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Please, Listen to Everything CupcakKe Is Saying

We can call this the grand irony of progressive thought.

“And most people already skipped this song 'cause it ain't about sex and killin'” —CupcakKe, “Self Interview”

Let's call this one the misreporting of CupcakKe, the Chicago rapper being undersold by the press. If you google CupcakKe, the leading results produce a bevy of descriptions along the lines of “sex-positive,” “lewd,” “outrageously sexual,” and the like. These words are attached to esteemed articles that go on to celebrate CupcakKe for all that she’s worth, labeling her a fearless visionary. Yet, her visionary status comes second to her sexuality. And I get it. CupcakKe is an absolutely sexually free romp of an artist. Her bars hit, without question, and she raps about sex with more worldliness and charisma than the entire upcoming class of male rappers put together. None of the above labels are inherently bad, either—in fact, CupcakKe serves as a driving force in getting hip-hop culture to recognize and validate rap made by sexually forward women.

The problem facing CupcakKe is not that she is explicit and unabashed, but rather that we are taking to seeing her as exclusively explicit and brash. CupcakKe—for all her lyrical skill, impressive delivery, and ear for production that sounds like electronic rancor being turned into a dance party—is being written into a box. We cannot, as fans or critics, turn CupcakKe into a monolithic sexual being. Naturally, this is regressive. The grand irony here is that we are on a quest to celebrate CupcakKe’s progressive appearance.

This is not simply my fear for CupcakKe; this is a fear she holds close to the chest and explores on Ephorize’s “Self Interview.” The track is a classic never-change ballad. “Self Interview” is a conversation with herself wherein CupcakKe hopes fame and double standards, and her own sexuality, never weaponize and kill off her humility. And why wouldn’t she feel this pressure, when publications celebrate her for all she is worth, but always lead with sex before any of her other topics or skills? She is a unique case because none of the reviews lambast her sexuality—they celebrate it en masse. But as we know, the Law of Diminishing Returns creeps into every situation. We can call this the grand irony of progressive thought.

CupcakKe coverage seems to be operating with the unspoken rule that her sexuality must be mentioned at least so-and-so amount of times, else it is not a proper review. At what point, though, does that approach go from a fair appraisal of the music to an unfair devaluation of an artist? The natural recourse for CupcakKe would be to have worries twofold. Firstly, a concern over being seen as a one-trick, sexually redundant pony. And the second concern being that the people do not want varied content from her. No more “Self Interviews,” no LGBTQ+ positive songs, nothing but creative ways to serenade her pussy and suck dick.

The Guardian falls victim to floundering to find as many ways as possible to call CupcakKe’s music sexy. Their glowing, one-paragraph review for Ephorize opens “Sex-positive rapper cupcakKe is back with an exuberant third album of her trademark bold, cartoonish raunch.” While they’re not wrong in their choice of words—Ephorize is exuberant, cartoonish, and raunchy—it is the odd rush to run all these descriptors together that reveals an underpinning anxiety to make CupcakKe one type of rapper. In this way, the review subtly strips her of the room to become, or already be seen, as another. It is a quiet and unfair kiss of death masked as a series of truisms and compliments. Ephorize bangs and is sexy, but there is so much more going on.

The same can be said of CupcakKe’s most recent offering, Eden. In just 10 months, CupcakKe’s writing and delivery have become all the more surgical and thrilling. The album still follows the form of “cartoonish raunch,” but brings with it a refined ferocity. CupcakKe is spitting and barking in the same breath. She is a tireless rapper across 12 compelling and diverse tracks. Yes, she writes about sex on almost every song, and yes, goodness, does she do it well. At times, her inventiveness is second to none (“Garfield,” “Typo”), to say the least. But more importantly, Eden features two of CupcakKe’s heaviest and most socially aware songs: “Cereal and Water” and “A.U.T.I.S.M.”

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With “Cereal and Water” as the second song on Eden, it becomes nearly irresponsible to imagine and discuss CupcakKe as sexual in the first. The song is a sociologist’s dream, a smart breakdown of the mechanisms of systemic inequality in all arenas. Everything from the morally bankrupt social justice system and suicide to society’s propensity to protect abusers and all manner of racism and colorism gets airtime on “Cereal and Water.”

“He Black sellin' weed, he will never see day / That's funny when abusers ain't locked away” —CupcakKe, “Cereal and Water”

CupcakKe uses her forward approach, bullish delivery, and natural command of our ear to ensure no listener can turn a blind eye to the death of morality in our world as she sees it. It is a noble and effective feat, an emotional trick that pays off by planting seeds of social change in our minds. In a not dissimilar way from Vince Staples, CupcakKe takes her entertaining persona and subverts it to demonstrate the greater shortcomings we have as a society. When she spits “The morals is missing, the world is different / If you mind your business, you could own a business,” the lesson is not simply that capitalism ignores the laborer, but also that prosperity and ignorance go hand in hand. But they do not have to. Hence the hook, wherein CupcakKe promises to eat regardless of her circumstances. The assurance then evolves into a promise to keep up awareness, because ignorance does not have to be the only fruitful mindset. The track is layered and brilliant and has nothing to do with sex. That should not be a reason for anyone to skip it, as CupcakKe has so openly worried.

Then we have “A.U.T.I.S.M,” which plays in a similar note as Ephorize’s “Crayons,” where CupcakKe threw bundles of support at the LGBTQ+ community. The thesis of the track is fairly clear—“Every kid with autism know that my heart with 'em”—and represents another moment in CupcakKe’s canon where she refuses to sit down while communities are maligned. CupcakKe isn’t just for the children, she’s for everyone. Without turning herself into a tragic savior, CupcakKe uses the track as a moment to uplift, complete with a breakdown of the psychology of bullying. She also turns autism into a sweet acronym: “A unique-thinking individual strongly matters.” As with “Crayons,” the song is doting and kind, without transforming into a patronizing and commodified moment.

“A.U.T.I.S.M” plays a slightly different role than “Cereal and Water,” but one that is equally important. We have to assume that it is not news to CupcakKe listeners that harassing people on the spectrum is disgusting. The track does not exist to raise awareness so much as it serves as a moment of visibility. CupcakKe sees her autistic fans, and she loves them much like she loves her gay fans. Where erasure is so rampant, it is so precious to be seen. Again, CupcakKe accomplishes something great without any sexual bars to be heard.

All of this is to say, please, just listen to everything CupcakKe is saying. She is a complex artist worthy of our ear regardless of how sexy a track may be. If we wish to discuss and celebrate her, we must do so on the whole, not only in the pursuit of performing progressive standards and turning sexuality into novelty. With CupcakKe, there is obviously plenty at play, and there is so much more of her left to uncover. She’s got more content than we have ways to describe her as a sexual being. Go figure.

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