Cakes Da Killa, a/k/a Rashard Bradshaw, turnt up the hip-hop scene with the release of 2011’s Easy Bake Oven Vol. 1. Since the start of the New Jersey native’s career, Bradshaw’s MC moniker has increasingly become synonymous with his high-energy stage presence, candid lyricism, and unapologetic swagger. With fans still reeling from the release of February’s #IMF EP, the twenty-something trailblazer recently returned to New York from a string of tour dates overseas to share the stage with the likes of Grace Jones and Mike Q at Afropunk’s annual Fancy Dress Ball.
Aiming to “recalibrate the scales of justice,” the mission for this year’s Fancy Dress Ball advocates for the inclusion of diversity in the media, an Afropunk aspiration that Bradshaw gladly supports. “I feel like this new generation of artists is a lot more attuned to the underground,” Bradshaw states. “They’re informed about counterculture so I feel like people are just more receptive to and in tune with people who aren’t just cookie-cutter or want to try to be the picture-perfect pop princess. I feel like that’s what’s allowing all the diversity and the variety to have a place because people want interesting things nowadays.”
Situated at the forefront of the ever-evolving hip-hop landscape, Bradshaw, much like his predecessors, pushes past the boundaries of his genre’s medium, utilizing the narrative space of rap to its fullest potential, resulting in tracks like “Truth Tella” and “Mixed Messages.”
Much like many NYC-based performers, being included in Afropunk’s lineup was a monumental moment for the former fest spectator. “The first time that I went to Afropunk was the year before I performed and I went there to see some of my friends who were performing,” Bradshaw explains. “For me, Afropunk has always been a pilgrimage to where all the cool kids go to, to touch up on fashion and see what’s new in music. It’s definitely like a pilgrimage.”
As the festival evolves, much of what has defined Afropunk is changing. From charging for admission, to showcasing a progressively more star-studded lineup of performers, Afropunk has also gradually gained more attention from the mainstream, which in some instances has led to moments of cultural appropriation by attendees. Despite this, the intention of the space fostered by the festival and its mission persists. “If you’re doing something that’s cool, someone is going to appropriate it,” Bradshaw states. “That’s just the way that the world works. I feel like its always going to be there so I don’t really take the time to complain about it.” Perhaps the best approach towards appropriation is a pragmatic one, as modeled by Bradshaw, whose relationship with the festival as a performer began in 2014.
Making his Afropunk debut on the Red Stage nearly a year ago, his performance was prefaced by a DJ set spun by the widely celebrated Juliana Huxtable. Even now, days away from performing on the same bill as Grace Jones, Bradshaw looks back on the experience as an undoubtedly formative one. “It was really important for me to perform at Afropunk because it’s a rite of passage for a New York-based artist to perform on that stage. It was also really hectic because I was coming back from Europe and I was late for check in, so me and my mom had to basically sneak back stage in order to get in there,” he reflects. “It was a really fun day and it was also the first time that my mom and my brother saw me perform.”
Equally memorable for fans, Bradshaw’s performance unabashedly annihilated expectations. His presence, much like his back catalog, kept listeners captive via sharp diction, humor, and dance. “I really hope its better than last year,” Bradshaw muses when asked about his upcoming performance. “I’m always trying to outdo myself but the main goal is to just have fun, entertain people and get them as drunk as possible.”
Labeled by various critics as the “it MC” of the queer rap scene, Bradshaw openly shies away from singular identifiers. “I identify as a performer,” he states in a refreshingly straightforward tone. “I use rap as a medium, but its more so a performance, because if you watch my show there’s comedy, there’s theater, there’s dancing, and there’s a lot going on. I just use rap as the main medium to tell stories, so to me, I’m just performing with no other buzzwords around it.”
Free from the limitations of imposed labels, Cakes Da Killa’s performative brilliance also stems from the influence and inspiration garnished from fellow MCs and performers who also failed to fit within the confines of singular definition. “I take a lot of inspiration from innovators like Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, Lil Kim, and Foxy Brown,” he explains. “But I also love a good performer like a Bette Midler or Erykah Badu. I like people who are not afraid to be themselves and just take it there. You should be your most vulnerable on stage and that’s what makes the best show, and I love a good show.”
Although primarily slotted as a performer for Afropunk’s Fancy Dress Ball, Bradshaw also anticipates getting the chance to see the legendary Grace Jones take the stage. “She’s iconic,” says Bradshaw. “I was gagging when I heard the news,” the MC recalls, recounting his reaction to being invited to perform at this year’s ball. “I hope that everything goes smoothly with my set so that I can sit back, enjoy, and see what she’s going to do.”
When asked about the future, the frequently touring performer is as ambitious and focused as his lyrical content. “I’m doing something with Mike Q,” says Bradshaw. “We’re putting out a compilation project that should be coming out soon and I’m working on my next album, so I’m trying to cram that out. I’m sticking to myself right now mostly and just working.” Inspired by his recent tour, Bradshaw has yet to determine the release date for his next album. “I don’t even know,” he says after a brief pause. “The landscape is still being formed and everything is still up in the air right now, but it should be cute.” Planning to spend the forthcoming months developing material for his follow up to #IMF, the “buzzword”-free wonder is well on his way to becoming a legend in his own rite.
In the meantime, fans can catch Bradshaw at this year’s Fancy Dress Ball or in the words of the MC, “Hit me up on Twitter and Tinder.”
Catch Cakes Da Killa at Afropunk’s Fancy Dress Ball. For ticket information, click here.