To be a rapper is to be constantly walking a tightrope, balancing commercial ambitions with the genre’s traditional sensibilities (read: bars). It’s no secret that there isn’t all that much money to go around in the music industry these days, so being a rapper’s rapper while making enough to live comfortably has become an increasingly Herculean task. This only refers to cis, straight males; to be an LGBT rapper is even more of a hardship. Frank Ocean’s success and Young Thug’s gender-fluid stylings are major breakthroughs. But they’re still breakthroughs—hip-hop, by and large, still isn’t inclusive when it comes to the LGBT community.
Being an outlier doesn’t appear to weigh on New Jersey’s Cakes da Killa. He’s jubilant and expressive as he sits in the SPIN conference room to discuss his recently released debut album, the kaleidoscopic dance romp that is Hedonism. It’s an October afternoon and the 26-year-old is dressed in all black and smells of some approximation of passion fruit; he purses his lips and rolls his eyeballs as he reflects on his career: coming up in New York’s underground raves and deciding against retirement thanks, in part, to the success of 2013’s The Eulogy, a joyfully explicit mixtape that drew comparisons to Hard Core-era Lil Kim.
Hedonism is a tight, adroitly paced effort that delves into throwback R&B, traditional lyricism, and the ballroom dance scene that’s been the LGBT community’s free space for decades. He presents those influences not as an assorted mix, but as inextricable strands within a singular aesthetic. It’s every bit as entertaining as Cakes da Killa is in conversation. Read our talk, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, below.
I’m a fan of your Twitter name, GAYDAKISS.
My friend LSDXOXO actually made it up. I love Jada because I think he’s very underappreciated as far as being a lyricist. I’m kind of also, so they say, like the gay Jadakiss. [Kissing noise.] That as an ad-lib is legendary.
You think he gets slept on? Some people simply associate Jadakiss with durags.
No, they don’t! When people think about Jadakiss, they think about bald heads.
You named one of your previous projects The Eulogy because you thought you were done with rap at the time. What made you change your mind and go all in on music?
When I got a bigger check. [Laughs.] That’s what made me do this because at that point [in 2013] I was graduating college and I knew I wanted to move out of my mom’s house and I wanted to be an independent person. Being a nightlife personality and being out and about is fun, but paying your bills at the first of the month is also very stimulating. So I decided either this is going to work or it’s not going to work, and it’s working. Now I’m at SPIN, talking shit.
A lot of reviews have compared your work to Lil Kim. Since she’s one of your influences, is that a big deal for you?
Lil Kim is influential to me because she broke the mold as far as being a female rapper selling her sexuality—like, not trying to be one of the boys. And I think I can relate to that because I’m not trying to be one of the boys either. I think it’s good when you could be on your grind and people could associate it to someone else, but I think I’m kind of my own person. I think the only reason why people associate me with Lil Kim is because I talk about blowjobs sometimes. But Hard Core definitely was the first rap album I ever listened to, cover to cover.
And Hedonism draws from personal experience?
Yeah, but all of my music is. I feel like this project is the most that I’ve talked about my personal self. But to me, my tone will never be mopey or depressed because I’m always very headed-into-the-clubs. I feel like I use my music to just release the tension, not really dwell on it too much. That’s why I drink Pink Moscato.
I listened to “New Phone (Who Dis)” a little after your Hot 97 interview from 2014. Ebro was talking about not being able to relate to your music because your were gay, which is a bit jarring since “New Phone” isn’t a sex-specific sentiment.
To me, it’s not really necessarily about being able to relate to what I’m saying because I’m gay. I think it’s just masculinity and then not wanting to hear about getting it on. Because in the same breath, it’s like, “I can’t listen to Jay Z because I can’t relate.” It’s like, that doesn’t mean that the music can’t impact you. I’ve never sold drugs before, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be impacted by a record about that type of lifestyle. I feel like people are just really like, “Being gay and being open about it is a very touchy subject.” But I feel like I maneuver it very well and I get my respect.
Do you feel like that hyper-masculinity has changed from 2014 to now?
I was in an interview where somebody was like, “I just feel like rap is so hyper-masculine now.” I was like, “Girl, you need to refresh your web browser because it’s still in ‘98.” These new rappers are definitely playing in their privileges to be able to be gender fluid in their presentation with their clothes and I think it’s great. But I think [one should be] always mindful that someone who may come across as being, you know, fluid in their dress doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not misogynistic or they’re not transphobic or they’re not homophobic.
You don’t present bar-for-bar rap and dance tracks as two mutually exclusive styles. Is representing multiple styles essential for you?
It’s definitely essential for me to cover all bases because I feel like not only do I have to appeal to a ‘90 hip-hop consumer who is on the fence with me being open about my sexuality—I also have to appeal to the twink who lives in the Meatpacking District, who wants to relate to an openly gay person on that level. I have to appeal to females and to gay boys who live in Bed-Stuy, and also foreign people, who live in Sweden, who like me. I like appealing to a bunch of people because I think it looks good, but in the end, I like to deal with my complexities as a person in my music.
Since you were making music while you were in college, did anything from the college dance scene inspired you?
The fact that you go to a dance because you don’t want to study for a midterm. It wasn’t anything that really inspired me. It was more so New York. Even me being from New Jersey, I was always in New York, going out. A lot of people I went to college with were staying in Jersey and going to bars to turn up, and me, I was going to underground raves and making connections.
Is there anything specific about the venues that inspire you? I remember you shouted out Pianos on “#IMF.”
What I did in that bathroom of Pianos … Ugh, you just triggered me with this venue. I basically blossomed in New York. I have always been a fully well-rounded person and I have a strong sense of self and identity, but a lot of my connections, as far as my career, flourished in New York. We are going to do the PC answer for that.
You’re part of the Qween Beats collective. Tell me a little about that.
So, Qween Beats is a ballroom collective. It includes producers and DJs and Voguers and the conservation of ballroom music. It’s really heavily appropriated by a lot of mainstream people who don’t know the history of the community, so MikeQ decided to put a collective together of people to keep the sound alive and keep it also attached to the community that started it.
The ballroom scene is really important because the ballroom community is where a lot of people … I would say to be black is like being a black sheep in America, but to be black and gay is to be a black sheep among black sheep, which is really traumatic, really triggering, depending on the person you are and how you maneuver your life. So, for a lot of those people that fit into the other categories but are also POC, the ballroom community is a place where you can flourish, gain confidence, and get tools, and be able to feel like somebody, even if life treats you like you’re nobody.
Is that a running theme through Hedonism?
That’s a representation of my whole career. I’ma give no fucks! [Laughs.] Real talk.