“I’m a beautician to pubic hair,” CupcakKe said happily during a Sunday afternoon interview in the Jezebel studio. “If you need your pubic hair styled, come to meeee!”
CupcakKe raps a lot about pubes, a fact of life that most artists tend to avoid in verse. CupcakKe, however, is not most artists, and avoidance isn’t really her thing. Coupled with her considerable talent, that directness is a big part of the Chicago-based rapper’s rapidly ascending appeal. Since the release of viral hits “Vagina” and “Deepthroat” in 2015, she has plowed across whatever invisible lines remain in the public sexual imagination with dazzlingly weird lyrics (“Nut in my pussy hair, that’s deep conditioner”; “Fuck me ‘til my pussy redder than Hot Cheetos”) and music videos that often involve joyfully donned pasties and, to provide one example, barking while giving a blow job to a dog bone.
(This week, YouTube removed her videos for “Deepthroat” and “Duck Duck Goose” for “violating YouTube’s policy on nudity or sexual content.” The videos were restored after an uproar, and YouTube acknowledged making “the wrong call.”)
“I have never been the not-confident person,” she says. “You could put me in like, a hotel sheet, and I’m gonna go onstage in that hotel sheet and make it look like a fucking million dollar dress.” That said, the day of the interview she had on quite the ensemble: a zipped-up off-the-shoulder leather jacket, giant hoops, and long yellow nails. Her hair, leggings and sunglasses were an impressively coordinated pinkish-red.
“This is like, the bummiest you will ever see me,” she declared, to the envy of myself and deputy editor Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, both in sweatshirts and greasy buns. “This is my airport style.”
CupcakKe is the onstage persona of Elizabeth Harris, a 20-year-old recovering Pepsi and 7-Up addict (“I’m three weeks clean”) who is close with her mother, likes “older guys”—which she clarified to mean “26, maybe 27, if we’re really pushing it”—and, when she talks about her life as Elizabeth, sometimes speaks so softly that you have to lean forward. (Marilyn Monhoe, Harris’s other persona, lives exclusively on Twitter.) Growing up in Chicago, Harris spent years in homeless shelters, and her music has been influenced by what she called “the lifestyle of struggle.”
Far from focusing exclusively on sex, her lyrics take an equally blunt look at poverty (“Wisdom Teeth”), molestation (“Pedophile”), and police brutality (“Picking Cotton”), along with LGBT rights and body confidence. There are seemingly no subjects she isn’t comfortable tackling. In fact, she wrote religious poetry at her church until she was about 14, when she was encouraged to switch over to rapping. A few years later, in 2015, her music started to get more explicit.
“Everything about my music screams ‘free,’” she said, citing Lil’ Kim and Trina as influences. Rihanna, too: “I love how free she is with her nipples.”
“I feel like [my music] should be normal to the world, because we all have sex,” she said. “It’s sex! I’m saying fuck me, fuck me, hump me—I mean, I’m sure everyone says that at night to their guy to get them turned on, so what type of shit is this? Maybe the way I come at it can shock people, like when I say ‘Dick fatter than Peter Griffin and a head bigger than Stewie’—I think it’s just like the details, it’s the funny factor of it that makes people be like, okay, what the fuck is this?”
But a lot of painstaking thought goes into those lines, she said; that’s what sets her apart. As a result, she’s entering what’s starting to look like serious fame, but Harris still rolls with an entourage of one (her mom). “As somebody who didn’t grow up with much,” she explained, she holds her career closely to her chest, wary—maybe rightfully so—of other people getting in her shit.
“I answer all my own emails, I perform, I pay for my cars, I pay for my studio, I pay for my videos, I think of my own ideas, I write my own music, I am my booking agent, my manager, my everything,” she said. In this determinedly self-sufficient way, she’s put out five full-length albums (the most recent, the critically acclaimed Ephorize, came out in January), sparked an ongoing collaboration with Charli XCX, and toured across the U.S. and Europe. Still, “I don’t feel accomplished, I feel like, halfway accomplished.”
In an interview setting, Harris seemed most at ease when we were covering topics that might make other people squirm. I tried hard to be cool while saying the word “pussy,” which I found myself doing over and over again. “How do I get a vending machine pussy?” I asked. “Just have high standards,” she shrugged.
She’s never actually played “Duck, Duck Goose” (see demonstration below), although some weirdos online have asked her to.
“The thought of that came from actually like, looking at a penis,” she explained, “and in that moment, the thought that came to my head was like, ‘Play duck duck goose with his penis!’ I did not do it, but I was just like, I’m gonna make that a song.”
At a certain point in the conversation, her words almost started to blend in to lyrics, blurring the lines between where Elizabeth ends and CupcakKe begins.
“You know,” she said, grinning widely, “I was always taught as a young girl, plan for the future, so therefore I’m planning for the future by not letting big-dick-big-dicks come in my ass or pussy because I don’t want to stretch it out for the next-next-next guy.”
Big dicks or no, CupcakKe’s future seems to be coming along nicely.