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Cakes Da Killa Is Done With Games

After more than a decade in the game, the NYC rapper is out to prove that marketing, budgets, and clickbait or not, he’s one of the most talented out there. 

by Ben Boddez

Photo by Matt Nelson

New York City rapper Cakes da Killa has already been grinding for over a decade, but now that he’s reaching a new level of recognition with projects like 2022’s widely acclaimed Svengali, he has one main hope in mind – that his talent, and nothing but his talent, will be able to speak for itself. Whether it’s his eschewing of the industry games that certain artists know how to play so well or his frustration with the media’s years-long focus on his identity as a queer rap artist instead of the music he makes, Cakes knows that at the end of the day – online trolls and record executives be damned – nobody will be able to say that he can’t rap.

After realizing that he’d fallen into the cliché of dubbing two albums in a row his most “personal” work, Cakes is laughing to himself while searching for a new word when we find him. His latest, Black Sheep, certainly has a case to be dubbed as much when it comes to its blend of sounds. Inspired by the dancehall, ballroom, hip-hop, exuberant pop and dancefloor-centric tunes that made him while growing up and finding community in the Brooklyn and Manhattan club scenes, it finds Cakes’ rapid-fire flows, clever punchlines and old-school “rapper’s rapper” mentality adapting to every sonic curveball he tackles.

“I wanted to present a work that covered all my bases,” he says. “As an artist that can be inspired by a Bounty Killer song as much as a Lady Gaga pop record, operating in nightlife and partying is where I get a lot of my inspiration from, so I wanted to take the listener on a journey traveling through New York. It starts dance-y, and then gets more boom-bappy, because that’s how my days go.”


“I wanted to take the listener on a journey traveling through New York. It starts dance-y, and then gets more boom-bappy, because that’s how my days go.”

— Cakes Da Killa


In addition to 90s stars like Busta Rhymes, Remy Ma and Cam’ron, Cakes’ quick-witted and quick-syllabled flows – and his desire to be a rapper in the first place – owe a lot to ballroom MCs, who ran drag events in the LGBTQIA2S+ hotspot of Greenwich Village. Just as early hip-hop stars were known as MCs in their own right, the term of course originated from the entertainment value brought by a Master of Ceremonies.

“MCs are how rapping on beat started, the foundation of hip-hop. In ballroom the MCs keep the category going, rapping in a certain type of chanting, punchy format over the ballroom beat. It gave me courage when I was younger – the concept of being very feminine on beat was unheard of to me at the time,” Cakes says. “Different gender presentations, voguing, drag, everything that seems so mainstream now, you had to go to a specific place to see that before social media took over. So, the Village will always be important to me.”

Another reason why Cakes terms Black Sheep his most personal is because it contains a handful of lyrics where he takes a no-holds-barred approach to sharing his thoughts on the industry – and the kind of art it creates and promotes in its current state – for the first time. As someone who started out wanting to become a journalist, Cakes understood things from both sides when we connected over being reluctant salespeople.

“I think what I’m realizing now is that because of social media, there are people who are great salesmen, or they have great personalities, or they have a great aesthetic, and that puts them in places that I don’t think that they’re qualified for talent-wise,” he says. “Okay, I get it, you’re likeable, but you can’t rap. You can’t sing. You can’t write. The bar is getting low and it doesn’t sit right with me.”

Expressing thanks for his partnership with a label full of what he calls “Type-A” people to handle some of the self-promotion work for him, Cakes responds negatively when asked if there are any new sounds or movements that are currently exciting him, lamenting the quality of recent mainstream rap releases while better artists are relegated for their lack of understanding about playing the game – “I find that people who are actually invested into their talent are too exhausted to do that!” he says, laughing about country’s recent takeover as the most-streamed genre with an “I knew this was going to happen!”

Thinking back to his younger days of first discovering an antithesis to the machismo of big-name rap stars in Greenwich Village clubs, Cakes points to the current success of female rappers, now often outshining their male peers in the sales department. It’s why he knows that the only way to push quality to the forefront – and to stop people from attaching what he calls “buzzwords and clickbait” to his own output – is by the consumers simply showing up in support.

“Underserved communities are always fighting to have their seat at the table. A lot of consumers now are looking at themselves and wanting to invest money into products that look like them. I’ve always said that I don’t really think there needs to be an industry acceptance of a queer rapper. I think queer people just need to invest money into queer acts and then they would be mainstream – and that’s what’s happening now with women wanting to see women entertainers and flooding the market with all this money,” he says.



“I get the whole marketing game, but I don’t want it to overshadow the quality of my work,” he continues. “I feel like a lot of people get caught up in ‘Here’s the new queer artists you should listen to on the queer playlists,’ and they’re not really doing the work of ‘Is this a good or a bad song?’ That’s fine, the visibility is great, but I think we’re losing the point of just listening to music because it’s good.”

Despite his hatred for the performative nature of TikTok and a general disdain for the fakeness of most reality shows, Cakes actually found himself on one back in 2019 – “but that was a good one, because I felt like it was more centred around talent,” he interjects – Netflix competition show Rhythm + Flow, which saw judges Cardi B, T.I., and Chance the Rapper looking for the next rap sensation. When it comes to a guiding icon for realness, however, Cakes looks to Grace Jones. He reads her 2015 memoir, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, as inspiration before each of his releases.

“Talking about performing, she says ‘As long as the crowd doesn’t leave, it’s a good show’,” he says. “As a performer, sometimes I’m like ‘This is not going to look good, the pictures are going to look boring, not enough people are recording or know these songs.’ I have to think about it as just me sharing my art with people. Whether they like it, they’re indifferent, or they don’t, as long as they don’t leave the room, I appreciate that.”

Cakes’ album is dotted with references to late ’90s and early 2000s stars, and the visuals for single “Do Dat Baby” were created with loving homage to the styles of the hip-hop videos from around that time. When asked about some of his personal classics, Cakes just continues to prove that he’s always going to exist outside of the norm.

“Everyone is going to say Missy and Busta, so I’m going to go for some more obscure answers,” he says. “The Terror Squad ‘Lean Back’ video is one. Anything Q-Tip is great. All the Dipset videos. It was just more interesting, but I think that’s just because they had more budget than I do.”

Regardless of any constraints he finds himself dealing with, Cakes will continue to make the most of his situation and make art for himself – as long as he finds it fun. Whether he and his fellow black sheep will ultimately rise to the top is up to the consumers.