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My 2014: Cakes Da Killa and Rizzla on Queer Music's Ascent

The rising gay rapper and Fade to Mind affiliate look back at a year of ballroom culture, queer rap, and political club music.
December 25, 2014, 8:00pm
Cakes Da Killa (left) and Rizzla (right) 

When Fade to Mind affiliate Rizzla got together with the rising New York rapper Cakes Da Killa, it felt like a revelation. Both artists circle around Brooklyn's thriving underground, but—to my knowledge—have never collaborated on a track before. Still, they share some important common ground. 23-year-old Cakes is an immensely talented gay rapper who calls himself "the most clinically insane cunt bitch up in the game." His ferocious style references 90s battle rap, while his words land hard like stones on a pavement. Rizzla favors the same brittle, aggressive sounds—he even commends Cakes for rapping "like a kick drum"—albeit in club music form. He also circles the same Brooklyn queer scene that Cakes inhabits. With Rizzla on the remix for Cakes' track "Truth Tella," which you can hear below, we decided to get both artists to interview each other. They looked back at their respective careers this year, while also discussing larger issues in their community—like the ascendance of "queer music," ballroom culture, and what it means to make political club music.

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Cakes Da Killa: Let's start with this remix. I remember we did a show together and you were on the bill. I assumed you were a black guy. I was talking to my friend Tiga like, "This guy is so good, I can't wait for Rizzla to get on." Tiga was like, 'Bitch, that is Rizzla!' So I hit you up and you remixed one of my favorite songs, "Truth Tella."

Rizzla: The beat was directly inspired by the vibe of that party—a gay rap thing in a dark warehouse, like on the post-Ghe20 G0th1k spectrum. I've always clocked everything you do. You're like a prophecy. I wanted the vocal for "Truth Tella" to sit on some drums but have every word that you said be heard. Your records have so much influence from Jersey Club and ballroom. What do you think of the state of ball and the resurgence of ballroom culture in 2014?

CDK: There is a very whitewashed kind of resurgence going on right now. It's like, the whole Madonna thing all over again—these girls going into Vogue Knights doing market research. But I think it's cute because it brings attention to the ballroom community. I just wish the community was smart enough to capitalize off the fame and talent. Like, don't give your best dancers to this artist to use for a tour moment and be done with. There is talent in the community that could be on that stage as the main performer. Don't let all the celebrities who want to come in, just come in.

R: Scenes get copied so quick nowadays. If something you're doing is blowing up, someone is going to try and do it better, so you've got to keep that in mind. Going into the next year, it feels like a lot of us in "queer music"—for lack of a better term—are getting our shit together in different ways. It always kills me how we don't have elders to look up to. I wish there were people in their mid-40s who were doing what we are doing, who are still alive.

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CDK: Everyone is cut-throat, coked up, or dead.

R: Yeah. I've been thinking about how to build unity so that it's not about attacking the limited amount of gay artists out there, or being oppositional to straight shit. The Hot 97 thing—that's the real story. Do you want to fill people in on what happened?

CDK: Hot 97 pitched me to be one of the guests. Peter Rosenberg was like, this kid can really spit, let's bring him on. Because even though I'm gay and rapping over a ballroom beat, I'm not chanting. I'm really rapping. I was really nervous because it was my first American radio interview, and it was both mainstream and black. But it didn't hit me until I got on the train—this is not just a big deal for me, but a big deal for everyone else. That made me feel really uncomfortable. And when I got there they didn't even offer my alcohol! Granted it was 10AM, but a shot would've helped. Anyway, it was fun. They just wanted to talk to me about music and awkward gay things, like whether I'm attracted to butch lesbians.

People assume that I'm just this gay scene figure. But I just got into the gay scene. With my first mixtape, I was doing straight shows. I was the faggot who got on the mic and gagged straight people. A lot of my friends were straight guys, so questions about my sexuality don't faze me.

R: How did you feel about what happened?

CDK: In this industry, we're like boy scouts. The more badges you get, people look at you differently. People who I'd been working with immediately started treating me different. Which made me think, were you really fucking with me or were you waiting for me to pop off? 

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You can't just be this gay person who only hangs out with gay people. You have to interact with heterosexual people and these are some of the questions that they ask you. Don't be offended, it's just ignorance because it's not their reality.

R: I felt like people [in the queer community] were too sympathetic. It shouldn't be like, oh poor baby, you went to Hot 97, now come back. It should be like, look at how well he dealt with them asking these questions. You put your foot in it and you step forward. I thought it was a really good moment for gay rap in general.

CDK: What about you? Was there any event that stood out to you this year?

R: I started out super DIY and sample-based. Now I'm trying to refine myself as a producer and upgrade my studio practice. I'm finishing my release for Fade To Mind, working on remixes with Mixpak, and building with my DJ fam False Witness, Kilbourne, and Stud1nt.  Rappers are much more individualistic. You're on a stage—you're not behind [a booth]. With DJs, you're part of a collective. You can share power, and that's cool. When it comes to queer and female DJ collectives, there's been this idea of, let's build this year. That's how you get mainstream success: you build a strong foundation.

I want to see what the next wave of club experiences will be. There's only so much longer that dance music can be apolitical. Producers and DJs are going to have to start acknowledging the injustices in our society. We don't really have political tracks. I want to figure out why.

CDK: Everyone just wants to turn up.

R: Right? So is this the permenant state of club music? I want to turn up too, but I think next year, it's gotta give one way or another.