You should be able to work out from song titles like “Spoiled Milk Titties” that Chicagoan rapper CupcakKe is not for the squeamish. She specialises in potty-mouthed humour, like a female Lil Wayne, and has gifted us before with such savoury delights as “Juicy Coochie”, which appeared on the appetisingly titled Cum Cake. So if you’re easily offended then click away now.
Of course you’re not. If you’ve come to a site called The Young Folks, the chances are you’re of a generation who would never flinch at such filth. A generation more readily amused by the word “cum” than offended by it; which is why perhaps CupcakKe hasn’t caused much of a stir on the rap scene. In the pre-Missy Elliott days she might have appeared revolutionary, but now we’ve become accustomed to explicit sex gags coming from the mouth of a woman.
So there’s little shock value to her music, but there is a sense of playfulness, which again harks back to Lil Wayne’s glory days. On her latest album, Ephorize, she compares her sex appeal to Scooby snacks, plays “Duck Duck Goose” with a lover’s penis, describes her twat as an upside down Dorito. You can’t take any of these moments seriously. They’re not erotic; they’re completely absurd, over-the-top, exaggerated for comic effect. Really, Ephorize is about as far from titillating as a Monty Python skit.
That gives the album a surface level of enjoyment, but little depth. The endless stream of one-liners about sex gets a little wearisome because CupcakKe’s wordplay is simply nowhere near in the same league as Lil Wayne at his best. There are too many clunky lines; take for instance this rhyme: “My cakes got fatter by using cum as the batter”. Oh dear.
Similarly, both her ideas and her rapping ability lack the dramatic range of Nicki Minaj (a similarly potty-mouthed fiend). CupcakKe’s got the skills to keep up with just about any beat, for sure, and there are frequent moments in which her flow pumps the blood a little harder. In particular, the aforementioned “Duck Duck Goose” launches off a mock-panting “I can make your dick stand up” pre-chorus before plunging into a chorus that maximises the potential of the alliteration between “dick” and “duck”. She springs the words off her tongue with glee. It’s so catchy that you might just catch yourself murmuring “head of the dick, duck duck duck goose” before drifting off to sleep (if you’re not careful).
Yet Nicki Minaj goes further than that in her music; she uses her Roman Zolanski alter ego, for instance, a gay man, to give license to even more wildly over-the-top flights of fancy, and to challenge gender norms in a way that genuinely transgresses. CupcakKe doesn’t try anything so daring, so in a strange way this sexually explicit album could be accused of playing it safe. Its one attempt at transgression, “Crayons”, points out that men often say “yup” to girl-on-girl but “yuck” to man-on-man and tells them “Love is love, who give a fuck?” Which is laudable, of course, but nowhere near as compelling as Minaj’s inhabiting of a gay man’s persona.
CupcakKe is her own artist, of course, and not measuring up to one of the most interesting female rappers working today hardly means she can be dismissed. Her unfussy flow, revelling nevertheless in the hard consonants of favoured vulgar words, and her surreal sense of humour offers up many rewards for those willing to work their way through Ephorize.
But it is work sometimes. When CupcakKe gets maudlin and tries self-examination it’s a little embarrassing, and highlights her limits as a writer: “How the hell is my life more shitty than a zoo?” goes the worst line of the album. It comes from a song called “Self Interview”, which is every bit as cringe-inducing as you might imagine. She should stick to the sex stuff, or else sharpen her writing skills.
What’s worse, and can really make the album a bit of a slog, is the stiff production tics from Def Starz and Turreekk. There are elements of tropical house and reggaeton that emerge from the trap-saturated haze, which can be momentarily beguiling, and the flute on “Navel” is particularly appealing. However, there just isn’t enough audibly going on to mask CupcakKe’s shortfalls as a rapper. The beats are too dry, too indistinguishable from one another, and too, well, lacking in playfulness. They don’t match up to the woman performing, and they don’t smooth over the cracks in her ability, as they should.
So Ephorize winds up feeling overlong and ultimately a little empty. What does it have to tell us about sex? Nothing, really. Neither in the words or in the rhythmic undercurrents, which of course are so key to understanding black music. This wouldn’t matter so much if the jokes or music were a little more consistent, or CupcakKe’s personality a little more compelling. But overall, the album does not beg to be replayed; perhaps she should make her beats closer match the fatness of her cakes.