Rashard Bradshaw, better known as Cakes Da Killa, was raised in Englewood, New Jersey. He came out to his mom in third grade. As he aged, Cakes used his wit as armor, incidentally honing his skills as a rapper. Perusing Cake’s catalogue reveals a rapper who is as gifted as he is candid. He dropped his first mixtape, Easy Bake Oven, in 2012. The opening track is titled “Mussy Mayhem,” with lyrics like “Play it back in slow-mo / Got the kind of ass that turn a saint into a homo.” With 2013’s The Eulogy, Cakes succeeded in earning the respect of hip-hop aficionados while rapping about rimjobs. The following year, Hunger Pangs proved that Cakes’ modus operandi is aggressive; Hunger Pangs Vol 2. made his roots in club music apparent. 2015’s #IMF showed Cake’s sensitive side, a breakup mixtape of sorts. Now 25 years old with a reputation for raunchy wordplay and fierce delivery, Hedonism, his debut studio album, is on its way. It’s been a minute, but Cakes is back. He’s grown up and gotten out of his first serious relationship. While he appears as fierce as ever, he’s also fine tuning himself as an artist. He’s pro-visibility, but he’s also tired of having the fact that he sleeps with men define his music. With Hedonism, Cakes is moving past the labels and further solidifying his own unique place in hip-hop. I recently caught up with Cakes to discuss rapping about sex, staying true to himself, and who else? Bette Midler.
Hi, Cakes. Where are you right now?
Cakes Da Killa: I’m in Bedstuy, looking out my window at the basketball court. Not in the creepy kind of way, though.
I read you studied journalism in college. Does that influence the way you handle interviews?
Yeah. I realized that a lot of people pick subjects that are kind of boring, and they don’t really give you a lot to draw from. I’m also really hard on journalists, because for you to e-mail me questions doesn’t make for a good interview. I’m strict with journalists.
I’m talking to you after the release of your new single “Talkin Greezy.” You’re on the verge of releasing Hedonism, your first album. You’ve got dates opening for Peaches, shows booked in Europe. How are you feeling?
I feel good. I’ve been touring and making music for five years, maybe even closer to six. I’ve kind of been in this incubation-type period where I wasn’t really putting out music because I was getting everything sorted with the album and the label, so it’s good that I’m finally taking the steps to put shit out because I’ve been sitting on it for so long. Normally I release things so emotionally. This one is with a full rollout plan and a PR team. I’m happy it’s finally coming out.
Were you taking a jab at Desiigner with the line: “Hot 97 posted up with some new designer / You’re a no-no / Rap is hot like so-so?”
[laughs] No! That wasn’t a jab at Desiigner. I was saying I’m posted up listening to Hot 97 with some new designer, like someone who makes my clothes. I mean, I’m not really that type of girl to make a diss track about somebody unless it’s some personal shit. That would have been a cute headline, though.
You grew up listening to a lot of disco and house, right?
Definitely. A lot of club music, a lot of disco and house. When did you start listening to rap? I think that’s a big part of living in an African-American neighborhood, growing up with African-American parents, because you can’t really escape it. But when I actually became appreciative of rap was probably when I started making rap music, around late high school. That’s when I would physically go out and buy rap CDs and listen to them. When I was a junior or senior, my friend gave me Lil Kim’s Hard Core and I played it so much it broke.
I’m curious about your first performances. How did people respond?
Well, my first shows weren’t gay dates. They didn’t cater towards gay consumers because at that time it wasn’t really thought of to be a gay person who was avid into hip-hop. So there were a lot of straight shows. This was like Old New York at the time—house parties, brownstones, underground moments. I mean, it was cool. When I first started performing is when I realized that I could actually do it because I didn’t get tomatoes thrown at me.
Your early raps were pretty explicit. I’m thinking of rhymes like “I’m in need of a protein facial / Bust on my face / I’ve been feigning for a sample.”
Among other lines that my mother loves when I perform!
Did you start out going all in or did you have to work up to it?
To be honest, when I first came out making music I got a reputation for being this really vulgar, nymphomaniac-type character. I had people accuse me of getting trains ran on me and being into orgies, based off what I’d put out musically. When I was making music when I was 20 years old, I was in college and I had two things to talk about: I could talk about midterms and finals or talk about giving blowjobs. So I decided to just go with the latter because I felt like that was more appealing for me, not based off the consumer. That’s what I wanted to talk about. But then I realized the more I started making projects that maybe not every song should be about getting your back blown out. Maybe you should diversify the catalogue. But I still stay true to myself because I feel like talking about sex shouldn’t be taboo, especially in this day and age. I feel like talking about gay sex is helping people realize “yes, we’re gay and we have sex. Get over it.”
When you cite your influences, certain rappers’ names appear over and over again—Lil Kim, Cam’ron, Remy Ma. Then there’s Patti LaBelle, an R&B singer who I know you and a lot of other rappers grew up on. But you’re the first rapper I’ve heard really holding it down for Bette Midler.
Right. Completely. I hold it down for Bette Midler. She’s a performer. I think that’s the one thing that makes me a little different from some of my peers. There’s a showmanship to my performances. You know, back in the day you would go to rap shows and they would have this stage presence. Nowadays, half the time when rappers perform they’re not even rapping into the mic. It’s just the background track and them jumping up and down. I get that, but I don’t think everyone should be on that wave. That’s why I love old school performers who had a way of being very tongue-in-cheek, mixing comedy and their personality with the music. It makes it more relatable.
Which did you hear first: Bette Midler’s “Mr. Rockefeller” or Kayne West’s “Last Call?”
I definitely heard the Kanye song first, but I definitely listen to Bette Midler’s version way more. I listen to that song all the time. I fell in love with Bette Midler when I was little. My aunt made me watch the movie Beaches. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it was the first movie where I literally cried. Like, I cry at that movie every time I watch it.
Bette Midler has an interesting place in hip-hop history: showing up for Azealia Banks after Twitter suspended her account, beefing with Kanye’s wife, Kim Kardashian. And of course there’s the “Daytime Hustler” sample in Young MC’s “Bust A Move.”
She’s a cool old white lady. She started out performing in bathhouses. You can’t be any hipper than that.
I know you also take inspiration from Richard Bruce Nugent, an out gay writer from the Harlem Renaissance. Do you have a favorite piece?
“Smoke, Lillies and Jade” is really good. Aesthetically, Richard is so next level. He died in Hoboken. That’s where I was born. I live for that connection. I live for all Black artists that are gay and share their stories. I think it’s important.
Back in 2012, before you dropped your first mixtape, you said “Hip-hop does not like people who are feminine. So if you want to break into hip-hop either you have to act masculine or you have to not be gay at all or be in the closet.” Do you think things have changed at all?
I don’t think it’s changed, I just think people are realizing you can make money off of it. I think people realize there’s a consumer base for this kind of “gay rap.” So now people don’t give a fuck, but if there weren’t any consumers then people would still be weird with it. And now if you don’t like the fact that I’m openly gay and making music, I’ll still be touring and making money.
It’s interesting to look at rappers like Young Thug and the way people have responded to him wearing a dress on his mixtape cover.
I think it’s a double-edge sword. A lot of this new era of rappers, these mumble rappers and these rappers that don’t really base their rhyme schemes on anything concrete, these people to me, they’re pathetic. They look like faggots that went to PRIDE ten years ago. Like these old, dated cunty looks. For them, it’s cool to wear something that’s a little feminine. But for me, I still get so much backlash for wearing some things and I’m like “Why? Because I’m actually open about my sexuality?” That’s the weird thing. One person can wear a skirt or a samurai outfit and people are like “oh my god, he’s pushing the boundaries of fashion” but if a gay person does it’s like “okay, you’re going overboard.”
The “Queer Rap Is Not Queer Rap” article that appeared on Pitchfork last year had this line: “Certain kinds of classifications absolutely work towards further marginalizing the artists, and relegate them to a kind of subaltern obscurity.” I’m wondering how you feel about that. Do you feel like you’re rapping on the margins?
I mean, to a degree. I feel like labeling something as exclusively gay is kind of detrimental to the artist. At the end of the day, you don’t want to appeal to just gay people. I also know that some artists do just want to appeal to gay people because gay people haven’t really had a person to speak for them in the hip-hop genre. I realize that for some people to have “gay” or “out” in front of “hip-hop” gives them pride and it makes them feel good. But for me, I just think that it’s music. I feel like I’m telling stories and I’m staying true to myself, so you really shouldn’t put a label on it. But I don’t care what you call it, as long as you’re paying my bills and I can afford to live in a penthouse.
Is it true you’ve never had a job?
I worked when I was in college, working in the LGBT Center. But yeah, I never had a job, like working at the mall or shit like that.
So rap pays your bills?
Rap has paid my bills for the last five years, definitely. I’m completely a bump on the log most days.
Do you think you’ve had to make any artistic concessions in order to foster mainstream appeal?
No, not really. I’ve had conversations with people about pulling back, but I’m very headstrong about my career. I’ve been doing it so long by myself that I just do whatever the fuck I want to do. So I’ve had these conversations, and it influences me sometimes. But at the end of the day I’m going to do what I want. If you look at me and the way I’ve grown and matured in my life, like obviously I don’t look the same as I did in the “Goodie Goodies” video. My hair’s not blond and I’m not wearing the big earrings and I don’t wear lashes that much. That’s just the natural progression for me growing I’m sure if we looked at images of you from five years ago you don’t look the same now. It’s not me trying to go mainstream or water myself down. I’m just an old girl now.
But in the “Goodie Goodies” video you’ve got shirtless dudes in short shorts and in “Talking Greezy” there’s bikini-clad women covered in baby oil.
Right. Everyone’s going to get exploited in my career. I’m literally down to exploit anybody for a good video. What’s it been like sharing bills with Big Freedia? Definitely, definitely loud. Bounce music is a really loud genre. I love it. It gets the crowd really amped. Every time I link up with Freedia, whether we’re in Paris or New York, it’s always fun to see her.
Are you excited to be coming down to New Orleans?
My first show in New Orleans, years ago, was with Nicky Da B—R.I.P.— and that was such an amazing moment. I love going to New Orleans. I really can’t wait to come down there for Halloween and get spooked the fuck out.
Cakes Da Killa plays the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience on Saturday, October 29th. His debut album, Hedonism, is out October 21. For more info, visit Cakesdakilla.com.