Piece of Cakes
The Atlanta-based rapper made waves on Netflix’s Rhythm + Flow, and his future looks bright.
In his faux-fur bucket hat, white shirtdress, and fuzzy silver coat, Rashard Bradshaw—better known as Cakes Da Killa—is an undeniable presence. I met with the provocateur in an intimate corner of one of his favorite local haunts, Mood Ring, a queer-friendly bar that serves a specialty cocktail based on the month’s astrological sign. He’s there to shoot a video for his upcoming single, “Luv Me Nots,” and while the cameras roll, he dances up to each of the extras, making out with them amid clouds of smoke from a fog machine. One might assume that after hours of filming (and kissing) he’d need a breather, but Cakes doesn’t stop. He chats up the bartender, grabs a cocktail, and sits next to me triumphantly, ready to dive in.
Cakes entered living rooms last year when he appeared on Rhythm + Flow, Netflix’s rap competition show, which featured Cardi B, Chance the Rapper, and T.I. as tough-but-even-handed judges. Cardi B memorably advised him to embody the mantra , “[I’m] a gay artist, but [I rap] better than all you n*****, and all you bitches.” What viewers who watched may not have realized is that the rapper was no industry novice. From 2011 to 2015, he released a string of mixtapes and EPs that earned critical acclaim (Pitchfork called his 2013 release, The Eulogy, “a total blast”), and he’s garnered a cult following. In 2016, his first full-length album, Hedonism, received praise for its raw, chaotic dance beats and empowering lyrics, which celebrated queer identity. Cakes’ next EP, which is still untitled, comes out around Valentine’s Day. Under the glare of neon lights, he tells me all about it.
I hear you’re a regular around here.
I’m like the unofficial official mayor of Mood Ring. I live in Atlanta now, but used to live around the corner, and would come in when I was depressed and spiraling. It has a nice ambience and vibe, and makes an old bitch like me feel comfortable. I’ve thrown a lot of events here, including my last birthday party, which felt claustrophobic because there were so many people that you couldn’t really move. But I like that, because I feel like my life needs tension. The tension of situations is what makes things interesting. A little danger is needed. It’s escapism.
Speaking of escapism, you were born in New Jersey, but left it for New York. Which feels more like home to you?
Well, I’m from Teaneck, New Jersey, but New York definitely broke my hymen. It was all about going into the city with my girlfriends as soon as I turned 18. We were the first group of girls from our part of Jersey that would get in a dollar van, cross the bridge, and go to warehouse parties in Brooklyn.
So how did you end up in Atlanta?
I needed a change of pace from New York. I had been here for maybe seven years, and I wanted to shake it up. I needed to humble myself and really focus on saving money. Now I want to go back and forth between Atlanta and New York. I like to think that I'm at this bohemian stage in life where I’m living out of bags, making music, and being an artist. I’m 29, so I have one more year to do it before it’s not cute anymore. No one wants to house a 30-year-old on their couch.
Fair. On the topic of being an artist, do you have anything upcoming?
I’ve been working on an EP for a while that’s going to be all original music. I want to really take my time. No one rushed me with my past releases, but there was still a sense of urgency. Now that I’m not based in New York, I can really go at my own speed. The tentative release date is February, around Valentine’s Day. I’m excited.
Ooh, let’s talk about this EP.
Well I’m vibing with a lot of house references lately. I listen to all types of music, but house and dance music have always been a thing for me. My flow is rooted in urban ’90s rap, but I wanted to use a different side of the brain for this project. A lot of people associate me with clubs and club music. As I get older, it’s like, let’s use a different vocabulary and showcase something different. When it comes to the theme, the EP is a breakup story. Breaking up with that hot fling you met at Mood Ring, breaking up with the city you thrived in, and in the end, breaking up with your past self. I’m entering my Saturn return, so my shedding process is finally coming to a close and a lot of old chapters are closing, too.
Many people got to know you last year through Rhythm + Flow, but you’ve been rapping for a while now.
Yeah, for almost a decade. That show was a little walk-through for me. My experience was really good, and I had a blast. I got the exposure that I needed from it, and was on it long enough to make the impact I wanted.
There was moment on the show when Cardi B got intense with you about being a gay rapper. Does being gay feel like an important part of your work?
I mean, I am a gay rapper, but when you come at me like that, where people are like, “We have to treat you differently,” the grading scale becomes different. You can judge me as a rapper, and let the fact that I’m gay be an afterthought. When my sexuality eclipses my work, it becomes like, “Girl…,” because I think people do critique me harder because I’m gay. But I also get it in the sense of visibility [for the queer community]. I’ve been working for a decade and things have changed a lot. In the beginning of my career, to be a male rapper wearing a wig was shocking, but you look at rappers now, like Lil Nas X, and the new generation is so much more freeform. They’re able to be who they are onstage. The window is finally open for the industry to be cool with that, and even put money behind it.
How do you feel about young people looking up to you as a role model?
As a gay kid from Jersey who came out in the third grade, I never thought I would be on the cover of a magazine for my music. I’m always thankful for that. My feeling is everyone should just do them. And if you’re going to be shady, be witty about it. Take any negative tension and see a therapist. I know not everyone has access to therapy, so write in a journal. And read a book, too.
Love that advice. Is that how you got inspired to write when you were younger?
Well not to sound cliché, but I would write poetry in elementary and middle school. Typical angsty gay things like issues with my body and whether or not the boy I liked even noticed me. Actually, poems will be included in the lyric booklet of my new project—words are my obsession. I went to school for journalism thinking I was going to be this Carrie Bradshaw who covered nightlife. But anyway, I would make these dumb videos with my friends on ooVoo back in the day, recording rap battles and posting them on Facebook. A friend [music producer Stixx] saw them, hit me up, and was like, “Hey, you can actually rap. You should get on this mixtape I’m making.” I started recording my junior year of college and got a check two years after that. I was like, “Oh my god, I’m a rapper.” You have to remember, at that time, the idea of a gay rapper or even an effeminate male rapping wasn’t a thing. There were gay rappers like Le1f, House of Ladosha, and Mykki Blanco—these were girls who were making money, but in Europe.
Last question. How did you come up with your name?
[Laughs.] Well the lie is that it’s a family nickname. Please keep in mind I never thought I’d be doing interviews or touring, so this was just a joke I thought would be kept hidden in the crevices of New York nightlife. But yeah, “Cakes” because I’m gay, so I had to be something sweet just to beat them at it. I don’t really rap sweet though, therefore the contradiction of “Cakes Da Killa.” Think of a cupcake with a razor blade in the middle. I think it fits.