Excerpt from CupcakKe Is the Coolest Rapper in Chicago
This past August, Chicago's coolest rapper made her Lollapalooza debut, joining her best friend and transatlantic kindred spirit Charli XCX for a show-stealing duet; returned from headlining a show at NYC's Le Poisson Rouge, the first stop on her Queen Elizabitch tour; and signed the lease on her own place. She'll drop another special project at the end of the year. These are striking accomplishments for any artist, and ones that 20-year-old Elizabeth Harris – better known as her fearless, freaky alter ego, CupcakKe – hadn't imagined when she transitioned from writing poetry to raps. When I met her for lunch late that month at Kuma's, a metal-head burger bar in Chicago's Avondale neighbourhood, I wasn't sure how many patrons would know, or at least sense, that this was a woman fresh off numerous milestone achievements, who is considered one of the top-five hottest female rappers in America. But even if the crowd of Black Sabbath–listening burger-eaters didn't exactly recognise her – with her cloud of burgundy curls matched to her red silk jumpsuit – it was unspoken and understood: This is somebody.
Since she went viral overnight in late 2015, most know Harris as the over-the-top, insatiably horny persona she assumes in her videos, with her flair for witty, absurdist, and completely NSFW sex raps, which exist somewhere between Slick Rick and La Chat. In the video for "Vagina" – her first-ever attempt at freaky rap – her eyes flash mischievously as she licks an especially girthy cucumber, rapping doggy-style in rainbow pasties and sporty knee socks. Her video for "Deepthroat," which by now has more than 17 million YouTube views, zooms in on Harris rubbing a banana suggestively between her toes. In it, she raps: "I want to eat yo' dick (I do) / But I can't fuck up my nails (I can't) / So I'mma pick it up with chopsticks." She punctuates her most extravagantly raunchy lines with a conspiratorial smile, as though she's already tickled just imagining the response.
But the woman across the table from me wasn't the wild-eyed sex-bomb who cracks jokes about her unkempt pubes or pledges to slurp ramen noodles off your dick. In person, Harris was a thoughtful conversationalist and an attentive listener who seemed more at ease talking about her relationship with God than about sex. And she was accompanied by her mother, whom I initially mistook for a friend or an older sister – a calm, soft-spoken woman who beamed protective pride at her rising-star daughter, the youngest of her three children. Their chemistry read more like that of best friends than parent and child, mostly because Harris has an aura of maturity well beyond her 20 years. "Right now, you probably thinking, I didn't think CupcakKe would be acting like this!" she said, laughing softly, daintily sipping a cranberry juice that coordinated with her outfit. "When I go in the studio, I'm CupcakKe; right now, I'm Elizabeth."