It’s been two years since Cakes da Killa’s bizarre Hot 97 interview with Ebro and Peter Rosenberg. For those who are unfamiliar, Ebro praised the emcee’s skills but said that because of the lyrical content, the music wasn’t for him. The session got even more strange when Rosenberg implied that Cakes should hook up with his lesbian assistant, following it up with the mind-boggling “Is it directly penis that interests you the most?” To his credit, Cakes laughed off the query: “Oh, this cannot be a serious question. Yes, it’s directly the penis that excites me.”
There’s no bad blood, though — in fact, Ebro invited him to be a guest on his Beats1 show. And it’s not just the Hot 97 personality who’s taken notice; DJ heavyweight Diplo tweeted that he liked Cakes’ latest album, Hedonism.
But Cakes is more than the sum of his cosigns, and his latest visual, for the Rye Rye–assisted “Gon Blow,” is proof. Cakes talked to us about the mesmerizing clip, premiering on VIBE today, as well as hip-hop’s relationship with the queer community and his dream collaborators: “I just need someone like Missy Elliott to put me in an incubator for, like, six months, and then it’s, like, done. I’ll even go back in the closet at this point.”
What is the inspiration behind the “Gon Blow” visual?
The visual is a collaboration with myself, photographer Eric Johnson and animator Ben Marlowe. For me, the track is all about movement, so we included some B-roll from a party Eric and I threw. Ben’s animations helped add some dance sequences to the video, because dance culture influences my music a lot, and I feel there is a disconnect between that and rap culture lately.
When did you discover ballroom culture?
I discovered ballroom culture in high school via YouTube clips. For me, ballroom culture is the new B-boy, in a sense, where a community releases a lot of tension and pain through movement and art. During the time I discovered these clips, I also discovered artists like Jay Pendarvis on MySpace, who made tracks people could vogue to. That sound had a huge influence on what would become my rap style in the future, as far as cadence and speed.
What music did you listen to growing up?
Well, growing up, music wasn’t really my thing. It wasn’t until my cousin introduced me to different types of music. Going through her CD collections I found No Doubt, Alanis Morissette, more alternative music. Obviously I’m black, so hip-hop is always around. It’s very much like a second language around the neighborhood.
The artists that I gravitate towards say “fuck the system.” They kind of do what they want to do, like Peaches or Beth Ditto. Or in the hip-hop realm, people like Lil’ Kim and Busta Rhymes. People who kind of don’t really ascribe to playing by this formula. They come in and change shit up.
There was a lot of homophobia in ’90s rap music. Did that ever faze you?
No. I feel like rap gets this very negative [reputation] for being very homophobic, but there’s homophobia in all genres of music. It didn’t really bother me because I realize that rap is made up of different people with different opinions.
A few recent events have shown a shift toward queer acceptance in the hip-hop world: Yung Thug wore a dress on his Jeffery album cover, and Young M.A had a top 20 hit on the Hot 100. Do you feel like any of those moments were groundbreaking?
I think overall as far as visibility, I think that it is cool, but to be critical, masculine female rappers have been making rap music for years. That’s really not reinventing the wheel. The problem is more so if you’re a feminine artist: If you’re a gay male or transgender, that’s the issue. I mean, congratulations to Young M.A to getting that, but that’s not really groundbreaking.
For the Young Thug moment, that’s fab that people are now taking fashion and being more gender-fluid. But gay people have been doing that forever: It’s kind of still straight privilege. For Young M.A to put on a dress — I mean Young Thug, but that’s fucking funny — for Young Thug to put a dress on is kind of like progressive. But for me to put on a dress, it’s not progressive. There’s a double standard.
Do you think there is a shift toward queer inclusiveness in hip-hop?
There’s not this panel of people in hip-hop who are saying “we are being more welcoming to gay people.” You have to keep in mind that hip-hop kind of came about after disco. The early rappers were kind of in the same places as gay people. You could even look at the early rap stars. They look kind of flamboyant. You know what I’m saying? It’s not really like there’s a question of hip-hop. It’s more so when the ’90s came about, and there was that whole wave of hypermasculine, gangster rap music, which is what we’re still in now. That’s the problem. It’s not rap or hip-hop, it’s that whole toxic masculinity.
A lot of your lyrics are implicitly gay. A lot of gay musicians…
[Laughs] Well, I am implicitly gay.
Ha! A lot of openly gay musicians shy away from their queerness. Do you think it’s important to vocalize your queerness?
When I started making music, I never really thought that anyone would hear my music. Why would I be taken seriously? For me to be out, it wasn’t an issue.
There are some privileges for being mysterious or not using specific gender pronouns in love songs. There is a kind of marketability to that. Do I get some setback for talking about blow jobs? Yes. But does that also empower some kids in Ohio? Yes. I think it’s more so a gambling thing. What do you really want to do with the record.
My grandmother had a gay best friend, and when he would come over for the holidays he was fabulous. He had money, he wore a mink coat. We all loved him. That was a positive reassurance: that if you were gay, you would be loved. My first viewing of seeing gay people on television was the Stonewall riots documentary. For me, gay people were never painted as “less than” or “weaker than.” We were people that started revolutions and bought nice clothes.
Do you think the hip-hop world is ready to move out of gangster rap and embrace a queer superstar?
I think hip-hop is definitely the most mainstream it’s ever been. It’s always gonna have that “gangster” in itself, because everybody wants to be a damn gangster for some reason. I’ve always pointed the mirror back at the community. Obviously a fraternity in Atlanta probably isn’t going be into my record. I can make peace with that. The gay club in New York, though? You guys should be supporting me. The music isn’t that bad, you know what I’m saying? The gays sustain a lot of these older divas who are still performing at Pride festivals. I feel like we should support each other.
If you got to hop on any mainstream pop star’s track, who would you want to work with?
Definitely Nicki Minaj. Definitely.
That would be phenomenal. Why that hasn’t happened yet?
Well, I’m not that big yet. I just need someone like Missy Elliott to put me in an incubator for, like, six months, and then it’s, like, done. I’ll even go back in the closet at this point. I’ve been out long enough. I can go back in and start over. I came out in the third grade, I’ve proved enough already.
Wait, so you actually came out in the third grade?
Why would I lie about that? I told you my first piece of gay cinema was a documentary on Stonewall. I literally was ready to tell my mom I’m gay, and if she didn’t like it I was just gonna run away and live on the pier.
Diplo tweeted that he liked your album. When is that collaboration happening?
Sooner the fucking better, I hope! I don’t know. Diplo is a very busy person and I’m a very busy girl, but I’m down. I’m sure it’ll happen down the line sooner or later. I’m just constantly working on my own shit now. I have to strike while it’s hot. I’m not getting any younger.
What’s next for you?
I’m about to drop some new singles for the fall, prepping for a European tour and finalizing a new project with a whole new sound. I’ve been working in the same vein artistically for a few years, and I’m interested in using another side of my brain. I’m trying to be on the freshman XXL cover before I’m too old.
Cakes Da Killa Official Tour Dates
Sat Aug 26 Brooklyn – Afropunk Festival
Sun Aug 27 Chicago – Oakwood Beach
Tue Aug 29 Tel Aviv – Gagarin Club
Thu Aug 31 Berlin – YAMM
Fri Sep 1 Sopot – Soundrive Festival
Sat Sep 2 Oslo – Blaa
Mon Sep 4 Copenhagen – Ideal Bar
Wed Sep 6 Malmo – Inknst
Fri Sep 8 London -Jazz Cafe
Sun Sep 10 Dorset – Bestival
Wed Sep 13 Brno – Fleda
Thu Sep 14 Zurich – Exil
Fri Sep 15 Dudingen – Bad Bonn
Sat Sep 16 Paris – Smile Festival
Fri Sep 29 Lincoln – Lincoln Calling Festival
Fri Oct 6 Haverford – Haverford College
Sat Oct 21 Bristol – Simple Things Festival @ SWX Stage
Sat Oct 28 Tromso – Insomnia Festival