You don’t have to be intimately familiar with Chicago rapper CupcakKe to glean that her work might be sexual in nature – if titles like “Deepthroat” and Cum Cake don’t tip you off, I’m not sure what will – but on Tuesday, YouTube saw fit to censor her video channel, pulling clips for the aforementioned 2016 track and “Duck Duck Goose,” which appears on the artist’s latest LP Ephorize. The video platform replaced them with a message that read: “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s policy on nudity or sexual content,” failing to realize that CupcakKe is a lot more than just a raunchy female rapper. She’s a one-woman revolution.
Born Elizabeth Harris, the MC discovered her love for performing in church, where she read original poetry “strictly about God.” But by age 18, CupcakKe was ready to pursue less pure material. She unleashed her single “Vagina” in 2015, and its corresponding music video went viral, racking up over two million views on YouTube. The homemade short features a half-naked CupcakKe getting hot and heavy with sexy foods like cucumbers and a pinwheel lollipop. Like many of CupcakKe’s music videos, “Vagina” is a frill-free production, positioning the artist amongst un-styled couches and kitchen tables. CupcakKe is in a familiar space; she is unburdened by the presence of men, and most importantly, she is in complete control of her situation. The combination of these factors produces something very interesting: subversion and perhaps mockery of the male gaze. CupcakKe may be deepthroating a squash and rapping about her “young twat,” but she makes it explicitly clear that her pleasure is the number one priority here.
The two videos that YouTube erased on Tuesday are extensions of CupcakKe’s empowered, sex-positive ethos. Both are shot in modest home settings and feature a lone CupcakKe interacting with both banal and sexual objects. “Duck Duck Goose” feels particularly impactful, and could stand alone as a treatise to reclaim the female body from a musical genre that has exploited it for decades. In the opening moments, CupcakKe crawls into bed with a few of her favorite dildos, licking and sucking and propping them up against a miniature Statue of Liberty to demonstrate height. But unlike the sultry, “come hither” gaze we are so accustomed to seeing in music videos, pornography, film, and fashion ads, CupcakKe is smiling ear to ear. She nibbles and strokes her multicolored dicks, but she also places them on chairs and pats them on the head, as if they were little dolls attending her tea party. It quickly becomes apparent that CupcakKe is commanding her own desires, and she is doing so with a high dose of humor and self-awareness. She is carving out her own piece of female identity, one that doesn’t fit squarely in the “angel” or “whore” packaging society likes to wrap women in. But women who burst out of these boxes are rarely welcomed by the people who boxed them in to begin with.
On Sunday, before CupcakKe’s videos were pulled, music journalist Margaret Farrell saw the rapper live when she made a guest appearance at Charli XCX’s Elsewhere gig. When CupcakKe performed, Farrell overheard “two dudes” standing behind her who seemed to completely miss the point of CupcakKe’s work. “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][They were] discussing how they loved Cupcakke because she rapped about weird, gross things, but since she’s a woman it’s cool,” says Farrell. The dudes went on to say that it’s problematic when a guy “raps about ‘fucking in the ass and fucking in the mouth’ but when [CupcakKe] does it it’s like ‘fuck me in the ass, fuck me here,’ and that’s just cooler for her to say,” Farrell continues. “Yes, it is amazing that she is asserting her sexual agency and creating a new narrative around sex, but the way they phrased it was like she is their sexual object – it was extremely gazey… It was just a shallow assessment of what she’s doing.”
My assessment of these dudes’ assessment boils down to perceived ownership; that many men cannot understand art in which a woman is not the object of a man’s desire. These dudes clearly couldn’t hear what CupcakKe was really rapping. She’s not draped across a convertible waiting to be fucked; she’s doing the fucking, and it’s not about you. Nearly every musical genre has difficulties with this concept. Rock has a long history of objectifying women and reducing us to greased up RealDolls, and hip-hop has a similar relationship with women. Whether its 2 Chainz throwing cash at butts in “I Luv Dem Strippers,” or the lady bodies used like stage props in 50 Cent’s “Disco Inferno,” it’s not hard to find examples of sexism in the genre. Rick Ross can rap about date rape, Bizarre can rap about getting his sister gangbanged for her birthday, XXXTentacion can land on a Vulture “Best New Songs of the Week” list after gruesome domestic abuse charges. But when CupcakKe raps about enjoying blowjobs? God forbid.
It feels crucial to support an artist like CupcakKe, who is not only wildly talented as a poet and MC, but who is reclaiming her body and right to pleasure, as well as inverting and subverting traditional modes of objectification. The disembodied dicks in “Duck Duck Goose” and the banana in “Deepthroat” signify farce as much as they do arousal; CupcakKe may be swallowing them in one frame, but she’s patting them on the head and pulverizing them with her teeth in the next. She’s reducing one of the most over-analyzed symbols in the post-Freud era – the phallus – to a couple of candy-colored, silicone toys. It’s a righteous reduction, as women have been rendered like plastic playthings for far too long. But even when CupcakKe is trying to extinguish a long enforced double standard of the music industry, she’s not afraid to champion her sexual enthusiasm. One lyric from “Self Interview” sums this up perfectly. “Females have sex on the first night, they get called a ho for that one night stand,” she raps. “Men have sex on the first night, congratulations!” “Most wouldn’t comprehend/Double standards need to end.”
On Tuesday, in response to YouTube scrubbing her videos from its site, CupcakKe wrote on Twitter: “I kn the fuck y’all didn’t deleted deepthroat video off YouTube at 23 million views @YouTube PUT IT BACK UP NOW” When she noticed another video had been pulled, she lamented, “And they just deleted duck duck goose one more and my entire channel is gone.” After only a few hours, and an outpouring of support from fans, the video platform ceded and returned the music videos to the channel. A representative from YouTube spoke to Pitchfork on the matter, stating: “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it. We also offer uploaders the ability to appeal removals and we will re-review the content.” All CupcakKe had to say was, “They back up thanks y’all.”