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Review: Cakes da Killa’s Hedonism Brings Lust and Rage to the Dance Floor

In a maddening 2014 Hot 97 interview with Cakes Da Killa, rap’s knucklehead gatekeepers Ebro and Peter Rosenberg told the New Jersey MC they couldn’t exactly relate to his music because he’s, you know, gay and all that. As Cakes’ “You Ain’t Kno?” played, Ebro interrupted by sputtering pause, pause: “You see, I was following and then all of a sudden you doing mascara and I was like, wait a minute, hold up, hold up.” They couldn’t deny his talent, though; they also couldn’t resist asking why gay men don’t have sex with gay women. Was it all about the dick? Of course it’s all about the dick, Cakes explained.

Hanging on the wall behind Cakes was a wannabe inspirational poster built around a basic couplet from lyrical wet sandwich J. Cole—an accidental commentary on how hip-hop heads are always moving the goal posts for what spitting scans as worthy of praise. For those listeners unaware of Cakes’ work, this interview defined the Jersey-born MC. Now, a few years out from all those also-pretty-maddening “queer rap”—a.k.a. “here are some rappers who are gay”—trend pieces, Cakes has delivered Hedonism, a lyrically lithe New York rap album by way of Jersey club full of lust, boasting, regret, and rage. It features plenty of breathless hardcore rapping that’s as much as M.O.P’s “Do You Want Some Hardcore?” as Lil Kim’s Hard Core, and flexes over “Percolator” gulps, steely electro, and the chaos of Internet-brewed party music.

With beats from LSDXOXO, Noah Breakfast, Jeremiah Meece, and others, it’s a quick collection of songs indebted to Jersey club and its satellite, sub-regional styles and hard-and-fast dance music precedents. After the first track, “Hedonism (Intro)”—a slinking, moaning incantation of a break-up and empowerment jam all at once—Cakes declares “now let’s take it to the clubs,” as though the track’s speedy raps and high BPMs weren’t already a vessel for dance floor ambitions. On the Kalore-assisted “Keep It Going,” beats, rhymes, and life speed by at double time; it’s followed by, “Been Dat Did That,” a menacing club scat nag, like Kevin Aviance’s “Din Da Da” meets Jonathan Davis from Korn. Other tracks find Cakes tilting tried and true rap styles more to his liking: “New Phone (Who Dis),” retrofits ringtone rap tics (it also interpolates Goodie Mob) and “Frosting (Interlude)” and “Tru Luv,” are bittersweet erotic sketches—Cake’s take on rap and bullshit.

It even wraps up with a belated cosign from Ebro and Rosenberg, of all things. There, at the start of closing track, “Revelations (Outro),” we hear Ebro declare that Cakes “got bars” as Rosenberg backs him up, stating that the out of the closet rapper should be part of the conversation. The song that follows is a slowed-up, glowing bit of boom-bap that recalls Gang Starr and Lords of the Underground at their most blunted, evidencing Cakes’ skills or skillz, if you must—and hey, he even mentions third eyes!

It’s an oblique way for Hedonism to acknowledge rap power structures—it sure is glad those straight male industry dullards are listening, at least—but the rest offers up an approach to rap that counters their conservatism with an occasionally idyllic, primarily grimy and frustrated perspective with a hunger for dancing one’s pain away. Guest verses from Peaches (“Up Out My Face”) and Rye Rye (“Gon Blow”) meanwhile, hint at the dread of being a novelty—something that Cakes’ career has happily avoided thus far, even if they didn’t. So, he offers up a space where some other MCs who got the side eye from the real hip-hop orthodoxy can spit untroubled.

But back to that cosign. For Cakes it’s both a boost in profile, presumably, and an indignity to endure—a frequent double bind when you’re queer in America. It also totally makes sense, because Hedonism is pretty much ’90s East Coasting hip-hop turned inside out, the hip-house and tunnel banger accoutrements which usually hover around the edges centered and slammed in your face, all without sacrificing rap’s hallowed poetics. It’s brag-rap with more weight, dance music that knocks, replete with catchy, shout-able hooks. Like all the best New York rap, it’s an open minded, open-eared, closed-circuit record that’s got bars.