The INTO Interview

Cakes Da Killa is doing it all for the gays

Photo: Ebru Yildiz

Cakes Da Killa has never sought to fit in. Knowing what sounds good and what comes naturally to him, Cakes has carved out his musical pathway through confident queer club bangers and floor fillers. Born out of feeling othered within the landscape, Cakes’ third full-length album, Black Sheep features Cakes celebrating himself and his chosen family over a cohesive collection of house and club tracks.

Produced alongside Cakes’ longtime collaborator Sam Katz, Black Sheep takes us on a spiritual journey through the New York club scene and the Brooklyn lots that raised Cakes and propelled him to stardom. Having been in the game for over a decade, Cakes delivers some of his most confident bars and sharpest rhymes, moving through the scene with power and poise.

We chat with Cakes via Zoom, as he is visiting his mother’s house in New Jersey before heading out on tour. With this new era, Cakes promises not only cutting-edge performances, but a full-fledged experience.

What was the inspiration behind this album, Black Sheep?

I can’t really pinpoint an actual inspiration. The feeling that drove the album was feeling very othered amongst outsiders already. That’s why I named it Black Sheep. But I think what I was trying to get across with the project was I wanted the listeners to have an experience of going into my mind. I watched a film called Paprika, which was really influential in how I laid out the album. But I just basically wanted to pop my sh*t and just give people a full Cakes Da Killa experience.

Photo: Matt Nelson

It’s been over a decade since that burst of LGBTQ+ artists like you, Mykki Blanco, and Le1f, took place in the New York underground scene. How would you say that the landscape has evolved since then?

There’s been a few different changes. For one, there’s not really a true underground, I would say. Because I think social media kind of absorbed that. I feel like what makes the underground special is the fact that these things are very insulated. And I think social media allows people to share more information share more looks and lingo. So there’s not really a set underground in a lot of these cities. And aside from that, I think that there has been a shift in mainstream media with more visibly queer people in the media compared to 10 years ago.

When you got started, Soundcloud was a vital platform for you. Now there are so many new avenues for discovery. TikTok, Spotify. You’ve also become known for your live performances. What, in this day and age, is the most essential avenue for music discovery?

I would say Spotify, but I’m old, so I don’t know. I think some people would say TikTok. I mean, you could find music anywhere. So I don’t know what’s the main thing, you know?

I think in this whole climate, though it’s so [centered around] stan culture. They go to a show just to see the person that they know, and they’re not really to see new people. I just went to an event and Vic Mensa performed, and then another group performed called Oxymorons, who I’d never heard of, and now I’m obsessed with them. I feel like I’m more of a concert consumer.

Back in 2019, you were on Netflix’s Rhythm + Flow, despite having a considerable following. Do you feel like this show opened you up to a new audience? What do you feel is a common misconception people, especially artists, have about reality TV?

Cat’s out the bag! – reality TV is more orchestrated than it seems. I mean, it definitely is real reality, because your reactions to these situations are real, but I think the setup is way more calculated and constructed. For me, I agreed to do the show because I felt like it was more centered around music and not drama or anything else. It seemed like it was more artist-centered, and I needed a kind of jumpstart in my career at that time. I thought that it would have been a great way to get the conversation going about me again. I’ve had other shows as me to audition or participate, but it never really felt right. And that show just felt right.

You’ve been very adamant about the fact that just because you are a Black, queer artist, that this doesn’t necessarily mean you make ballroom music. Do you feel that Black, queer artists are often pigeonholed into one realm?

I think media thinks everything is ballroom. We have those same conversations when you have contestants on Drag Race, doing “death drops,” – like, that’s not a “death drop,” it’s a dip. Sometimes information, when it gets too diluted or spread around different communities, it kind of loses its essence. Any time I make a track, people automatically assume it’s ballroom, when ballroom has a very distinct sound to it.

I think my favorite song is “Crushin’ In The Club.” It kind of reminds me of that dark, east coast sound, like Mobb Deep, and Wu-Tang with a club beat. How did this song come together?

Me and Sam were just working on the record and fine-tuning it and he had this beat that I hated – and that was the beat for “Crushin’ In The Club.” It has more like a West Coast vibe to me, like more of like a low rider vibe. Those are the types of sounds that I don’t really vibe to naturally. But I said, ‘Okay, I’ll work on this.’ And then that song came out, and it seems to be kind of a fan favorite too. So I’m happy I took the chance with that.

In “Problems 4 Problems,” you repeat “rappers want beef but they don’t want no problems.” How did you come up with this bar, and what does it mean?

I’ve been known for popping my sh*t for a majority of my career. But what people don’t realize is I wasn’t trying to do that purposely. I was just arguing with people who I know in my personal life. and things like that. It wasn’t about the music scene. This record is more about addressing the music scene and the landscape of music. The meaning is right in the message – people, want to start problems, but they really don’t want to take it there.

What was it like collaborating with Dawn Richard on “Do Dat Baby”?

Amazing. Love Dawn so much. I was so happy she was able to bless the record. And hopefully we’ll be able to do a music video.

Do you feel like even straight rappers bite off of gay rappers?

I don’t know that straight rappers bite off of gay rappers, but I do think that there are aesthetics that are from the queer community that are worn by straight people, and then it makes them seem cooler than what they are. But I also feel like there are a lot of people who are queer in the community that you may not know are queer. But I will say that there are aesthetics that are from the queer community that a lot of people will appropriate or put on, like drag.

How do you feel about the current state of Black queer representation in the musical landscape – particularly within rap and hip-hop?

Of course, there can always be room for improvement. But I also feel like – I don’t care what you identify as. Me, I just want good music and good quality music. I think that there are more avenues for queer rappers to develop a fan base and to be marketable, but I don’t think that has anything to do with a shift in the industry per se. I think this shift happened with queer consumers, they wanted to actually see themselves represented in their music.

Speaking of which, there’s this meme of you, where you’re doing a set, and you shout “this is for f****ts.” Do you have a favorite version of that meme?

I think they’re all funny! But to me, it’s like, I have all these meetings about going viral and what’s marketable. And I’m like, I don’t even know how to do that. I’m myself at one fucking concert, and then that’s what becomes a meme. And I’m like, if the kids love it, I like it. So it is what it is. But every Pride season, my mentions are just flooded all over again. 

I think that’s the best way to go about it – just being yourself and letting it manifest for you, rather than trying to chase a viral moment.

I don’t even know who put that clip that up! Like, it just was like on Twitter one day, and I was just like, “Oh, okay.” I mean, I stand by it. I don’t regret saying it, and my stance on that issue has not changed. It is and will always be for f****ts.♦

Don't forget to share:
Read More in Entertainment
The Latest on INTO