When does a label stop working for its original purpose? Some say they are useful at the beginning, like when they shed light on the rights of oppressed identities. But, as we should know, there is a moment when the system uses and abuses the concept of identity by labelling it. There is much more to a queer artist than their own queerness, as the actress Hunter Schafer tried to explain this past week. But the world, the system or the perception of the norm doesn't seem to be ready to understand this. They all should stop and listen to Cakes da Killa.
The New York rapper has just released Black Sheep, his new album, on Young Art Records. The singles Mind Reader (ft. Stout), Do Dat Baby (ft. Dawn Richard) or the fiery Cakewalk, which Cakes recently performed for Colors, are just a sample of the high quality of his new work. Throughout the album, the artist takes us on a spiritual journey from the clubs of Manhattan to the back blocks of Brooklyn, where he appears fully aware of his power, his place, and that he no longer settles for less than he deserves.
The record is inspired by his way of seeing the world, embracing the nightlife and creating community. Cakes is a performer who absolutely controls the space of these songs. ”I know I rap, and I know I'm queer, but I'm also very talented compared to queer people or straight people". He has reigned in New York over a decade-long independent career tearing up stages and dancefloors around the world with a mix of rap, house, jazz, dance, and whatever else piques his interest.
The black sheep is a figure often misunderstood, marginalised and isolated by society for who they are. This sentiment has accompanied Cakes throughout his career: though loved across the board, he has never fit neatly into any one scene, and the industry has long fixated on questions of his identity before considering his musical abilities. But Cakes da Killa is quick to remind he is one of them. His versatility is reflected in his melodic hooks, his clever phrases and his distinctive voice, which always exudes an assertive, raw power.
In a sense, Black Sheep is a crowning achievement of his graduation as a trailblazer: a figure who spent his 20s striving alongside his peers, focusing on the work and paving the way for the generation we see today. He's a rapper's rapper, a girl's girl, and ready to be a superstar. We found some time to talk to the artist about the album, the nightlife, labels, references, future tours and more.
Hi Rashard, how are you doing?
I’m fine. Recovering from my tour of Australia and Asia at the moment.
Congratulations on Black Sheep, your new album, how do you feel now that it's out?
Thank you! I’m super excited that’s it’s out and I’m happy it’s being so well received. Sam and I put a lot of work into it.
The first listen leaves a very fresh taste; of comfort, the main perception is that you are singing from a place of safety, charisma and calmness. When did you decide to start working on this album and what was the main message you wanted to convey through it?
There isn’t a main message, but I went in wanting to craft something unique with a lot of strong songwriting to it. The current market seems very bland. I wanted to put something out there that was raw and innovative.
On Do Dat Baby, you collaborate with the amazing Dawn Richard. How did this collaboration come about?
Dawn and I have been in touch for a few years and when I heard the demo back for Do Dat Baby she was the first person that came to mind.
In Mind Reader you sum up with style a night out at a queer club, and in the video, we see you go on to have a fun evening there. As this must have been a frequent source of inspiration throughout your career, what was it like shooting the video?
The video was chaotic but fun. It was my first time shooting a video out of New York, we filmed with a crew in Los Angeles, so it was a little out my comfort zone. Thankfully the label and my friends there helped bring it all together.
"Embracing nightlife and building community" is what the press release says when describing the album. Do you think nightlife (especially queer nightlife) has changed in the last decade? Is it still a safe place?
Yes, it’s changed a lot in many ways but that’s just the nature of life. As far as being a safe place I don’t believe anywhere is a safe place. I never prescribed to that marketing ploy.
Cakewalk is one of the highlights of the album. Your flow is impressive and perfectly shows your essence as an artist. We can appreciate it especially in the Colors live shows. How do you usually prepare for a live show?
A disco nap and a lot of tequila. Soundcheck is also essential.
"Keep me jumpin', jumpin', jumpin' (nod to Destiny's Child)", "I'm feelin' like a Braxton, see you in the cut (nod to Braxton Family Values); and "I rock the party that rocks your body” (nod to MC Lyte) are some of the moments in your lyrics where you pay homage or reference figures. Some of them are very interesting powerful black women. I wonder to what extent they have influenced your career and your life.
Black women are the trendsetters and inspire me so much. Even in those moments it’s a very unconscious thing, paying homage in that way, but I have to do it. It’s just second nature.
Does the label queer rapper make you feel more responsible? Don't you think it's sometimes unfair that the media focuses too much on one thing about you and not on the whole of your music?
I don’t feel anything about the label queer rapper and the older I get the more I don’t care about labels at all. I don’t know if it’s unfair because that label did give me a lot of attention, but I don’t think it should eclipse my actual talent.
How did your relationship with rap begin? Do you remember the first time you wrote a rap? Being a rapper with such a unique style, I would love to know more about your relationship with language and how you are inspired to write.
It began as a joke. The first song I wrote was in high school making fun of this straight rapper I knew who I thought wasn’t that good. Language is what got me into rap because I started out writing poetry. So, lyrics to me have always been super important.
There is house, jazz and samba influences in the album's instrumentation, and some incredibly hot beats. What has it been like working on this new album with Sam Katz? It takes time, effort and sometimes luck to find a collaborative partner to get your music just where you want it.
It was very seamless. Sam and I have been working with each other for a while, so we know each other which helps a lot when making an album.
In Downtown J you whisper “Black Sheep” several times. Why did you choose it as the title for the album? In can have different interpretations, but I’m curious as to how much it has to do with your position in music as a rapper who is queer, and that is implicit in your work.
It fit the mood I was in when I was writing the record but it’s also my overall vibe in the music landscape. I don’t play by the rules.
In recent years, ballroom, voguing and house culture have become more mainstream. Being a pioneer who has lived through it, how do you see the portrayals we've seen in TV series like Pose or shows like Drag Race?
I think visibility is great when it’s done correctly and credited correctly.
Was there ever a time when being a rapper and being queer was a conflict for you? If so, where did you find support and references?
Not that I can remember. I feel like I’ve experienced more conflict within the queer community than from outside which is unfortunate.
Finally, what's next for Cakes da Killa?
Black Sheep+, the extended version of the album, drops on April 26th. A North American tour will follow in June and a European tour in July. Then back into the studio to start it all over again.
Thank you very much for dedicating your time to us. All the best with the album, it's amazing!
Thank you!