Move over Khia and Missy Elliott; raunch rap has a new contender who went from homeless to viral with just a few moans
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Strangers with a Bond
Nearly 700 people stand pressed up against each other on the floor of the Center Stage Theater in Midtown, Atlanta. They’ve waited through two opening acts—one unplanned—for well over two hours. People complain about needing refreshments, but don’t want to go to the bar because they’ll lose their spots in the dense crowd. It’s a tough situation, but most of the concert-goers think it will be worth the wait.
In the seats at the back of the theater sit Ed and Matilda Morris, a Baptist couple in their sixties from the outskirts of Atlanta. After seeing the line of mostly teenagers and young adults—some with colored hair, others wearing all leather, some wearing hardly nothing at all—waiting outside the venue, they parked their 2001 Mercedes E-Class around the corner and walked back, holding hands to see what the commotion was about.
“The funky kids in line told us it was a singer named CupcakKe,” Matilda says. “We’ve never heard of her, but she sounded hip, so we bought tickets and hopped in line.”
Backstage, Elizabeth Eden Harris has finally arrived—two hours after she was scheduled to. She puts on a revealing bodysuit with a bedazzled rose pattern stretching from her foot to her breasts, and changes into her alter ego, a rapper named CupcakKe. She’s not one of those skinny model types, and she’s proud of that (although she has accidentally lost a bit of weight on this tour—The Ephorize Tour). Her long, blonde hair waves to her sides and her bangs lie in her eyes, only slightly.
The lights on the stage finally go out, leaving the crowd screaming in the darkness. An omnipotent voice calls out into the darkness, “I’m horny! Come on now, daddy! Put it in deeper!” and the crowd’s screams get louder. Ed and Matilda exchange surprised glances.
CupcakKe jogs onto the stage and greets the Atlanta crowd, “Is Atlanta ready to suck some dick?”
The crowd of strangers, in unison, shouts back, “Yes, mom!”
“What we gon’ do?” CupcakKe shouts.
Once again, the crowd of strangers shouts back in unison, “Suck some dick!”
Certainly there will be no fellatio while CupcakKe is on stage, but there will be a lot of talk about it, and nearly every person in the room will scream the same thing. That’s the phenomenon of CupcakKe–she has the ability to make a group of strangers—people whose only connection is her music—moan, shout sexual expletives and epithets, and perform the same exact dance moves, all while remaining one of the most unrecognized names in the rap game.
CupcakKe’s never been signed to a record label (although she’s been approached by Columbia, Atlantic, and others). Her mixtape, “S.T.D. (Shelters to Deltas),” was placed at number 23 on Rolling Stone’s “Best Rap Albums of 2016.” Pitchfork rated her latest album, “Ephorize,” an 8.3, which is a difficult feat to achieve; it’s one that Beyoncé has achieved only once in her twenty-year career, and it’s the same rating Pitchfork gave to Jay-Z’s newest album “4:44.”
Yet CupcakKe, who is only 20-years-old, still remains a hidden gem, a cult icon, slowly slurping her way to the top.
Will the Real Elizabeth Please Stand Up?
“I think what people don’t get about me is that I’m not CupcakKe,” Elizabeth says backstage. “I mean, I do be staying horny and a freak hoe, but I’m not a machine. I’m not always on one hundred percent of the time.”
She’s referring to her alter egos–three of them, to be exact.
“First you got Elizabeth. That’s me. That’s just me,” she says. “I stay home and in my feelings. I don’t really go out or party or anything. I’m the most boring 20-year-old. It’s depressing.”
This, she theorizes, is where her songs typically come from. Elizabeth hasn’t been exposed to all of CupcakKe’s world. She doesn’t understand the fame or the obsession of her fans, nor the people who come along with it. She’s innocent and naïve in a way, still able to write about her genuine feelings without fear of being judged.
“Then you got CupcakKe,” she says with a laugh, glancing towards her mother who sits on a couch. Ms. Harris grins and shakes her head disapprovingly. “She a freak hoe. She my stage ego. When I get up on that stage or behind the mic in the studio, there’s no telling what she finna do. She might just get up there and use the microphone as a dildo. You never know.”
And that’s exactly what CupcakKe did in Atlanta right before she placed it inside of her mouth.
“But the bitch you gotta watch out for is Marilyn Monhoe,” she says, referring to her Twitter account. “She’d fight CupcakKe in a minute, while Elizabeth just sit in the corner and watch, scared shitless. She has courage to say whatever she wants. But mostly it’s to make fans happy. She knows what her slurpers want to hear.” (“Slurpers” are what her fans affectionately call themselves.)
CupcakKe developed Marilyn Monhoe early in her short career out of disgust in other musicians who don’t interact with their fan base.
“These people are out here spending their hard-earned money on you,” she says, her flow intensifying. “They come up with nicknames for themselves. They come out to see you and you just gonna get on Twitter when you drop a new song and say, ‘Buy my new song, love you?’ That don’t fly with me.”
She developed her personalities because she knew Elizabeth could never talk publicly about any of the topics CupcakKe and Marilyn Monhoe tackle. She’s too reserved, too shy. “In a way, it’s kinda like roleplay for [my fans],” she says. “They need that from me because ain’t no one else finna give it to ‘em.”
She’s Feelin’ Herself
“You gonna have to sit down for a spell if you finna understand me,” CupcakKe says backstage in her dressing room after the concert. “I done been through it all.” Her mother, Ms. Harris, moans in agreement. “We done been through it all,” CupcakKe says, emphasizing ‘we.’ “We’ve lived the life.”
CupcakKe sits on the stool in front of the mirror. She’s already taken off her boots from the performance and changed wigs. “You gotta keep switching it up on ‘em,” she says about no one in particular. “Never let ‘em get comfortable.” She’s Elizabeth now. She’s calmer, but everyone can still sense her sharpness. Ms. Harris wears a floral dress, and sips on a bottle of water.
The dressing room is humble. Four suitcases sit by the makeup table and hold two weeks’ worth of clothes (including outfits for the remainder of The Ephorize Tour) for both her and her mother. “I never ask for anything but water when I come to a venue,” CupcakKe says. “That’s all you need. I don’t get these stars who be requesting M&M’s with the red ones picked out or whatever shit. They stay being petty.”
The two women are used to scrapping by with the bare minimum. Ms. Harris gave birth to Elizabeth in 1997. Ten years later she put Elizabeth in a foster home because she couldn’t afford to take care of her. Keeping a job in Chicago in the 1990s as a black woman was hard, she explains. It’s something Ms. Harris doesn’t like to discuss. When the topic comes up, she looks down to the floor.
“We were homeless there for a few years,” Ms. Harris says. “Homeless in Chicago. God really was testing us.”
“I always promised her we’d make it,” CupcakKe says, looking at her mom.
After a few years in foster care, Ms. Harris eventually picked herself back up again and regained custody of her daughter.
“I took jobs wherever I had to,” Ms. Harris says. “I bagged groceries at the Save-A-Lot. I cleaned up trash for the city. I did whatever I had to to get my baby back.”
Elizabeth took up writing poetry when she was 14. She would visit different churches in the Chicago area and perform her poetry.
“There was this one church I went to where the guy said, ‘Why don’t you just rap?’ He said I could be making hella money and getting recognized, so I did. I started writing songs and putting myself out there. One day I was laying in my bed listening to, ‘My Neck, My Back’ by Khia, and you know, I was just getting real horny and feelin’ myself, so I decided to put that feeling into a song.”
That song became, “Vagina,” her first viral hit.
How Many Licks to the Center of a CupcakKe?
“Let’s go,” CupcakKe says, nodding to the DJ to play her song, “Vagina,” which was released in 2015 to nearly instant success. The crowd raps along with her, “Remind ya/ I’m kinda/ wet/ run it down my vagina…” Ed and Matilda, although shocked at the bluntness, bop their heads along to the catchy rhymes. They’ve never been exposed to music of this intensity, but they don’t mind it.
“If the people from our church knew we were here, we’d be hung on the cross,” Ed says, making Matilda grasp her crotch and shout, “Oh, Ed! Don’t make me pee my pants!”
Ed and Matilda have never been afraid of trying new things—they think they’re the most open-minded 60-year-olds in Georgia—but that’s not why they’re now two of CupcakKe’s biggest fans. It’s all in her vulnerability and her willingness to put everything on the line; she exposes every aspect of herself and puts into words what’s on everyone’s minds. The music of CupcakKe is bold, “audacious,” as CupcakKe puts it. It’s been disregarded by many as just “pure porno.” What those critics fail to notice are the songs that aren’t sexually charged, the songs about true love, pedophilia, race—most of them autobiographical. But no matter the topic, the sexual songs included, each of her songs has a fire and a passion; each song is held up with that underlying current of vulnerability, allowing her quick wit and tongue to make her audience feel her passion and fall in love with her.
Seven hours before CupcakKe was scheduled to perform, the line formed outside of Center Stage, beginning with Zoe Reuteler. Reuteler—a DJ and music producer—gave up two gigs so she could get in line early (that’s half of this month’s rent). She’s been a slurper since CupcakKe released her second hit single, “Deepthroat,” the follow-up to “Vagina.”
“I just couldn’t believe a female was finally saying what we were all thinking,” Reuteler says. “It’s naughty.”
Reuteler has a theorized formula to CupcakKe’s success: one part vulnerability, one part audaciousness, one part craft and wit, and one part “that special charisma only CupcakKe can achieve.”
“What always strikes me is her cleverness, her craft,” she says. “It sounds weird to say that a song comparing a male’s penis to Spider-Man is pure poetry [referring to CupcakKe’s song, “Spider-Man Dick”], but it is. It’s fresh. I haven’t heard anything this original or effortless since Lil Kim.”
Tonight is only the ninth show on “The “Ephorize Tour,” and only the first leg. There’s two more legs that will take her to four more countries. She’s one of the rare, unsigned musicians who have been able to embark on a world tour (a sold-out tour, to be exact), and all at the age of 20.
In the crowd tonight are teenagers and people pushing 70, there are music professionals, rap amateurs, and plenty of members of the LGBTQ+ community (for whom she is an outspoken advocate, see: “LGBT” on her album “Audacious”). And all of them are more than ecstatic to be in the presence of this fearless rapper, their goddess.
“What song y’all wanna hear from ‘Ephorize?’” she asks. “This the ‘Ephorize Tour.’ We gotta do something from ‘Ephorize.”
The crowd screams back a few different song titles, but it’s clear what the majority wants to hear: “Duck Duck Goose,” a highly-sexualized song that emulates the popular children’s game of the same name.
She starts rapping the song at its normal pace, comparing fallacies to trees and the Statue of Liberty, while the crowd raps along with her. They’re pleasantly aware of the choreography that is about to occur. CupcakKe moves to the left side of the stage, her repertoire intensifying—a brief pause—and, almost as if she had sent out a memo to each person in the crowd detailing which dance moves they were to perform and how to do so—nearly every single person begins to jump up and down, tapping their hands in the air, just like the song tells them to, as CupcakKe raps the song’s chorus, “Tap the head of the dick, duck, duck, duck goose/ Head of the dick, duck, duck, duck, goose…” For a moment, CupcakKe disappears and Elizabeth stands on stage, grinning at what she’s created.