cupcakKe was only nineteen when she dropped Audacious, her third full record and first studio rap album, the same age I was the first time I got dragged drunk to a stranger’s bedroom, trying to figure out how violent it had to be to count as rape. The second time was clearer. Drug-sick, I stumbled into the street when he went to the bathroom and thanked the high heavens that I knew enough Chinese to hail a cab. The horror didn’t hit me until later. At the time, I was more angry than anything about being roofied. I felt like a tiger that had to be tranquilized before it was safe to touch.
As much as sexual assault is an individual experience, it’s also a fluid one — it changes you, and changes with you, too. I talk about it now because it’s nothing to hide, but I brush it off when I do because others made it out in much worse shape, or not at all. It’s the ancestral guilt in me: I’m alive, so I can’t complain. But the wounds are wounds, and I won’t call them blessings. They’re just wounds. They’re open, and they’re there. The only thing that helps is art. Mine, and other survivors’.
Born Elizabeth Eden Harris, cupcakKe began her career in 2012, when she started releasing self-recorded mixtapes on the internet. I came upon her work during my routine of stalking music publications. In 2016, when Audacious was released, Stereogum published an article called “On the Triumphant Nastiness of cupcakKe” that caught my attention (“Right now, in rap, there’s not a single person who can rap about fucking with the sort of euphoric abandon that cupcakKe seems to have naturally”). Her videos had been going viral on YouTube, with her most popular being “Vagina,” a living-room-recorded romp featuring deep-throated cucumbers and a candy-store lollipop, and “Deepthroat,” where she raps in a dress with breast cutouts and drinks from a dog bowl. Though the overt sexual imagery was partly responsible for her songs’ popularity, fans connected more with the lyrics themselves, the blinding one-liners that are the hallmark of the best-crafted rap, the verse turns so smart and funny only a woman could have written them.
The first time I heard “Best Dick Sucker” from her album S.T.D (Shelters to Deltas), featuring the iconic line, “Give me dead presidents and I give you a good show / So I’m not Marilyn Monroe, I’m Marilyn Monhoe,” I was dumbstruck. Not because sex-positive lyrics are anything new in the rap world — see Missy Elliott, who made critics rave before cupcakKe started making a name for herself, and Khia, whose classic “My Neck, My Back” cupcakKe cites as inspiration — but it was the way she did it: these songs about cum shots and taking dicks up the ass were fucking joyful. On “Juicy Coochie,” she raps, “To make my thighs shake like Jell-O, I need a dick longer than a egg roll / Show you a different 69 that no one knows / Like I’m sucking your toes while you eat my butthole.” This wasn’t a woman rapping about sex like she had to prove herself in front of men or, worse, try to sound like them. Nope. cupcakKe was doing it because sex was — and could actually be — good, innocent fun.
And this was a woman who’d been through it all too, though she doesn’t talk about her personal life often and lets her music speak for itself: sexual assault, abuse, bad relationships, selfish lovers, all these experiences that are so commonplace to us as women that we almost expect them. After my experiences, I was most shocked by how similar they felt to consensual sex — empty and distant and painful. Sex, for me, was ruined, but I also knew that didn’t have to be the case. Stripped of all its superimposed meanings, sex at its core is a ridiculous, fun, playful act. Was it possible, I wondered, that I could learn to think this way, too? Could I learn to have sex without pretending I wasn’t there?