Rashard Bradshaw arrives at my apartment on a humid 90-degree night, dressed head-to-toe in fashion camo, one arm saucily slung over my banister and a Strawberita tucked tight in the other. With a well-earned bravado and rambunctious sense of humor, the smirk plastered across his cherubic face sparkles almost as much as the five dollar Trader Joe’s champagne I plan on serving with our devil’s food cake. After all, we have a “Cakes & Cocktails” themed night all planned out; a cheeseball way to celebrate the progress Cakes da Killa’s made across two years and multiple state lines.
Because at 23, Bradshaw has already accomplished more than most of his peers, as he can already count main stage gigs, Pitchfork nods, and an acclaimed Mishka-released mixtape as entries in his musical résumé. But tonight he’s just Rashard, a cackling whirlwind of quips and corner store booze—a party-centric personality who still minds his manners, politely takes his shoes off, and shrugs off the Duncan Hines box hidden in the kitchen corner. However, unlike his career, our attempts at being boozy Betty Crockers isn’t going as well as planned. Especially since my oven decides to mysteriously stop working tonight of all nights.
“It’s okay, I actually hate cake,” he laughs. “I’m on a diet. And besides, I only fuck with ice cream cake.”
Instead, his intriguing moniker comes from the fact that “cakes” alludes to “big butt” in the gay community.
“I’m just going to own that,” he giggles as he takes another swig from his 25-ouncer. “Everything I do it may seem very vain, very surface level, but it’s actually very deep.”
Bradshaw shakes his head, a brief look of insecurity flitting across his face, “Like in the gay community, being thick is so bad. Everyone wants to look chiseled or like a twink. But I’m going to be a thick boy. I’m going to be Cakes and it’s going to be sweet.”
I giggle in response. After all, it’s this kind of double-entendre wordplay that’s put his raunchy, spitfire rap in the spotlight.
Known for his gasp-fap lyrics and firecracker stage persona, Bradshaw isn’t afraid to flaunt what he’s got. Aggressive, hyper-sexual and totally unfiltered, watching him perform is an an adrenaline rush of an experience. Completely unconcerned with what you think, he’ll fuck with you, chew you up and spit you right back out. Because when it comes down to it, Cakes is definitely not one for calm. Take his whoop-inducing Afropunk performance for example. A flamboyant, over-the-top gut-puncher of a set so frenetic that he had to insist on a few “Big Bitch” breathers. You couldn’t upstage him if you tried (though a local marching band passing the stage tried unsuccessfully).
“Censoring yourself as an artist is just so strange to me. It takes the fun out of it,” he smirks. “Especially when you come off of a project like The Eulogy, where it’s all about dicks and cum. That’s just what people want. My hustle is making music, drinking, entertaining, throwing parties, just being young and dumb.”
It’s not a lifestyle that’s typical for most other Jersey-bred Johns. Not that Cakes would really care or want to settle for the typical eat, sleep, work, repeat lifestyle so prevalent amongst his Teaneck-dwelling peers. “I can’t tell you shit about Jersey other than my neighborhood,” Bradshaw insists with a shake of his head. “Ever since I was a teenager I was like running to New York like every free weekend. I don’t know what people in Jersey do.”
He rolls his eyes, leaning in to let the feeling of intimate gossip hang in the air. Sniffing, he says, “It’s literally a 15 minute train. But I guess it’s hard when your perception of New York is like Times Square.”
It’s an understandable viewpoint. As a fellow suburbanite turned city-dweller, I understand that there’s a sense of pride in the achievement, especially if it comes after the “so close, yet so far” mentality of still being bound to a “greater” metropolitan area for what feels like forever.
Then again, success started early for Bradshaw, who released his mainstream debut—the Mishka-backed Eulogy tape—while still stuck beyond the tunnel. A catalyst for acclaim, it was a prodding of public consciousness backed by an equally as hyped clothing company known for its stylized and slightly grotesque aesthetic. An attention-catching brand that was, and still is, extremely well suited to the in-your-face Cakes aesthetic.
And with its camp-heavy, dance-friendly vibe, he found that the tape was well-received abroad, especially amongst the college-aged circuit. Insatiable in regards to success, Bradshaw has resolved that his new project will be focused on the American market. A more hip-hop based album that he describes as “a lot less gay.”
“Even though it’s still pretty gay,” he winks. “I was just in a different phase when I wrote The Eulogy. I was in college, trapped in a dorm room, pent up sexual frustration, so that’s why it sounded like that.”
“Sounded like that,” of course referring to the fact that Cake’s modus operandi is series a mischievous, sleepover-style confessionals, complete with overtly sexual overtones and brunch-worthy tales of eyebrow-wiggling dalliances. Case and point come choice lyrics like, “Cause my shit come tighter than a drag when she tuck, what,” and the even more overt, “I fuck him good make him cum all on his wife beater/ He never fucked a fat bitch / Me neither.”
“Hot 97 played me once when I was up there,” he laughs, a little side smirk appearing. “My old college roommate hit me up and was like, ‘Yeah, I heard you on Hot 97 and it was just like bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep. You should just make radio friendly music.’”
But his response is merely a dismissive snort, “I’m just like, ‘Ugh, can I think about that later? I just want to be like 23 right now’.”
Can I think about that later? I just want to be like 23 right now
An interesting balance, as while his on-stage persona may seem uncompromising and unapologetic, Bradshaw is deep down, a secret schmooze. A sparkling socialite who fits right in with his Libran star sign archetype—charismatic, easy-going and extremely likeable. But they’re extremely important traits for someone who many have labeled as one of the brightest stars in NY-based queer rap.
Take the interview he recently gave to the aforementioned Hot 97, arguably the most influential hip-hop radio station in operation today. That in and of itself is quite a nerve-wracking premise, exasperated only by the kind of cringe-inducing prodding that comes in the form of questions like the “is it directly penis that excites you the most?” query he had to answer.
“A lot of people especially in the quote-unquote queer community felt like it was a very awkward interview,” he shrugs. “But my thing is that I throw a party every Friday and it’s not a gay party. It’s a straight mixed party. These are the kinds of questions I get asked and I’m not one of those queer people who don’t have straight friends, so I’m used to it.”
And while he knows how to tactfully navigate a situation, make no mistake that Cakes is in charge.
“You tell me to tone it down, now I just want to talk about gay shit,” he snorts as he recalls the story of an aspiring rapper who wanted to collaborate. But only if certain stipulations, specifically “cutting the gay stuff,” were met. “I like the situations where I can just be me. Either you like me or you don’t.”
After all, he’s definitely not one to back down. Especially since a big part of his mentality revolves around a refusal to be pigeon-holed as a gimmick. Never reliant on what many an ignorant critic labels as a part of his “schtick.”
“The music I make is just based on the fucking phases of my life,” he explains, a hint of acridity creeping into his voice. “When I get into my radio friendly phase, people will know.”
Because while his go-to lyrical fodder may be raunchy, booty-bumping tales of backseat dalliances, he adamantly emphasizes that his sexuality isn’t the reason he’s hyped. “There were gay rappers before me and there will be gay rappers after me,” Bradshaw says. “I would never front and say that being gay makes me special. I do talk about my sexuality and myself in my music, but I’m not going to sit here and say just because I’m gay, that’s why I’m getting all this attention.”
It’s pretty easy to convert the skeptics. All it really takes to convince them is hearing a good ten seconds of his head-spinning, mile-a-minute rap. Bradshaw’s still grounded though, eschewing the stereotypical champagne spray braggartry in favor of a home-bred humbleness underlaid by an inkling of indebted acknowledgement.
“You can’t discredit my lyricism, my creativity and discredit that I’m a dope-ass HAM of a performer,” he sniffs, playing with the rim of his glass. “So yeah, it’s kind of a double-edged sword in a way. Like if I wasn’t gay, would we be having this conversation right now? I don’t know.”
It’s a pessimistic view, especially since I like to think that most of his popularity can be chalked up to the fact that he is the personification of a good time. An artist who can articulate the deep compulsions usually buried beneath layers of social conditioning. Someone who refuses to give into reservations and strange guilt complexes.
If I wasn’t gay, would we be having this conversation right now? I don’t know.
“I’ve tried to write other songs,” he explains. “Ones where I’m like, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t talk about that too much’ or ‘Maybe instead of talking about myself and this boy, let me use she or let me talk about myself as if I was a girl’ and that’s just too much. Like I’m not on a record label, why do I need to worry about this? These songs are just going to end up on Soundcloud, you know?”
And there’s something incredibly admirable about the way he’s so open. So absolutely brave and unapologetic in regards to the kinds of hyper-sexual, taboo desires we all experience yet try to hide. And it’s the reason why “fucking ferocious” is really the only honest way I feel like I can describe him, whether we’re referring to the relaxed, chamomile-sipping Rashard or his crazed, cocktail-swilling Cakes persona.
“There’s no real separation,” he insists. “I’m not really trying to put on a front, I’m just doing normal. It’s just that ‘Cakes’ sells better than ‘Rashard.’”
He grows quiet as he senses my questions coming to a close. His saucy simper replaced by something softer. A little more thoughtful.
“Sometimes when I’m looking at pictures of myself on stage I gag, because I’m tapping into something that. . .” he pauses, collecting his thoughts. “Like, if I was trying to take a selfie that wouldn’t be the picture. But I also think that’s why my shows don’t come off as like a typical rap show.”
Bradshaw shoots me a pointed look, playfully batting at me, his eyelids aflutter and mouth pursed into an exaggerated pout. We both crack smiles simultaneously, responding to the same weird, off-kilter delight that comes with the haphazard and the unexpected.
“Definitely not typical.”