Since its foundation in 2009 —headlined in that first iteration by the great Brian Eno— Vivid Sydney has been a unique multidisciplinary jubilee that converges architecture, technology, art, and design. Voted six times between 2013 and 2019 as Australia’s Best Tourism Event at the Australian Event Awards, the festival is comprised of three components, Vivid Light, an initiative that paints Sydney’s urban landscape with spectacular large-scale light installations, Vivid Ideas, a series of talks with world-leading thinkers, and Vivid Music, where the most exciting global performers hold live shows in unconventional spaces.
As part of Vivid Music, this year, audiences will be blown out of their seats by one of the most potty-mouthed, aggressive rappers in the circuit today, an eccentric fusion between RuPaul and Eminem.
Rashard Bradshaw, better known as Cakes da Killa, is one of the most visible exponents of the controversially labeled “Queer rap” movement to come out of New York City in the early 2010s, alongside the likes of Le1f, Mykki Blanco, and Zebra Katz. The monicker is certainly a contentious one, as these artists are neither the first queer rappers to ever hit the scene, nor is there a common stylistic approach among them to give their sound a unified descriptor. Something they do share in common is a readiness to introduce new paradigms into hip-hop culture.
“We live in this box, in order to be in that box you have to be strong, you have to be tough, you have to have a lot of girls, you have to have money, you gotta be a player or a pimp, you know, you gotta be in control.” American Filmmaker Bryon Hurt states in his lauded documentary Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes from 2006, “You have to dominate other men, other people. If you’re not any of those things, people call you soft, or weak… And nobody wants to be any of those things. So everybody stays inside of the box.”
At this point, hip-hop is well into its fifth decade of evolution. Today’s crop of artists is stepping out of that square box that Hurt talks about, defying the traditional obsessions towards manhood, sexism, and homophobia that have permeated rap culture since its inception.
Lyrically, Cakes da Killa brings to the forefront what it’s like to be black and gay in today’s America, but he does it by circumventing the hefty historical socioeconomic causes of the racial divide. He focuses instead on the mundane trials and tribulations common to any millennial like hooking up or the pursuit for social recognition. His relentless bars deal with those little everyday dramas that might seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but that in the end mean the whole world in our personal life. In this regard, he’s closer to the self-awareness and humour of someone like Big Dipper, than to the political militancy of Disposable Heroes of Hypocrisy.
His is a hedonistic message where love, beauty, and the search for pleasure are at the centre of a life’s struggle. Cakes is offensive, raunchy, and unapologetic, delivering his lyrics with lightning speed and extraordinary accuracy. Every word can be heard perfectly clear, his verses are there to be respected.
Musically, Cakes has worked with several producers since his debut recordings back in 2011, but one can notice an evolution from traditional hip-hop beats in his early career to a club-oriented house sound in his latest releases. His tracks today are full of incisive hi-hats, French Touch style basslines, and such dancefloor staples as the infamous air siren sample.
Being a kid in the 90s, I grew up with the impression that House music was mainly a thing of white people. You know, Madonna’s ‘Vogue’, Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World’ or Armand Van Helden’s ‘U Don’t Know Me’. It was much later as an adult that I learned that House music is actually the invention of black DJs from Chicago’s underground club culture in the late 70s and early 80s.
Although media representation of black artists has changed dramatically since then, the cartel of artists performing at the big EDM festivals of the world today is still mainly white. For a kid growing up these days, it wouldn’t be hard to have the same impression I had more than 20 years ago.
In that sense, Cakes da Killa reclaims House music as an element of black culture by pairing it with the grit of hardcore, unrelenting rap. Track after track, you can notice in his work a non-ironic reverence for the history of black music, with callbacks to Donna Summer, Manu Dibango, and Duke Ellington. His oeuvre is both a trip to the past and the future.
Vivid Sydney attendees will be able to experience the next big thing in hip-hop performing at the Oxford Art Factory this June 17th. Tickets are available right now at the official Vivid Sydney site. Between the 27th of May and the 18th of June, the festival will hold more than 200 events that celebrate the diversity, beauty, resilience, First Nations culture, and soul of Sydney. Cakes wouldn’t have any nice words to say if you missed out.