The Chicago rapper Cupcakke is often described as “raunchy,” “freaky,” or “audacious,” but underlying all of her controversy-courting frankness is honesty and raw intimacy, something that hip hop artists and their works are often accused of lacking. On her new album Ephorize, she speaks with a kind of clarity and non-self-aggrandizing truthfulness that we have heard from the rapper since the beginning of her career, but which comes to a focused point on what’s probably the best work of her career. Even if you think songs like “Duck, Duck, Goose” (the chorus of which, “Head of the dick, duck, duck, duck, goose”, is a dangerously catchy earworm) and “Spoiled Milk Titties” (on which she raps, “Face covered in cum/ My mama thought it was a soap mask”) are explicit, you can’t deny they’re intimate, allowing you access to a realm of life most people keep closely guarded. Your reading depends on your tastes, but neither cancels out the other.
Cupcakke effortlessly braids her sex positivity with intimacy; they’re two sides of the same, shame-rejecting coin.
As on her previous album, 2017’s Queen Elizabitch, which opened with “Scraps,” a song about growing up in poverty, Ephorize begins similarly with a meditation on life’s hardships and endurance. But while “Scraps” courted melancholy, eventually building up to a pounding, bass-driven force, Ephorize’s “2 Minutes” goes for full-on sentimentality and hopefulness. Dramatic piano punctuated by breathy, hymn-like vocal samples don’t inhibit the driving dance beat that does eventually appear, but rather give the listener license to close their eyes and vibe with what Cupcakke is saying. “People think no cons come with they pros/ But I'm dealing with real shit/ My stretch marks really itch/ My hair haven't grown an inch/ But I'm still that bitch,” she raps.
When Cupcakke lets listeners on to her most personal memories and fantasies, her more emotionally vulnerable moments don’t bely weakness. Her bad bitch anthems stand naturally alongside her more exposed tracks, each giving strength to the other. None of her messaging would be successful were it not for the vigorous beats and clever wordplay that hits the ear above all. If you approached Cupcakke’s album in search of a good time, you found it. Take for example “Cartoons,” a track on which Cupcakke illustrates self-confidence with a flurry of 90s cartoon references (I'm a snack so I attract Scooby Doos/ Give 'em Smurf dick, that's balls blue/ I don't look for niggas so fuck Waldo/ Bitch, I'm cocky like Johnny Bravo). Or “Meet & Greet,” in which she celebrates her no-holds-barred honesty, as well as her success. (“Say what I want, I'm no coward/ Bitch I still pee in the shower/ I make 10k in an hour”; “Only time a bitch can tell me ‘have a seat’/ Is if I'm on the Ellen Show.”)
In rap music, sexual frankness is rarely associated with emotional rawness, for reasons that have less to do with the content of the music, and more about prevailing stereotypes of how a sexual human being is supposed to act and feel. But Cupcakke effortlessly braids her sex positivity with intimacy; they’re two sides of the same, shame-rejecting coin. Ephorize continues in the tradition of sexually-affirming female MCs like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, and Nicki Minaj, but her glorious messiness could never tailor itself for the mainstream, as those artists did. It doesn’t matter if labels and the radio won’t have her, because fans will: Her fans latch onto her openness and generosity, which is freely handed out. (Last February, she paid for a hotel room for one of her fans after he was kicked out of his parents’ home for being gay.) Her fanbase is referred to, affectionately, as slurpers.
Ephorize is a hip hop victory that compromises neither showmanship nor style to give listeners a full portrait as Cupcakke as an artist. It’s more than her raunchy reputation, yes, but it builds on her history as an emotionally insightful artist, without discounting the power and value of the raunchiness itself. She has never held back, but here, there’s more than ever.