Opinion

CupcakKe’s Retirement: A Loss for Hip-Hop & An Indictment of the Industry

But ultimately, her happiness and mental well-being should be her top priorities

Earlier this week, on Sunday night, Chicago rapper CupcakKe announced on Instagram Live that she was retiring from music. Citing general unhappiness, her corruption of “the youth,”  and a gambling addiction, she called it quits — she canceled her tour, wiped her social media pages, and claimed that she was going to remove all of her music from streaming platforms.

Unlike Metro Boomin, who returned with an album last year after announcing his retirement in 2017, or Nicki Minaj, who we all still kinda sorta expect to drop more music at some point in the future, CupcakKe’s announcement, unfortunately, seems sincere. In her IG video, she sounded incredibly distressed, as she was constantly fighting back tears and reiterated that she wasn’t using the moment as a ploy to market new music.

The negative impact of CupcakKe’s retirement is two-fold. On a personal level, I consider myself a fan and an overall admirer of her work. Both of the albums she released in 2018 — Ephorize and Eden — made my Top 50 Albums list. She’s a highly skilled rapper with a surprisingly diverse catalog. She has a wicked flow and a cadence that commands the listener’s attention.

And from an industry standpoint, this is also a big loss for hip-hop. Despite being labeled as a “raunchy rapper” for her sex-positive rhymes, which garnered her most of the attention she received from music media, her music actually touched on a wide array of subject matter, and the way she used her medium to serve as an ally to various communities is almost unprecedented in the past and current climates of hip-hop. Besides her fearlessness in addressing issues like sexual assault and rape culture, CupcakKe was one of the few hip-hop artists who overtly and staunchly supported the LGBTQ community through her music — a fact that won her a very dedicated following.

In the video, CupcakKe explained that she felt “torn apart” after seeing young children at her all-age live shows singing and dancing along to her graphic songs. “I feel as though I’m corrupting them with my songs,” she said, through tears. But she also dedicated a significant amount of time detailing how industry factors ultimately pushed her away from making the kind of music she wanted to make.

She explained in her IG Live that a big part of the reason that she made sexually explicit music, beyond trying to get her and her family out of poverty, was actually to bring attention to her skill and the scope of her content — she explained, “That’s why, if you notice I always…drop a sexual song and right behind it I’ll drop a song that really shows my talent. I did it to bring awareness to my actual talent…But it seems like no matter what I do the sexual music just overpowers the ‘non-sexual’ music.”

While she’s certainly downplaying the lyrical potency she displayed even on her more graphic content, it’s clear that graphic content wasn’t her real M.O. And after also hypothesizing about a possible lack of support due to her body type, she later reached an absolutely depressing, heartbreaking conclusion: “I realized no matter what I put out, I’ll never be good enough for society, no matter how talented I am.”

*long, heavy sigh*

It’s very sad that CupcakKe felt like the world had pigeonholed her artistry. CupcakKe’s retirement is yet another addition to the growing catalog of musicians, especially Black female artists, whose bright light ends up being smothered by the industry. In this case, she felt that she needed to “sell sex” to gain success, despite that not being the real musical route she wanted to take. The fact that she even thought that “selling sex” was the only way to shine light on her work is an indictment of the music industry itself and how it views and markets women. She didn’t feel that she could make pro-LGBTQ anthems, or support autistic rights, or condemn rape culture, or empower Black women, and just have those subjects exist in their own right.

And mind you, I actually really like her sexual songs too. I generally have enjoyed some of the raunchier music that women like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion have been making. But the point is, she didn’t. And it’s a shame that CupcakKe was so unhappy and so torn apart by the impact of her music and the direction that she felt she was being pushed to go — simply because the world ignored the full range of her talent — that she packed it up altogether and called it quits.

More than anything, CupcakKe finding peace and happiness is the highest priority. After her suicide note scare earlier this year, all we can hope is that she’s getting the help she needs and is making the decisions that are in the best interest of her ultimate well-being. It’s just unfortunate that, in her case, it means leaving music behind entirely.

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