Cakes Da Killa, “Black Sheep”
By Dash Lewis · March 27, 2024 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Cakes Da Killa has always sounded ready to fight at a moment’s notice. The rapper’s confrontational style, aggressive in vibe and intense in groove, quickly earned him a space at the forefront of New York’s flourishing queer hip-hop scene a decade ago. As his star rose, Cakes achieved a certain kind of popularity—slightly outside the domestic mainstream, but able to frequently tour internationally. As an openly queer rapper, he constantly bumped into a glass ceiling. After throwing elbows and stomping feet over a series of mixtapes and EPs, Cakes felt tired of repeatedly having to prove himself. 2022’s Svengali, which toned down some of the noisier aspects of his raucous hip-house, showcased a newly self-assured Cakes Da Killa; he never lacked confidence, but there was a marked shift in approach. Instead of the brash, door-kicking style of his early work, Svengali had more hedonistic concerns, favoring the pursuit of pleasure over the assertion of space. Now, with Black Sheep, Cakes fully embraces a me-first attitude. It’s an impressive display of pure rapping ability and irresistible grown and sexy grooves with an attitude that seems to say: “I’ve been here all along, it’s on you to show up.”

Cakes reunites with producer Sam Katz, architect of Svengali’s jazzy sound, who provides Black Sheep with a silken, low-lit palette. Rhodes piano and vibraphone abound, shakers soften the impact of deep bass drums. Katz keeps the tempos excitable but relaxes them slightly, opening up new spaces for Cakes to inhabit. The four-on-the-floor rave-ups are still present—look no further than the rollicking drums on “Mind Reader” or the deconstructed jungle of “Cakewalk” for your dance music fix—but more often, Katz’s productions shimmy and slink like a nocturnal animal. “Crushin In Da Club” sounds more akin to L.A. nervous music à la Drakeo the Ruler than New York house, and “FourPlay” is a sumptuous bit of lounge-y Tropicália. But nothing Katz provides throws Cakes for a loop; he’s able to morph his flow with astonishing ease, developing effortless, almost liquid-sounding pockets throughout the entirety of the record.

Instead of the vulnerability Cakes displayed on Svengali, he’s in full-on boast mode throughout Black Sheep. And while it’s not a total return to the more in-your-face lyricism he displayed in the past, it’s still cocky: Cakes is wealthier than you, more well-traveled, has better and more frequent sex and, in general, is simply living a life more lavish than you could imagine. His verses overflow with descriptions of luxury hotel rooms and shopping sprees, glasses full of expensive champagne and views from airplane windows. Through all of it, he reminds you that he’s always been this good, a top-tier rapper and incredibly magnetic personality. Most of all, Cakes doesn’t need your approval. Black Sheep is the sound of finally coming into your own, fearlessly, furiously, and fully inhabiting yourself.

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