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Cakes Da Killa
Svengali Arusa Qureshi , October 24th, 2022 08:29

The New Yorker's second album finds him in a more romantic mood, still heaps of fun, finds Arusa Qureshi

Svengali is the latest chapter in Cakes Da Killa’s magnificently slick and joyous blend of hip hop and house. From his early mixtapes and 2016 debut album Hedonism to the present day, the New Jersey hip-house artist has always been a proprietor of fiery, high-energy bangers. With his second album, however, he opts for a slightly more subdued approach. That’s not to say that this isn’t just as entrancing, but with a narrative that centres on love, romance and relationships, it provides an opportune moment to reflect on Cakes’ progression as a songwriter.

An artist credited with being a core player in the queer hip hop boom associated with New York in the 2010s, Cakes Da Killa has been rightly applauded for his unapologetic celebration of queer Black joy and love. Where the mistake has been made in the past though is in the inability to see him beyond his identity as a gay rapper in the context of that original boom. Cakes is a masterful storyteller above all else and an artist responsible for pushing a genre far forward by drawing in his love of everything from nightlife and ballroom culture to disco and jazz.

Svengali is a seductive and playful accumulation of influences, interspersed with short interludes or skits that Cakes has said are real messages from lovers. Following a 30-second introduction gently offering up a skittish piano melody, first track ‘W4TN’ sets the pace with its minimal production and atmosphere created by producer Sam Katz. Title track ‘Svengali’ has a similar understated quality, its deep beat sitting impeccably alongside the repeated flirty refrain of “I know you’re touching me / but are you feeling me?”. Throughout, Cakes’ witty and sass-filled wordplay remains the star attraction, like in the fast and furious ‘Luvs Me Not’ or the snappy and sexy ‘Sip Of My Sip’, which features an additional verse from newcomer Sevndeep. ‘Drugs Du Jour’, meanwhile, is a more dreamy and reflective number, where Cakes takes a moment to affirm his position as an innovator in the scene, asking his listeners: “Do you really speak the language? Do you know what your name is? Do you know what you’re here for? Can you see the things that they ignore?”

If Cakes Da Killa’s recent Muvaland Vol. 1 & 2 mixtapes taught us anything, it’s that he knows how to soundtrack a damn good time. Both those records, with their spicy vocal takedowns and pumping, dance floor ready beats, feel as though they could fit neatly at the climax of a club night, inviting audacious moves and sweaty, messy fun. Svengali, in contrast, with its lighter touch and emphasis on love and attraction, is like a bookend to such a night, still providing that chaotic night-out energy and hysteria but with the more mellow undertones of a chilled after-party.