Interview: Cakes Da Killa

A sound that’s both whimsical and heartfelt.

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Cakes Da Killa for Glamcult by Sanja Marusic

With four solid mixtapes to his name, Cakes Da Killa—aka Lil BBW, Ya Man’s Wet Dream or (real name) Rashard Bradshaw—hasn’t gone unnoticed. His aggressive flow and raunchy lyrics have garnered the fresh-faced New Jersey rapper plenty of attention, and rightly so. Skilfully combining pop culture, his own experiences and underground cultures, Cakes creates a sound that’s both whimsical and heartfelt.

Earlier this year (on Valentine’s Day, no less), 24-year-old Cakes Da Killa dropped his fourth mixtape through NYC clothing brand Mishka, titled #IMF (short for In My Feelings). To those familiar with his work, it was instantly clear that the MC was exploring new territory: this is a tape about heartbreak, focused on the end of a relationship that was never meant to work (“we couldn’t make it pass the summer just the cards we was dealt…”).

Having described #IMF as “a modern-day tale of star-crossed lovers from inception to resolution”, it comes as no surprise that Cakes’ latest has a clear story-line. And as naturally happens with a subject matter close to the heart, the work has a melancholic vibe to it— although it retains his signature dominant flow and raunchy lyrics. Cakes jokingly calls it his “Adele moment”, quickly qualifying that it’s “still in the club, because I’m always in the club getting drunk.” Indeed the I Run The Fucking Club rapper wasn’t messing around when he made his mixtape: every song has a club vibe to it, reminding us that pretty much any situation can be sweated out on the dancefloor.

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The aggression and dominance that have defined Cakes’ work from the get-go are often characterized as exclusively “male”—and, specifically, exclusively “straight male”—traits. Case in point: when Cakes made an appearance on the notorious radio show Ebro in the Morning, presenters Ebro Darden and Peter Rosenberg couldn’t hide their surprise that they could vibe out to a song made by a—gasp!—gay man. “It’s corny, and funny because I’m just who I am,” says Cakes of the incident. “But a lot of people assume that all gays are one type of way.” Which is precisely why it’s both reductive and inaccurate to place Cakes in some sort of “gay rap scene”. Cakes recognizes that this is part of a wider struggle for marginalised groups—“femcees, female or black painters, you don’t do that… it’s all corny”. In essence, of course, labels say nothing about a person’s work, be they male, female, gay, straight, transgender, black or white. In the hip-hop scene, Le1f already proved that, as did Nicki Minaj and Lil’ Kim. It’s been obvious, in fact, ever since Roxanne Shanté hit the stage—way back in ’84…

Cakes is well aware of discussions regarding his work in relation to his sexuality: “That’s just straight people and I’m used to that,” he expands on the Ebro in the Morning incident. “Even though people put me in this gay world, when I first started making music I wasn’t in gay clubs, I was in straight clubs. I’m used to that. Growing up I had a lot of straight friends and got asked a lot of dumb questions, like, ‘Are you the girl or are you the boy?’ It’s stupid shit but I don’t get offended because I know the world is a lot bigger than ‘just’ gay people.”

Cakes is not here to educate you; he is not here to be The Gay Rapper: “I’m not trying to change how people feel about anything. I just do what I do and if you like it, you like it; and if you don’t, you don’t. But I’m always going to do what I do.” And doing what he does means making solid rap songs, telling the stories of his life and connecting to his listeners. He’s the kind of lyrical talent that combines puns, wit and interesting references with a high level of relatability. The influences of border-crossing artists like Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj are easily recognizable in Cakes’ work, so it comes as no surprise that his dream collaboration would involve Nicks—“I fuck with Nicki a lot.”—and nor would he pass up the chance to work with Tink and Azealia Banks. But there are other influences at work. When you hear a classic vogue sample on the beat of Fuck Ya Boyfriend, you won’t be surprised to hear that Cakes is the latest (and last) addition to Qween Beat, a new label founded by ballroom/vogue God MikeQ. “MikeQ put us all together to make a release like a family. We’re all working on a joint album right now. I have a lot of respect for everyone in Qween Beat, we’re working with a lot of really talented producers and vocalists and commentators.” Although the collective’s output is still under wraps, live previews from MikeQ and Cakes Da Killa’s 2 Cunts 1 Whip tour and MikeQ and Divoli S’vere’s RBMA Radio’s show promise good things to come.

Although Cakes has, deservedly, had his fair share of media attention this past year, mainstream success is not yet calling. But his confidence about what’s to come is characteristic of the way Cakes goes about life. He often mentions his student loans as the reason he works so hard—“I have to pay these bills off!”—but of course, there’s plenty more to it. “I’m also at a point in my career where I want more. And I think I deserve more, I work hard, it’s for me.” We think he deserves more, too—and we don’t doubt he’ll get it.

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By Emma van Meyeren

Photography: Sanja Marušić—UNSPOKEN

Styling: Imruh Asha

Hair and make-up: Carlos Saidel for Givenchy—House of Orange

Assistant photography: Kwabena Appiah-nti

Thanks to Margriet Nannings, SPRMRKT and Tenue de Nîmes

www.cakesdakilla.com