Cakes Da Killa
Photo: Ebru Yildiz
Cakes Da Killa's New 'Muvaland 2' EP Is A Joyride Back To '90s Ballroom
Ballroom culture has blown up in mainstream media thanks to series like FX's "POSE" and HBO's "Legendary," but Cakes Da Killa is here to remind you it's more than just a trend. The Brooklyn-based rapper temporarily traded spitting over high-energy hip-hop beats to glide over sparkling house melodies on last November's Muvaland EP.
Now, the rapper is back with the sequel—Muvaland 2—that continues the celebration of '90s ballroom. Cakes reconnected with New York producer Proper Villains for the euphoric time capsule, from the soon-to-be club anthem "What's The Word" to the ultra-cheeky "Taste Test." [The first two tracks are out now and the full EP drops on HE.SHE.THEY. on July 16.]
"My music has always been based on club and dance music. There weren't a lot of visibly gay rappers [at the time], so I forced myself to fit the mold of what people wanted me to do," Cakes tells GRAMMY.com over the phone. "So that's why you see me doing things like VladTV and Hot 97 because that's the market that people were trying to shove me into."
He continues: "But I have so many more sounds and elements that actually have inspired me and influenced what I do. So I had to make the decision to stick strictly to what makes me completely happy and what tells my full story as an artist. Sonically, this is me going back to basics 'cause it kinda sounds like my first mixtapes."
Below, Cakes Da Killa discusses his new EP, performative allyship, and the new generation of LGBTQ+ artists.
Did it feel like a release to have such high-energy music to escape from all the mess?
I've been an independent artist for a little over a decade and I was blessed to be able to just survive off of my art. As an adult, I've never had to work at a job. But when the pandemic came, a b**** had to become real essential, really quick. [Laughs.] I had to get a job. So I needed balance. It was like the reality of, "Okay you're working this job now to pay your bills, but I still want to be creative." So that's where the carefree energy came from. I recorded it in Proper Villains' apartment on this home set up, so it's just very D.I.Y.
"Taste Test" is my favorite on the new EP because it's so c*nty. When you're talking about p***y I was like, "Yes, this is what I need!"
Right! I think that's going to be a cute single that people are going to gravitate towards. I wrote that in my mind being like, "If I had to write a song with Lady Miss Kier of Deee-Lite, how exactly would I want it to go?" I couldn't get her on the record, but I'm just trying to do her justice. So I'm proud of that track too.
You also have "Stoggaf" named after the [homophobic] slur. I have friends who believe they should reclaim the word.
I don't even think about it that deep. As someone that's grown up being called a f****t, I have a different experience of how I dealt with it. People deal with traumas differently. But I also feel like how people think about reappropriating the word or whether or not the word empowers them or not has a lot to do with what generation you were born in. 'Cause I noticed a lot of the kids coming up now, they don't use the word.
But I also don't identify as queer because when I was coming up, that was an academic word. That wasn't a word that we use in our day-to-day, you know what I'm saying? I had to spell it backward because I don't think you could put the word on Spotify. [Laughs.] But there's an Ultra Naté song called "10,000 Screamin' F****ts" that they would play in the club back in the day. I'm more old-school, girl. I'm going to do something and if you like it, you like it. If you don't, you don't.
What do you identify as? I want to get it correct here.
Well, I'm definitely marketed and branded as a homosexual. But now that I realize it, I guess on paper, I will be pansexual based on some of these most recent interactions. [Laughs.] But I've been very much socialized as a gay man. So that's how I move through the world. I get the process of labels and how they empower people, but I also feel like labels catch people up. Even when people label themselves as "queer" they work their identity to fit in whatever that means to them. I think that that's also very limiting. So I just live through life being like, "Hi, my name is Cakes" and you take it as that.
Are pronouns a big deal for you?
Pronouns are really big right now. I just had this conversation with one of my friends and I was like, "I identify as 'he' and 'him.'" But I also don't believe in the binary. I do believe everybody is non-binary because I don't think there's no such thing as just a man or a woman. I identify as a man because that's just what it was for me. And I also don't feel uncomfortable with that title. Coming up, me and my friends would call each other "she" or "b****" because that was also very popular. But I wouldn't label myself as non-binary because that kinda has a look and a vibe right now, and I wouldn't want to encroach on that.
I'm an LGBTQ+ ally, but a lot of straight allies often try to be overly performative.
Right. They'd be like, "Yass b****! Work honey!"
Are they actually supporting this community or do they just want to be seen?
I think people are going to be people regardless because we could talk about that the same way we could talk about a lot of gay men who perform cis-women traits. Like when they imitate their mothers and aunties as comedy—a lot of women don't like that either. I just feel like people just need to work on having a little bit more class. Being performative could be fun sometimes because that adds some depth to life. But when it becomes a little too pandering or overkill... What you realize walking through life, a lot of people don't know who they are. They don't have their own identities, that's why they subscribed so much to these titles and labels.
I learned about ballroom culture watching "POSE" and Paris Is Burning. Of course, there are pros and cons to it becoming more mainstream. On one hand, it gets whitewashed, but on the other hand, people could learn from it.
I think it's great because there has always been a lot of talent in the ballroom scene for years. There have also been active members who maneuvered in the mainstream industry who couldn't really speak about their ballroom identity because it was like a taboo. It was looked down upon for years to be affiliated with ballroom. So I like that we now can now look at all these stylists, designers, hairdressers, and makeup artists who are actually children of the ballroom scene. They're finally getting their just dues.
Obviously the whitewashing and all that is annoying, but that just comes with the territory. So like you said, it has its pros and cons. But I just feel like people should appreciate ballroom for what it is and don't make it a fad because it's really a lifestyle for a lot of these kids. A lot of people that participate in ballroom don't come from Oz. They need ballroom, you what I'm saying? It's not a fad. So I think people should respect it as such.
It's been a year since the protests for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the Black trans community. What do you think has changed?
What's good about that is it definitely influences the younger generation. I think everyone should just be good people and respect people, but that doesn't happen 'cause we don't live in a perfect world. But I also don't live life tracking who's racist. I face problems and I address things head-on.
At that time [of the protests], I'm Black, I'm gay, I'm dealing with a pandemic. I had people telling me that it was probably in poor taste for me to drop a record that's so high energy. But I did it because there are people that need that. There are people locked in their f***ing apartments. Let somebody have a cocktail and dance in their living rooms before they armor themselves to face the day.
What's your favorite cocktail?
Anything that's wet, baby. [Laughs.]
What other work needs to be done within the music industry?
Even being inclusive in the industry is performative. It's like, come on, we have one fat one, one gay one, one Asian one. It's all for looks at the end of the day. But I also hold those people accountable because I came up at a different time where I wasn't just the only gay one in the room. It was me and like a slew of other girls and we were all doing our thing. I couldn't take that pressure just being the only one anyway, 'cause it would just be a disservice to me, especially as someone that knows the history.
You have to talk about the other people that came before you and also the people that came after you because you're not the moment. It makes it seem very one-note as far as just the racial and social justice. I hold white people accountable every day. I always talk about race to the point where some people are like, "We're just talking about music. Why does it have to be a race thing?" And I'm like, "Did you not watch Ma Rainey's Black Bottom? It's always been about race."
Racism is the backbone of this country, we can't not discuss it.
Exactly. You have to challenge the aggressive white person but also the pseudo "woke" white person as well. They have Black friends, they're chill and they know what's going on. They listen to Snoop Dogg, but you have to challenge their asses too because nobody is perfect. Everybody could be better.
We came up in the underground. So we didn't have major labels, the limelight, the glitz and glamour. We had to fight for everything we got. We couldn't coopt an underground look 'cause we had to be our own artists. Biting people's styles and sounding like someone else was corny when I was coming up. Now, I think it's a shift where you have mainstream artists looking like underground artists, but they're not really underground.
I don't think there's a lot of authenticity, but that has always been a thing since the music industry was the music industry. That has nothing to do with if you're queer, straight or asexual. So I just like to maneuver on my own planet. I stay true to myself and I tip my hat off to anybody that's being visible, whether you're bringing attention to different body types or different sexualities or disabilities or whatever the f***--you want to make the world a better place. I'm just like, "B****, just be authentic and talented."