Album Review: CupcakKe – Dauntless Manifesto

[Self-released; 2024]

Being truly unique as an artist is a difficult thing to achieve. It requires both a degree of out-of-the-box thinking and a willingness to alienate audiences in the interest of not watering one’s style down. Enter Elizabeth Harris, aka CupcakKe, a rapper who made a name for herself by raising the bar for explicitness in the already notoriously explicit female rap scene. For years she has swerved in style and production choices, maintaining a focus on being confident and unconcerned with what others may think of her. Years after her last full studio album, CupcakKe is now back with the clear intent to outdo her past work.

She doesn’t leave that in the subtext either, as opener “Grilling N****s pt. II” serves as a louder, faster, and more aggressive sequel to a single which itself was one of the more aggressive entries of her catalogue. With a forceful flow that masterfully complements the beat and clever lines like “I ain’t claiming no exes / I still be calling shit Twitter” CupcakKe puts her skills as a serious rapper on full display. It’s a reminder that though she chooses to focus on having fun for most of her catalogue, she still has the skill set to keep up with her peers and should never be underestimated.

If anything could be said to put CupcakKe above her peers, it’s her eclectic taste. “Connect 4” pairs atmospheric synths and 808s with commanding lyrics about a threesome. “Nun Nun” shows how easily CupcakKe slots into a dark trap sound with controlled flows that remind the audience that she is not to be fucked with.

Even beyond American rap conventions, CupcakKe never feels out of her element. The glittery hyperpop of “Queef” pairs with her casual explicitness to a lighthearted comedic effect. All the more surprising is “Water Balloons”, where atop an acoustic guitar-driven radio pop production CupcakKe delivers her ridiculously explicit with such joyful energy it’s difficult to resist the invitation to let loose and have fun. “Dui” ventures into Brazilian funk with a bass-heavy production that hammers with full force and yet does not manage to take the focus away from the artist’s perfectly delivered obscenities. “Little Red Riding Good” brings a combo of drums, flutes and absurd imagery that will without a doubt add it to the canon of CupcakKe songs that are mainstays in discussions of the most explicit rap ever made. It’s impressive how even while going all out so often, she manages to not make her material feel one note. 

A side effect of so rarely choosing subtlety is that CupcakKe’s attempts at being more serious never feel insincere. The comparatively minimal heartbreak tune “Cody” does not tone down the energy of her raps in the slightest, yet the vulnerability comes across in a very real and humanizing way. The slowed-down melodic track “Rock Paper Scissors” is so unceremonious and blunt with its theme of rising from a low point it feels like an artistic statement so much as the artist addressing the listener directly. The distorted club pop of “Aura” accompanies what might be the most brazen body positivity anthem ever made.

Beyond her lyrics, CupcakKe lends effectiveness to the material by the sheer lived-in sincerity of her delivery. “Cruella”, her most political song to date, excellently transmits the lived experience behind her desire to express pride in her blackness. Though they’ll never be what she’s known for, CupcakKe’s more serious songs allow a full-length project to feel like a truly complete and well-rounded experience. 

Dauntless Manifesto is the maximalist end product of six years between CupcakKe releases. It is diverse in flows, production, and genre in a way that shows the true range of CupcakKe as an artist. Though never suited for the mainstream, her work continues to be a captivating demonstration of what rap can be. She is fun, she is serious, she is sexual, she is vulnerable, and all of it always to the max. One can hope she’ll go on to have the kind of underappreciated influence in the mainstream that is always needed to usher in the next generation of absolute bangers. In the meantime, those not too shy for her style get an excellent album with endless replay value and an artist absolutely worth keeping an eye on.