WORDS

“Don’t get her gassed up, cause then you’re gonna be interviewing her instead of me!”

I’m on Bethnal Green Road with Cakes Da Killa and his grandmother, who looks so gobsmackingly young that she has to flash her ID to prove her 62 years of age. Cakes — real name Rashard Bradshaw — is over here to play the inaugural Afropunk London festival. In an impressive feat of multitasking, he’s been posing for Crack’s photo shoot while simultaneously getting his hair done (by a barber who’s just finished serving 17 years for manslaughter in Bolivia, no less).

It’s not long before the New Jersey rapper is due to be on NTS Radio, but that doesn’t concern him and his mates as they stroll down the high street cackling, his granny dipping into a shop to purchase a jacket she’d spotted. Eventually we arrive at his publicist’s flat, where we sip “talky juice” (i.e. cans of pre-mix G&T) on her balcony and discuss Hedonism, his long-awaited debut album that’s on the verge of release.

As its name might suggest, Hedonism is the aural equivalent of jumping from the club to the afterparty; packed with trunk-rattling beats, high-octane rapping and laugh-out-loud punch-lines. “It was a big realisation which I think a lot of people have when they’re 25,” Cakes says of the time period that inspired the record. “I was in New York for two months, getting out of a relationship. It was me completely falling back in love with myself and accepting the fact that I’m a rapper. I wanted to throw a party.”

"My performance is more orchestrated, more theatrical than a hyper-masculine showcase of testosterone"

The album doesn’t take itself too seriously but, equally, it hits hard. New Phone (Who Dis) opens with some cute bleeps before the melody is suddenly undercut by an 808 bassline that threatens to blow your speakers. Single Talking Greazy showcases his playful ferocity (“why these baby fags on my dick like a pacifier?”), Revelations sees him spit dextrous rhymes over a throwback East Coast beat and Up Out My Face sees a true meeting of minds between Cakes and guest artist Peaches. “She’s completely bat shit crazy and I love it,” he says of the Canadian provocateur. “We really mesh because we both have no-fucks-given type of personalities and that trickles into our music… It’s kind of like, no filters.”

Hedonism is Cakes’ first retail album but sixth release to date; his charismatic Eulogy mixtape and #IMF EP enjoyed particularly widespread acclaim. Yet the exuberant emcee began rapping, in his own words, as a joke “Not a joke, because I’m talented, it wasn’t a complete joke,” he qualifies. At his suburban NJ school, he was the cool gay kid who’d hang out with a group of straight boys and showcase his lyrical skills, before getting picked up by a certain influential music site. “At the time it was such a big deal for people. They were like, this is so big, and I didn’t even know what the fuck Pitchfork was.”

Journalists have often written about Cakes in the same ink as Le1f and Mykki Blanco, but he’s bored of only being asked about being a ‘queer rapper’. “I mean, I chose this lifestyle so I cannot complain — I could be a garbage man and then I wouldn’t be having a conversation about sucking a dick, I would just be taking out the trash!” he laughs. “But if you were to interview Pharrell, the conversation wouldn’t be, ‘So like, you being straight …,’ it would be a whole other conversation. I think that’s what shoots a lot of openly gay artists in the foot — all the press is about that.”

In terms of hip-hop, “people that think outside the box and set the trends” are some of the major influences on his style – the likes of Missy, Busta Rhymes and Cam’ron. But in terms of the performative element, he looks to the likes of Joan Rivers for inspiration. “I love Bette Midler, Patti LaBelle too, a lot of the older generation of people where there was a craft to putting a show on the stage. It was an art form as opposed to being like, I’m going to play the song and jump up and down. That’s so lazy to me. I feel like people should have more respect for the stage – not to sound like an old person,” he says, going on to describe a recent CeeLo Green show. “[CeeLo] shocked me. He performed barefoot and it was an amazing show. That was the first thing, like, where’s your shoes? Then he went on stage and I was like, I don’t care about your damn shoes, you’re amazing. Come out naked, CeeLo!”

So would Cakes Da Killa go shoes off at his own shows? He shakes his head. “I don’t have any health insurance so if I get ringworm or something I would be in the hospital forever.” A typical Cakes gig might, on the other hand, see him twerk or order his fans to only Instagram the cute snaps of him. “It’s not your typical ten-people-on the stage setup,” he tells me of his plans for tomorrow’s Afropunk performance. “It’s more orchestrated… more theatrical than a very hyper-masculine showcase of testosterone.”

Though he doesn’t see a complete 180 in what’s traditionally been a heteronormative, misogynistic genre (“I’m not ever going to say it’s going to be cool to be an openly gay rapper and be able to perform at Summer Jam, but it’s a lot different from when I was growing up, because this was unheard of”), he’s aware of the younger generation becoming freer in their expression; non-gender conformist and more fluid. The Goodie Goodies rapper is someone to whom kids less comfortable with their sexuality can now look.“

It’s all about self-love,” he concludes. “It makes people uncomfortable. That’s my brand, too. I’m big on loving yourself.” It goes without saying that Cakes doesn’t answer to anyone. “I had this one girl say, ‘After seeing you perform, you gave me the energy to come out to my mom.’ Just by me being myself. Which, to me, that’s what keeps me doing it. It is so great to me because I don’t give a fuck. I live completely unapologetically, and I want everyone else to.”

Hedonism is released 21 October via Ruffians / Thirty Tigers

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