is fun—traveling the world and making money.’ But now I’m really thinking about making this a brand.
It’s crazy how much changes in your early twenties.
Especially that transition from 24 to 25—that’s when I wrote the album. It was like hell.
Jacket: Libertine, Denim Top: Carleen, Turtleneck: Lucio Castro
What was that transition like?
I was getting out of my first relationship. Obviously 25 is still young, when you think of people like Oprah and everyone who’s made it—you know they weren’t doing shit at that age. But [it’s different] for us, as this go-getter generation. For me, [the transition] was mainly becoming an adult and realizing I can’t take anything for granted—realizing everything isn’t about an Instagram or a Snap, like really living in it and making lifelong connections because that’s how I get a lot of my opportunities, based off the people I know and how I work a room. The album, Hedonism, is all about falling in love with myself again.
So at one point you’d fallen out of love with yourself?
This was at the cusp of this ending relationship and the whole relationship was about—well, I wouldn’t say it was completely about the person, but it was my first time trying to do the monogamy thing. It was just different for me. I’m a lot by myself, anyway, so eventually I had to get back to basics. Monogamy isn’t scary, that person was just a lot. Shout out to him, though—he definitely inspired a lot of music. He’d say it before I would.
With this new album, do you have a larger team around you? Everything seems more official than ever before.
This is really like my first album. Everything else was very guerrilla-style, mixtape-driven with independent videos. It’s still the same vibe, just a little different because I have a label now, PR and a staff of people I have to manage—who’re also managing me. Everything is more planned, now, whereas before I’d just release tracks emotionally.
Jacket: Robert Geller, Turtleneck & Shorts: Lucio Castro, Tee: Di$count Universe, Shoes: Dr. Martens
Do you still have total control of your creative vision?
I’m still the boss in a way, but I have more opinions surrounding me, now. Like, when you make a track and play it for your friends, three of them are like, ‘Oh, I like this part,’ and the other three are like, ‘I like this part more.’ That’s how it is, but at the end of the day, I make it very clear to everyone that this is my baby—I wrote this, I curated this and if I’m going to fail or if I’m going to succeed, it’s going to be based on my own terms. I’m kind of a psycho in that sense.
Since you’ve started making music, how have you seen media culture shift in response?
I feel like their scope of things went from like, ‘We want to talk about gay people that rap,’ to, ‘We want to talk about trans women.’ I think it’s fine that everybody has their little moment, but the thing that upsets me is trans people and LGBTQ artists that make music are not just ‘moments.’ If we make good products, we make good products. But that’s just the battle between the media dealing with the artists—there’s no empathy. For me, that was a lot on my shoulders with the last projects, but now I just don’t give a fuck. My main thing is making the music I want to make, building my own brand and building my own buzz. Because if you have that, the media is just your bitch, as opposed to the other way around.
Are you concerned with making music that’s trendy or sonically relevant?
No—if that was the case, my album would be a trap album or it would sound like industrial pots and pans banging. I think I have my own sound, and what I will say is that my sound has definitely matured. I’m not 20 years old, living in my dorm room making music anymore. This album specifically is a good introduction to my music for someone who’s never heard of me before. It touches on elements from each of my previous albums, but with a new twist. People who like me for my nastiness are going to be pleased, and the people who’ve said, ‘Cakes can be too much,’ are going to be surprised by how polished I’m becoming. I have this gritty, witty flare in my music, but it’s really still rooted in hip-hop. It’s cunt—very cunt and sassy.
Let’s talk about your music video for “Talkin’ Greezy.” How involved were you in that treatment?
I’m a psycho bitch, so a lot of things are very controlled, but I also understand that everything is a collaboration. With the director, Nico, she had this idea from listening to the song’s lyrics of having everyone [in the video] basically talking about me, which is a thing in real life. So in the video, there are all these iPhones, but then there’s my twist, which was like, ‘Okay we need to have bad bitches in it and a kiddie pool full of baby oil,’ and she was like, ‘Great, I can make that work.’
Why’d you shoot scenes in a barber shop?
Going to my barbershop was a big deal for me, because being a gay male and being comfortable in your own skin—we get most tested at barbershops because barbershops are so hyper-masculine. So, for me it was very important that I show me and my barber in our natural setting having fun. He’s been cutting my hair for two years and every time I go get my hair cut, I have a bottle on me—we’re drinking, we’re laughing. He’s straight and will listen to my music and give me critiques. It’s cool because it shows that every gay story doesn’t have to always be negative or like a Lifetime movie moment. Sometimes if you just be yourself, people have no choice but to accept you.
Have you always liked attention?
I don’t know if it’s that I like attention, I think I just have a personality where I can’t not get attention. I think it has to do with my stature, my voice—I guess people find me funny sometimes. I think people are uncomfortable with people who’re comfortable with themselves, and I am very comfortable with myself.
Turtleneck: Lucio Castro, Blazer: Topman
Was there a point in your life when this confidence clicked?
In the third grade, when I came out to my mom. I live the kind of life where it’s like, the only person who could really make or break anything in my life—the person I really care to please, is my mother. So once I did that, it was like, well she knows, so I don’t give a fuck.
Were there any parties in New York that helped foster your career?
Contessa Stuto’s party, Cherry Bomb, at The Flat helped nurture me not giving a fuck. I met a lot of interesting people there. Contessa’s like my gay mother—she instilled that ‘no fucks given’ mentality in me, as a non-sample size, loud artist on the scene that’s claiming your space. Some of the early parties I performed at were straight parties, so I learned how to deal with straight audiences while rapping about sucking dick. I learned how to put on autopilot because it’s kind of like acting—I’m reciting words, I have a time slot and back in the day, it was like, ‘You want those drink tickets, you gotta do good.’ Today, it’s more like, ‘You want that check, you gotta do good.’ The main thing is making sure everyone is comfortable because once you lose your audience, it’s done.
Has that ever happened to you?
The worst show I ever performed was in Toronto maybe three years ago and I cleared out an auditorium. It was for Pride and after the second song, everyone was like, ‘I’m not here for this bitch. She’s sweating, she’s rapping, she’s rolling around on the floor,’ and there was a porn star somewhere else spanking something, so they were like, ‘No.’
It was you versus the porn star.
Obviously I should’ve just given someone a blowjob. Now I would’ve stopped the set, but back then, I couldn’t stop because I was still a baby.
Jacket: Libertine, Denim Top: Carleen, Turtleneck: Lucio Castro
Did you learn anything from that experience?
I always have to do my best, because even if people don’t seem to be enjoying themselves, there could be a booking agent in the audience, there could be someone who runs a club, there could be someone who works at a licensing company—that has always been my mentality. When it’s showtime, it’s showtime. That comes from theater. You can’t be doing a scene from A Raisin in the Sun and be like, ‘Oh my God, I have to shit.’
At what point did you decide you were a “rapper?”
I used to write poetry a lot, which is why for so long I was against the term, ‘rapper,’ because ‘rapper’ comes with a slight connotation and I’m not that type of person. For me it’s more so spoken word, just on beat. But then I realized I have too much swag—too much panache with the way I carry myself onstage to just be a poet. My writing evolved into performance—a fusion [between] years of me acting, to years of me writing, to years of me being an alcoholic and a carry, and that all meshed into being a ‘rapper.’ I recently claimed the term, ‘rapper,’ when I realized I was a good rapper. And that only happened after I did Hot97 and realized, ‘Ok, this is what I have to do.’