cupcakKe blasted onto the rap scene in 2015 with a YouTube music video that took the world by storm (more on that later). Many saw her hilarious, blunt, and filthy lyrics as a passing fad – as if she didn’t have the talent or range to discuss anything other than sucking dick. But, last week, she proved the naysayers wrong once again, releasing the best album of the year so far; a frank and surprisingly lyrical take on 21st-century sex and relationships, which doesn’t lose sight of the ballsy lyrics that made her an internet star in the first place.
Because of her free-spirited relationship with the female body, resigning cupcakKe to labels like “sex positive” and “body positive” feels redundant, restricting her brave lyrics with buzzwords that are starting to lose their social currency. What’s more, her songs – although in their most polemical turns of phrase do concern themselves most often with sex – cover much more than that. Increasingly, her work has become more introspective, looking inwards into the mind of a person filled with empathy and wisdom. Her songs also tackle tough topics like police brutality (Picking Cotton) and paedophilia (Paedophile).
But that’s not to deny that her sex positivity doesn’t still feel refreshing. It’s not uncommon for female stars who place sex at the foreground of their music to be derided for ‘trying too hard’ (see, Tove Lo), but by taking this to its absolute extreme, beyond the realms of self-consciousness and free-association, cupcakKe emerges as head and shoulders above the rest. Her IDGAF attitude feels authentic, underpinned by a healthy relationship with sex, fun, and pleasure.
Having grown up on the South Side of Chicago in urban poverty and moulding her success online, cupcakKe is the perfect example of how internet culture can amplify marginalised voices. In her early teens, Harris wrote poetry for her local church and was encouraged to turn her words into rap by a fellow church-goer. After her videos went viral, she started making music more frequently and, at just 20 years old, she has already released an impressive collection of mixtapes and three studio albums.
Striking a winning balance between pristine one-liners and a brutal sense of honesty, her
songs are endlessly quotable (“You got me caught up in yo web, you my Spider-Man/Suck Ramen noodles off that dick, that’s my vitamin”) and she imagines a world that’s enough to give any liberal a wet dream.
With her momentum just picking up, cupcakKe is on the cusp of spilling into the mainstream; we expect great things to come in the future. Here are her most iconic moments so far.
This is the infamous video that made cupcakKe an internet star. Speaking to OUT last year, she said: “it was my first freaky, sexual song. I was basically in my room, listening to Khia’s “My Neck My Back,” and I was horny as hell at the time.” The video sees Harris almost topless, with rainbows covering her breasts, as she slurps on a cucumber. Significantly, this song opened the door for later songs such as “Deepthroat” to be produced, setting her off on an impressive career trajectory that doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
“LGBT” and “Crayons”
At 20, Harris has already established herself as a queer icon – and that’s largely down to two things: “LGBT” and “Crayons.” These two songs are perfect examples of sincere allyship. Of course, they contain her trademark turns of phrase – such as “His dick might be Tinder but he post it on Grindr” – but they also include more poignant phrases, such as “Ain’t no confusion, everybody human/ Get to know people instead of just assuming.” cupcakKe managed to craft two songs about listening, learning, and embracing queer identity without sounding like a cliché.
At first, “33rd” might sound generic – it’s fuelled by egotism and relentlessly boasts about her successes. But what opens the music video for this track is incredibly striking. Authentic comments from Facebook users trolling the music and labelling her “disgusting”, “garbage”, and “desperate” fly past the screen. The opening line of “Can’t be stopped, I am too damn hot” takes on a whole new context. No longer does it sound like hubris – instead it morphs into a defiant statement in the face of trolling and online abuse, subverting the tradition in hip hop of vanity and turning it into a hopeful message of self-love, without losing its edge. This is the perfect example of cupcakKe’s intelligence and wit.
“Lipgloss” and “I Got It” with Charli XCX
If you didn’t know CupcaKke before, her friendship with Charli XCX blasted her further into the mainstream. Last year, Charli released two mixtapes that helped redefine the landscape of pop. CupcakKe featured on both, recording two ferocious verses on “Lipgloss” and “I Got It”, arguably outshining Charli in the process. It proved to be a match made in heaven, introducing a whole host of new fans to her work.
Last week, cupcakKe released her third studio album, which is no mean feat for a young black woman who came from nothing – and has just barely left her teens. Ephorize is her best offering yet. “Crayons” and lead single “Cartoons” are bold and brilliant, encapsulating her explicit lyrical style and are anchored by increasingly sophisticated production. Pitchfork gave the album an impressive 8.3 out of 10, naming Ephorize ‘Best New Album’, in the process placing her within the same bracket as Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Lorde’s Melodrama. Clearly, cupcakKe has the talent to sit amongst the greats and, with a little more exposure, that certainly isn’t out of her reach.