Review: Cakes da Killa’s Hedonism Brings Lust and Rage to the Dance Floor

For over a decade, Cakes da Killa has pioneered New York’s queer rap spaces, pairing hip-house beats that grind and grate with bars bursting with verve. One of the driving forces behind his music is his sense of humor, from a tongue-in-cheek remake of a Frank Ocean lyric to interludes referencing Bushwick gay bar Mood Ring to lyrics that pull inspiration from jokes in anime. On his second full length, 2022’s Svengali, the tone of his music shifted: The songs stretched out and turned inward as he explored longing, heartache, and rejection. 

His latest, Black Sheep, furthers that album’s smoldering, expansive sonic direction, incorporating more jazz horns and keys and slinky melodies carried by vocalists like Dawn Richard and Wuhryn Dumas. The project was written during a period of isolation for Cakes da Killa, when he felt “like an outsider among outsiders.” These 11 songs still twist and shimmer, progressing from dance to boom-bap, but he now raps from a place of remove. 

There are fewer ties to place here, fewer niche references. While his earlier work felt engrossing because of the urgency and specificity bursting from each word, the thrills in Black Sheep come from Cakes da Killa’s technical skill. Much like a talented sculptor can manipulate marble to look translucent or soft, the rapper reshapes the English language as he speaks it. 

On “Crushin In Da Club, he raps, “You could play dumb when you playing on the next bitch / Check this / Diamonds on my ears match the necklace / Mouth too wild, ain’t no player gon’ correct it.” His words unfurl across a twinkling piano line, precisely delivered but flowing like satin. On “Make Me Ovah,” he simmers,“There ain’t never been a need to beg your pardon / With this baby doll face, I still get carded / Keep a stern strut walk, is so unbothered / Steady getting to the bag without no problem.” 

The sense of nonchalance he embodies, even while delivering boast after boast, makes it clear that he is rapping from a place of authority and confidence—rapping for himself, first and foremost. – GRADE: A

You can check out Black Sheep on Bandcamp and elsewhere

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