Lord Jamar, the least-great member of the once-great New Rochelle rap trio Brand Nubian, has found himself a maddening niche in 2014: He’s rap’s Glen Beck or Michael Savage, the pundit who goes beyond conservatism and into straight-up hate speech. In a series of video missives on the bloodsucking video site VladTV, Jamar has said way too much about the direction he sees rap going, about the white rappers who are no longer acting like respectful guests and the boundary-breaking superstars who are losing site of their true values. But Jamar’s real pet issue is the idea of gayness in rap. To hear him tell it, white media types (like me) are pushing the idea of gay rap down everyone’s throat because we want to see the black man feminized and robbed of his strength. Jamar’s ideas absolutely fall apart when you consider that someone like Le1f, a recent target of his, has had to face levels of discrimination that go even further than what Brand Nubian were rapping about on One For All. And the whole robbed-of-strength thing doesn’t make any sense, either, when you look at the actual gay people making rap music. Consider, for example, the New Jersey-based rapper Cakes Da Killa, whose new mixtape Hunger Pangs is an absolute monster. Cakes sounds tough is a way that not too many people in circa-2014 rap are willing to sound. Even when he’s rapping about fucking dudes — especially when hes rapping about fucking dudes — Cakes sounds like he will absolutely slap your face off. There is a fiery intensity in his voice and his delivery, and that intensity makes Hunger Pangs a real eye-opener.
Hunger Pangs lets up exactly twice. The first time is about halfway through, on the tender breakup song “Rotation,” which has a slow, muffled, soulful beat and lyrics like these: “How the fuck you leave a hickey on my consciousness? / The way you do me really fuckin’ with my confidence.” Except that the track is barely a minute in when it stops abruptly and Cakes roars in: “I know niggas ain’t think I was getting soft, like what the fuck, I thought I was on my Drake shit?” He goes on to detail all the ways that he his not getting soft, that other dudes mean nothing to him, before crowing, “Back to this cunt shit!,” kicking immediately into the next track. The second time is when the song “Just Desserts” ends and we hear an extended sample of Whitney Houston stage patter: “I look at you, I see me. Hopefully, when you look at me, you see yourselves.” It’s the last thing we hear on the tape. The rest of the time, it’s just all out beat-splatters and feverish sex-raps, jackhammering through 10 tracks in 28 minutes with the sort of single-minded focus that reminds me of a great punk record.
I’ve never heard of any of the producers on Hunger Pangs — they have names like Wildkatz and Poisonous Relationship — but they know what they’re doing. These are weird dance tracks, tracks with house tempos but frantic ping-ponging synth noises that push them far into the margins of what we’re still calling EDM. There are samples, some of them recognizable — a Cassie coo, a Godzilla scream, a disco singer who I really should recognize but can’t quite place wailing “it’s not over.” But the music is less about playing games with your memory and more about making weird noises that you won’t recognize, and then about pounding those noises into your head with brutal efficiency. At least a couple of the songs end by descending into storms of programmed drum noises. This is alien musical landscape, but Cakes sounds absolutely at home on all of it. This is charged, physical, confrontationally sexual music, tactile and specific enough to pay close attention to where, exactly, Cakes wants you to jizz: “I fuck him good, make him cum all on his wife beater / He never fucked a fat bitch; well, me neither.” But even with the Miami bass licentiousness and the Nicki Minaj-esque sense of theatricality, I’m impressed by how tough and grimy and New York it all sounds. For all the vogue-ball signifiers, Cakes comes off like a kid who had formative experiences banging Capone-N-Noriega or Screwball or Cru. He’s as comfortable talking about ordering Chinese chicken wings or slapping the shit out of you as he is with describing eating a bitch like lunch.
Lately, there’s been a wave of gay rappers rising to underground prominence: Mykki Blanco, Le1f, Zebra Katz, Abdu Ali, Cakes, a few others. They’re all dismissive of the idea that they constitute a scene, and they don’t like being compared to each other. That’s perfectly understandable; those three all have distinct voices and styles and personalities, and they sound nothing alike. But they have things in common, too: quick tempos, brittle drum sounds, underground dance-music production, commanding personalities, absolute commitment to confounding rap stereotypes. Their music is exciting in part because it hasn’t really figured out a set of rules yet; you can hear it becoming itself in front of you. Hunger Pangs is the moment where Cakes fully comes into his own, establishing a ferocious persona and a drill-your-face-in musical style. If you want to get depressed right now, try listening to some of the most-downloaded tapes on DatPiff; in what’s passing for a rap mainstream, there’s a real sense of ossification I’ve heard setting in in recent months. It’s the voices on the margins who are finding new things to do with the genre, and some of those voices happen to be gay. I don’t expect Jamar to figure that out anytime soon, but the rest of us would do well to pay attention.
Download Hunger Pangs here.