I first discovered Cakes Da Killa on YouTube, when his 2013 video for “Goodie Goodies” was released. It was an exciting thing to witness, a chocolate-brown, cheeky, effeminate gay hip-hop artist rapping openly about sex—and from the point of view of a bottom—while rhyming with the technical skill of some of the greatest MCs alive of whatever gender. I probably sent that video to nearly every Black queer friend I had at the time, and I’ve even used that video in workshops and keynote lectures. Seven years have passed, and the Northern New Jersey native has released three mixtapes, a dozen singles and music videos, and one studio album—2016’s Hedonism. He’s a consummate live performer and stays booked—touring the U.S. and Europe often. When Cakes announced he was dropping new singles, “Don Dada” and “Free to Be,” on June 4, I reached out to him to see if he’d chat with TheBody about his work, creative inspirations, and what it’s like being a Black gay hip-hop artist during a nearly canceled Pride season, due to COVID-19.
Kenyon Farrow: First of all, I’m sure you’ve seen a bunch of the memes that say what your plans were for 2020 and what 2020 actually delivered. And so for you, what were you expecting this year? Coming out of 2019, what was your plan for 2020? And what has 2020 delivered so far?
Cakes Da Killa: Well, actually, life was chaotic before a lot of this was happening [laughs]. I relocated to Georgia, so I was living down South for a little bit. I was just basically trying to get myself together, and I needed a change of pace from New York. So there was that, and as far as dealing with the pandemic and all that, I’ve kind of just been focusing on the positive side of it all. And it has brought a lot of discipline and routine to my life that I kind of appreciate. So to be honest, a lot of the things I feel, like the love and proximity that’s coming to the Black community and people wanting to be more active or reach out, there’s been a lot of positive things that have happened.
KF: Yeah, that’s great to hear. I think the first time I saw you or heard you was the “Goodie Goodies” video in 2013. And I remember being so excited, because here’s a gay or queer Black man who’s pushing the gender lines and also could fucking spit, right? And I tell people all the time, I love rappers who are bruisers, people who just rip through tracks—and I feel like you’re in that category. You, Lil’ Kim, Remy Ma—A$AP Ferg is another of my faves who rhymes like that. So, going back to “Goodie Goodies,” I kind of feel like that’s when more folks started to recognize who you were and recognize your talent. So, who was Cakes then? And how have you grown since then?
CDK: Yeah, I’m so much more grown now. I’ve done a lot of touring internationally and nationally. I’ve been an independent artist almost a decade, self-releasing music. You know, I just dropped my album in 2016. So, a lot of things. My career has definitely progressed in ways that I wasn’t aware that it was. I wasn’t expecting much from making music, because at the time when I started, it wasn’t like there was such heavy representation of a feminine gay Black in the media. So the bar was set really low—I was just happy to get a drink ticket [for performing].
KF: So, what did you think you were gonna do when you graduated from Montclair State University? What was your plan?
CDK: I knew I was gonna be a writer, that writing was gonna be something that I was going to be doing. I was majoring in fashion studies with a minor in journalism.
KF: One of the things I really like about your work is your sense of taste. I know you’re a rapper and classified as a hip-hop artist, but I feel like your music is also so many things—it’s obviously hip-hop but it’s also house, and you also have kind of like a rock ‘n’ roll or almost a punk rock aesthetic at the same time. I’ve heard you talk about your hip-hop influences over the years. And I think that’s something that’s sort of easy to understand, growing up Black in America in the ’80s and ’90s, right? But I want to hear more about how house music entered your musical palette, which really is birthed around the same time hip-hop is, but it’s never really thought of that way. So I’m just curious about how you got to house, because I feel like only in the last few years, partly because of you and a few other folks, has house kind of had a new sort of resurgence.
CDK: Well, for me, you know, hip-hop wasn’t really my go-to music to listen to, necessarily, even though it was kind of always around me. For me, I always gravitated more towards club music. So that’s when I kind of discovered house. And, you know, that’s where my love of music and disco music kind of progressed. You see little elements of that in my music, but I feel like especially [what] we’re working on now [is] definitely a strict house project. And I just decided to just show that side of myself to the people.
KF: So you’re a hip-hop artist from Jersey, you know, Black as fuck. And then you also have a solid kind of footing and following in the Brooklyn and European hipster set, right? Do you sometimes feel weird trying to balance these two communities, spaces, and audiences in which you live and work?
CDK: I mean, it could be annoying. I used to have my problems where it’s like, people will make it seem as if I wasn’t gonna garnish enough Black fans. Yeah, so you always want to make music for the people who get it and the people you’re making music for, but at the end of the day, you’re an independent artist. You don’t know who’s buying it as long as you’re working. So I did have a moment where I was wondering what are the things I needed to do to be more appealing to African-American consumers? But then I just had to realize that Black consumers are not monolithic; there’s different versions of Black people, so I’m a Black artist, and I’m unapologetic about being Black and nothing about me that I need to change.
KF: So let’s talk about the Netflix competition show you were on, Rhythm + Flow, for a quick second. You were, first of all, a big part of the reason why I bothered to watch it. And … I’m just gonna say it. I think you were robbed. And it’s just my opinion, but it felt to me like you were cut early on, not because you were the weakest link in the chain. But that I felt like the judges just did not want to deal with a gay rapper, especially being, as you described, being a feminine gay rapper every week. And it was easier to cut you earlier than to face their own homophobia as it went on. So what’s your take on that experience?
CDK: For me, I just—you know, I’m really not into reality TV anyway. So I was kind of looking at it as a blessing. I kind of didn’t want to be known as a gay kid from that reality show. Anyway, you know, because I did already have a career eight or nine years before I was on that show, as an independent artist. So I’ve never wanted that moment to eclipse all the work that I was doing, so I just took it as great timing to go. I’d booked a ticket to Ghana before I got to be on the show, and my flight was three days after I left.
KF: So, you know, obviously it’s June Pride season, and as I mentioned, a lot of our focus is on kind of, you know, art and activism, and I don’t know if you consider yourself an activist or not, but—
CDK: I don’t.
KF: Bloop! [laughs]
CDK: What I do realize is a lot of the things about me, like being unapologetically myself, you know, that that is kind of a political statement in and of itself, but for me as someone that’s been out since I was in third grade, I don’t really look at it as groundbreaking, but me existing. And in a lot of spaces it does influence other people to come out and be themselves. So I guess that is kind of a form of that, but I think “activist” is a word that a lot of people want to claim for clout. And I will never be that, because it is a lot of work.
KF: Yeah, I appreciate that. So, how do you normally spend Pride, and what do you have planned this year?
CDK: Normally, Pride is playing fucking gigs, opening for legendary R&B divas from back in the day. Getting coin here or in Europe getting coin. But this season [due to COVID-19 cancellations], I feel like a lot of people are doing what they have to do to curate these online moments to still keep the energy going. The gays are now collaborating with the Blacks, and I’m thankful it’s kind of like this whole gay Black Renaissance going on right now. But for me, I’m just focusing on keeping my head on straight and just accepting opportunities. Like I said, in promoting my new mixtape that’s coming up, Muvaland.
KF: So TheBody is a website that largely focuses on HIV resources and sexual health, and so I’m gonna ask you a few questions about sex and just get in your business. I love how just like irreverent you are in music and how much you freely talk about sex. For me, myself, honestly, I’m always a little bit like, “You know, my mama might read this,” and I’m a solid 45 years old and still I’m like, “Oh, my mom can’t see me being a whole ho on the internet” and whatever [laughs]. Do you sort of negotiate and think about those things, like how Mom or other family members might respond, or wonder, “Am I doing too much?”
CDK: I didn’t think this “me making music” was going to be a thing in general. So I never knew anyone would hear it, including my family members. I started making music when I was in college. And it was like, I wasn’t going to talk about finals and shit. So I was like, “What is the next best thing?”
And with that, I guess that’s kind of the repetition of being the artist that talked about sex the most, but it wasn’t like I wasn’t trying to be salacious or sell this naughty image. So people were really into it, but for me, I don’t think talking about gay sex should be an issue. My mission is kind of like normalizing gay sex, because it’s like, people are having sex anyway. So I never tried to shy away from it, because I’m like, gays are having sex.
KF: Right. Yeah, I think it’s actually to me a little unfair to even say that you are more sexual than other folks in terms of your content. And if people really listen to your work, a lot of it is actual storytelling, even if sex is a subject.
CDK: Yeah, everything is not about sex, but it’s like, once you mention it, it’s like it kind of eclipses everything. And I’m like, well, I have other songs that don’t talk about sex, but I’m just going to accept if that’s the moniker people want to put on me. That’s great, ’cuz that’s not a problem. There shouldn’t be an issue with me owning my sexuality as an effeminate, out-of-shape bottom [laughs]. That shouldn’t be a problem.
KF: One of the things that has been kind of surprising to me in terms of your music and seeing your posts on social media is how much you talk about condom use. And it probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but you know, we’re fucking gay in a PrEP world, right? So, it’s like especially surprising to me for somebody as young as you are. Do you consciously talk about the utility of condoms, as far as HIV prevention is concerned, in your music or how you talk about sex in general?
CDK: I’m also kind of old school, like, I’m very “back in the day” like, and that’s it for me. Have you seen the movie Kids?
KF: Yeah. I am of that era [laughs].
CDK: I’m growing up watching Chloë Sevigny, who was date raped [in the film] and got HIV. It’s just like kind of ingrained in you, so you’re just like, condoms are the way to do it. Now I’m not saying that the new forms of prevention aren’t good for everyone else. So personally, I’m a condom girl. I don’t take Tylenol, so I’m not gonna take PrEP. You know what they say, different strokes for different folks. But I don’t condemn anyone for how they protect themselves, as long as they’re protecting themselves.
KF: You strike me as having an old soul. I don’t even know if you’ve noticed over the years, sometimes you’ll tweet the line of a song. And because I’m a music nerd—it’s not what I do professionally, but I just am—I’m a music whore. And so you’ll tweet a line from like some old fucking LaBelle song from 1976 and I’ll finish the line in your comments. I’ve been doing that on your Twitter for years. What are some of your influences?
CDK: Yeah, it depends. My palette is very all over the place. I love all kinds of music—I think you can learn from all different kinds of music. I think that’s one of the things that’s detrimental to hip-hop now, because people are not listening to vinyl records and listening to different genres. Because that’s what added dimension to the music. And now everything in hip-hop sounds so flat, because they’re not representing anything, they’re not talking about anything. But for me, my ear can go from listening to a Rufus record and it can go to Róisín Murphy, it really just depends, you know, like music diet—that’s deep music. That’s great sounding music that’s, you know, well done. So, you know, whether I’m listening to Labelle or the Ohio Players, I’m really interested in quality.
KF: So, you just dropped your latest singles, “Don Dada” and “Free to Be,” and you’ve got a new EP dropping this year called Muvaland. In addition to those things, what else can we expect this year?
CDK: Well, I’m always on the road and always on the run. But since there’s not really space to tour [due to COVID-19], I’m throwing myself into more literary work. I’m putting together a collection of short stories and poems that I’ve been writing since I was 16. Then I’m turning 30 in October, and I was like, “Bitch, you need to have at least a manuscript done before you turn 30.” And you know, my EP isn’t even out but I’m already working on my sophomore album, getting the aesthetic and the soundscape together for that, which I’m really excited about. So yeah, I’m just trying to figure out how to get this online money so I can pay for my shea butters and things.
Follow Cakes Da Killa on Twitter; his music can be found on all streaming platforms and on Bandcamp.