Cakes Da Killa:
Wild Orchid in a Basement
Neil talks about summer as its own lifespan. His guest, rapper Cakes Da Killa, discusses how to tell a friend their music sucks.
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Cakes Da Killa is a rapper and the talent behind five critically-acclaimed mixtapes. Cakes has an international following that’s brought him all around the world. From Europe to Australia, Cakes has been redefining what it means to be a respected lyricist in hip hop. He has been featured in various printed publications globally and in television specials such as VH1’s LHH: Out in Hip Hop and VICE’s Gaycation. His debut album, Hedonism, dropped October 21, 2016. Cakes’ most recent single, Don Dada can be streamed on Bandcamp.
NEIL: Cakes. Thanks so much for being on She’s A Talker. I love your work, I love you, and I’m so grateful you’re on this.
CAKES: Thank you so much for having me.
NEIL: Where am I talking remotely to you from?
CAKES: Where? Where am I? Where are you? I don’t know where you are.
NEIL: I thought I had a psychic on the phone.
CAKES: She’s clairvoyant but not a psychic.
NEIL: Okay. Where is she?
CAKES: I am in Brooklyn. I’m in Bushwick in my apartment.
NEIL: Okay. And I am on the Lower East Side in my art studio. Can I ask for those who are not lucky enough to know your work, and let’s say you encounter someone and you need to succinctly describe what it is you do. What do you say?
CAKES: Cakes Da Killa is a writer who basically uses music as a medium to express different ideas that come from the Black gay experience. Mainly I produce a lot of club music, upbeat music. My music is rooted in escapism and just having fun and not taking yourself too seriously, but there’s still a sense of skill in my music that a lot of people relate to nineties hip hop. So I’m kind of a mash-up of like, DMX and a delight. If DMX and Lady Miss Kier had a baby.
NEIL: Oh, what a beautiful baby that would be, but writing takes primacy in that I’m hearing.
CAKES: Right. Because writing was the seed that started it. Initially, I wanted to be a writer as most homosexuals do being a little cherub, watching Sex and the City and fantasizing about a studio apartment in the Lower East Side, you know? Gallivanting in my Manolos and things like that. Then I started drinking. So that kind of floored and I stumbled into, into making music and rapping as a joke. And then the checks started coming in and 10 years later, I’m here doing this interview, so.
NEIL: Can I ask you, we’re talking on June 5th, broadly, what you’re coming into this call thinking about?
CAKES: Well, I actually just dropped a single for my new project today, so, I’m actually hitting the ground running. I’m like, let’s do this. I just did an interview earlier, I made some salmon, so I’m feeling completely regenerated and I’m ready to go.
NEIL: Can you tell me both about the salmon and the single?
CAKES: Right. Well, they’re both juicy. They both were cooked on stove, stove-top, little bit of olive oil, a lot of love, good seasonings. And you can’t get into this salmon because it’s gone, but the single could be listened to on Bandcamp, and it’s called Don Dada.
NEIL: Ah, after the —
CAKES: That’s like a high ranking gangster, which is basically what I am.
NEIL: I haven’t heard that expression before.
CAKES: Yes. I think it’s an Italian expression. It’s from the mob, I’m assuming.
NEIL: And can I ask, like the timeframe that you were working on it?
CAKES: Well, I started recording the EP called Motherland during the first weeks of quarantine, because I was writing a bunch of material and I had just put my sophomore album on hold because of the quarantine. And I was like, Oh, I want to do something quick for the fans and I was also like, we have to hurry up and record this before everyone is no longer on the planet.
NEIL: Talk about a deadline.
CAKES: Yeah. So it was a very, very, very firm deadline. So I expedited it and yeah.
NEIL: So it really it’s a work that marks this period of time right now.
CAKES: Yeah. The work is definitely talking about a lot of the anxiety that I was dealing with and how I took that anxiety and made fun and enjoyment out of it because I’m definitely known as someone that’s like a nightlife fixture in New York and around the world running around gallivanting and running amuck. So to then put that, you know, wild orchid into a basement is not really good for me. So this is basically the effects of that, but that kind of was all before. This pressure cooker we’re in now. So, so that kinda, it kinda was a little bit before that, but you know, for me being a Black male living in America, this police brutality and the treatment of Black people in this country and around the world, isn’t anything new.
And for me, I’ve always used my work as escapism or as a way to uplift, encourage, and just give people something else to think about. I mean, obviously there are important things in the world that we do have to face, and we do have to like put time and energy into those things, but we can’t do that for 24 hours a day. Like sometimes we need downtime to just let our hair down, have a cocktail and, you know, bring it back to the love and the energy because you need both. So for me, with the project, I was a little apprehensive whether or not I wanted to continue with the rollout. And then I realized: Why am I letting these things that happened in the world and things that have been happening to Black people affect my Black voice? It just, to me, it felt counterproductive to not put out positivity in the universe, especially for my community.
NEIL: I love it. And is there any part of you, if we’re returning to the COVID thing, you know, so you’re a wild orchid in a basement, has some part of you found that the wild orchid maybe likes the basement?
CAKES: No with the wild orchid found out in the basement, she needed to get a job because her entire European tour got canceled.
NEIL: Oh fuck.
CAKES: The wild orchid decided she was essential because bills are still due. If anybody was wondering.
NEIL: I know in the performance art world, there’s all kinds of, I don’t know what the word is, that there’s consensus developing around how to compensate folks that you had a contract with, who you’re not presenting. Does anything comparable live in, in the world in which you perform?
CAKES: I don’t think court jesters get stimulus packages, no. It’s very much sink or swim for a girl like me
NEIL: Right. Let’s go to the cards. First card is watching people starting to dance, talking about that moment when they go from not dancing to dancing.
CAKES: I don’t know, I people-watch, so. Do you people-watch?
NEIL: Oh my God. It’s all my work.
CAKES: Oh, you do love to be. Yeah. You do love to be — right, right. I, to be honest, I love to people watch, but I know for me, my transition from standby to motion is not cute at all. It’s not pretty, not attractive.
NEIL: Is it a pure kind of like kinesthetic thing? Or is it a psychological thing, which it is for me?
CAKES: It’s an “I don’t care” kind of thing. And I dance all the time. Like, you know, I’m constantly in motion, cause music is constantly in my head, I’m constantly talking to myself, singing to myself, rapping to myself. So I think that the weirdness about it is how free it is.
NEIL: Aha. Like the fluidity between it.
CAKES: Yeah. Like the fluidity between it. And I always, like, I never understand those people that are like, “Oh, I don’t dance.” And it’s like, well, what do you do with your body then? You’re immobile? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.
NEIL: Interesting. Yeah. For a while, I didn’t like to run, to go running, and the way I used to really experience it was that moment of going from not running to running. It’s like, “Okay, now I am — ” I even tried to do a video project about it, like, watching people take their approaches to starting to run.
CAKES: I could only run on a treadmill with, like, a bento box in front of me. Like I can’t —
NEIL: Just out of reach?
CAKES: Just out of reach. It’s like, just, just right there. I can’t run in the park or like run around the block. I don’t know. It just doesn’t, it doesn’t seem satisfying. Like, my running has to be forced. It’s either you run or you’re going to fall off this machine.
NEIL: Right, exactly.
CAKES: I think maybe we’re just all, we’re all just desensitized from all those years of being like: don’t run, walk. Maybe that’s what it’s about. We just hear that person in our head being like, “Ooh, don’t run.”
NEIL: Right. Right! That could really be it!
CAKES: Did you see how we just made that make sense?
NEIL: I love it. It’s like checkmark! Major checkmark. Next card: I feel infantilized by shorts.
CAKES: You wanna know what? I think it has to do with the length of the short. I think the higher the short, like, if it’s like a hot pant, that doesn’t make me feel infantile. That makes me feel like —
CAKES: It makes me — it brings a different type of, like, thing to it. But what I will say is shorts, I completely agree. You know, those right above the knee shorts? You know what I really hate too? The combo of a short and a sneaker and a high sock. Oh my God. I can’t.
NEIL: I know!
CAKES: It’s very camp counselor. It’s very that.
NEIL: Started camp counselor and now it’s like normcore, whatever, post-normcore, but it’s still not working. I could never pull it off.
CAKES: I would much rather wear a long shirt than a short and a tee shirt. That’s just me.
NEIL: Wait, so you’re wearing a long shirt…
CAKES: With like a sliver of like a denim, like a denim coochie cutter, like a denim short. Something really — I consider myself more of like a damsel in distress denim. Always.
NEIL: That makes such perfect sense though. Also about the length, it’s kinda paradoxical, because you would think the longer the short, the more it becomes like regular pants so you would feel less kid-like. But actually, maybe it’s that the longer the short, the more it starts to approach pants that are too small on you or sometimes the infantile thing.
CAKES: Right. It’s true! This visual of these — We should just have shorts that we could just, we could just grow. Like, we should be able to do that at this point.
NEIL: Next card: the macho-ness of certain artists saying they like tough feedback. I’m not sure how it lives in the music world, but I know in the visual art world, there’s this, I noticed this thing about, “Yeah! You know, bring it on!” A type of macho-ness.
CAKES: Right. I don’t really think that that exists in music. I think it did when music had a standard and when there was a certain level of respectable accolade. Nowadays, the reason why music is so shitty is because there is no bar. There is no standard and there is no self-editing or critiques. You know what I’m saying? So I think we need to bring a little bit more of that harsh criticism back to music to bring the level up a little bit.
NEIL: What form would that criticism — how would it be, you know, distributed? Or where would it live?
CAKES: First it starts at the home and between your personal circles. Start telling your friends that their music sucks. We could really start at the ground level. If we start there, then everything will trickle up and everything will be better. So tell your friends their music sucks.
NEIL: Do you have an approach? Let’s say I’m your friend. You love my work generally, but you hate a particular song I just came out with.
CAKES: Right. This is, this is definitely like happy hour. This is definitely girlfriend talk. My delivery, the way I would go about it, is it’s very like: “What inspired this song?” Like, “What were you thinking? Were you trying something different?” And so you fish at it to kind of get a sense of where they’re coming from and if they’re not giving you the layup, then you just go forward and be like, “I don’t think it’s your strongest piece of work.” I think that’s fair.
NEIL: I think starting with a question is brilliant. You ask them the question and they may say, “Well, I’m trying to express X, Y, or Z.” And then you can come back and say, “It’s not doing the thing that you’ve just now said you wanted it to do.”
CAKES: Or the answer, the answer could make you look at it differently.
NEIL: Aha! Right.
CAKES: And also the truth of the matter is, artists have their favorite things and things that they know are not that good. So you might fish for something and the person may be like, “Yeah, you know what? This is actually not the best that I’ve done.” So you might just get the truth.
NEIL: I want to ask a Corona related question. The card just has: Dreams of blow jobs, dreams of masks. Which comes from a personal space for me, which is, you know, I’m ancient and so I came up while, you know, the AIDS crisis was —
NEIL: Nineties, et cetera. And I remember at the time I would have these dreams of like, I’m in the middle of giving someone a blow job and then I realized, “Oh shit, I’ve just done this non-safe sex thing.” And I noticed lately a recurring dream I’m having is I’m outside and I’m outside without a mask.
CAKES: I’m screaming! Equating that same level of exposure, but it’s so true. It’s so true.
NEIL: How are you living with it?
CAKES: I — Let me get over this moment first. Hold on. Okay. So. As far as wearing a mask, I don’t like doing things that are not necessary or is not doing what people tell me it’s supposed to do. So first it was like, “Don’t wear a mask” and now it’s like “Wear a mask.” So at this point I just wear it because I don’t have a car and I have to get on public transportation. But your point about the blowjob is just sending me. Let’s go to the next card please, because the reoccurring dream… I’m screaming.
CAKES: Okay. Tangent, but still on topic…
NEIL: I love tangents.
CAKES: Right. I named myself Cakes Da Killa because I have a big butt and I’m effeminate and I wanted something that was sweet and campy, right, but I still wanted to have a little edge. So I put Da Killa. Obviously, I had no idea that I would become a touring artist and it would be my main source of income. It was a joke. You get what I’m saying? Now I can’t fucking change my name because of all the years of me painting the town red from fucking Bushwick to Berlin. So, I go back and forth with that. Rappers do name themselves some pretty wild things, but you have to do it because you have to go draw attention to yourself. But speaking, me personally, I didn’t think I would get attention at all. Like, I wasn’t trying to do that. You know what I’m saying?
NEIL: Uh huh.
CAKES: So the thing about my name is I wanted to change it maybe like two years ago. And I was having really deep conversations with my council of tastemakers and they wouldn’t let me do it. Like they would not let me do it. And it was like, I already had the new name picked out. I had the name chain made and it was supposed to be this reinvention, you know, kinda like Prince, you know what I’m saying? And they completely talked me out of it. So I think I go in and out with it.
So that was the tangent. Maybe that artist might show herself though in the future. Who knows? Yeah, I don’t know. Rappers have funky names, but, definitely, these companies too. They have funky names too.
NEIL: Yes to redistribution of wealth. But what about redistribution of shame?
CAKES: That’s a heavy one. Obviously, yes to redistribution of wealth. Shame… Where was it going? Where’s it going?
NEIL: I offer this kind of with mixed feelings only in that I think shame is not productive and yet maybe it is productive to the extent that it can push one in a direction. It just seems like a little dose of shame distributed appropriately could be transformative in the culture. I think.
CAKES: I feel like understanding and compassion does that more. Because to me, I feel like we’re in this generation where shame and guilt are being trickled down and redistributed in these funny ways. Like even today, you know, with Bandcamp who was doing this free promotion, where all the artists who upload their songs, Bandcamp doesn’t take a commission.
So now it’s like, we’re in this, it feels like it’s Black History Month. All these websites are making all these playlists and all these countdowns of Black artists you should support. Black artists! And I’m like, support these artists because they’re Black, but also support them because they’re making good music and don’t make this a thing where — I was just talking about this online. Like, is it really genuine? If your actions are fueled from guilt does that — you know what I’m saying?
CAKES: If you do it out of guilt or out of shame, it doesn’t change the curse of where the thing started from. It just repeats itself, which is what we see time and time again. Where, if you actually fully face it and understand it, then it’s no longer a thing.
NEIL: Yeah. And also shame, I guess, asks something. Or guilt certainly asks something of the person who you feel guilt in relationship to, I suppose.
CAKES: I feel like a lot of people shouldn’t feel shame because a lot of people aren’t really — they’re not really aware of what’s going on anyway, or what’s being enforced. They haven’t been educated about it. They don’t see it, they hear about it. So it’s like, how could you be ashamed about something that you’re just born into like, no, it’s not about shame. It’s not about guilt. It’s about educating yourself. And it’s about being honest. And it’s about looking in the mirror and being real. You know what I’m saying?
CAKES: I think the majority of it is: I’m going to do this because I’m not like this, or because I’m different. You know what I’m saying? But that’s fine. You may feel different or you may act different, but that doesn’t take away from the reality of the playing field not being leveled. It’s kind of like, in a way, having your cake and eating it too, where it’s like you’re still benefiting from these things, you know? So it’s, it’s deeper than, you know, showing up to the Black cookout. You know what I’m saying? It’s deeper.
NEIL: Well on that note, I want to ask you just these closing questions. Fill in the blank for X and Y. What’s a bad X you’d take over a good Y.
CAKES: In this age right now, I would take a bad bottle of wine over a good bump. At this age, at this age.
NEIL: At your incredibly young age, but I love it.
CAKES: At my ripe age. Final answer.
NEIL: Yeah. Yes. Okay. Another question is: What keeps you going?
CAKES: Myself. Myself is what keeps me going. Definitely.
NEIL: How does that work?
CAKES: If you think about it, you’re going to die and you don’t know when you’re going to die. How could you live your life, you know, through someone else’s filter? It makes no sense. So that’s why I was able to come out in the third grade. That’s why I was able to start recording music as an openly gay artist before, you know, this was even heard of, why I was able to tour and do what I want to do because this is my life.
And I took control of my life very, very young. And I don’t see me taking my hands off the wheel anytime soon. If you haven’t experienced, like I have, where your mother has you when she’s a teenager and you remember going to work with her as a child and witnessing the sacrifices she had to make to keep you taken care of, you just have a different sort of ethic. So it’s the reality that no one is ever going to give you anything in life. Nothing is free and you have to work. You know? So it’s just that.
NEIL: Last question. What are you looking forward to when this is all over, “this” being COVID, although you name the “this” at this point.
CAKES: Definitely. I want people to have a different type of lust for life. You know, obviously I want people to be healthy and I want this to reform the world and how we look at things. But selfishly, I really want people to have a better appreciation for nightlife. I think people kind of, now that me and my peers are getting older, people are kind of over-read and they don’t really appreciate it because of the drinking and the drugging or whatever.
But nightlife employs a lot of people in a lot of cities around the world. And I think it does add a certain spice that is essential to life. So I feel like it should be respected from the bartenders to the security, to the DJs, to the promoters. And I really hope after this people are really mindful of that.
NEIL: I love it. That’s a beautiful place to end it. Cakes, thank you so much for being on She’s A Talker.
CAKES: Thank you so much.
NEIL: Really appreciate it.
JEFF HILLER: She’s A Talker with Neil Goldberg. She’s A Talker with fabulous guests. She’s A Talker, it’s better than it sounds, yeah!