The Block Beat multimedia series is a collaboration with The TRiiBE that roots Chicago musicians in places and neighborhoods that matter to them.

Cupcakke rarely comes to the hood anymore. The 21-year-old rapper grew up on South 63rd Street and King Drive, in what residents called the Calumet building. After her mom lost her job and then their apartment, Cupcakke spent ages ten through 13 bouncing from homeless shelter to homeless shelter with her family.

During those years she wrote poetry, and at the invitation of various pastors she began performing in churches. When she was 14, someone at a north-side church near the shelter where Cupcakke lived at the time suggested she turn her poems into raps as a way to make money. She started off writing mostly clean Christian rap, but as she matured and explored her body, her bars took a hard turn. When she was 17, she went public with her first song, “Vagina,” and broke the Internet with its playful, salacious video: at one point Cupcakke deep-throats a zucchini while wearing rainbow pasties.

YouTube video

She dropped two mixtapes in 2016, Cum Cake and S.T.D, and since then she’s released three albums: Audacious, Queen Elizabitch, and this year’s Ephorize. On the eve of the much-anticipated Eden, due out November 9, Cupcakke’s raps are clearly bringing in the dough. When she met up with the TRiiBE in August, she didn’t detail exactly how much, but she did say she’s making enough to treat herself to designer things every once in a while—like the Tabasco-red crossbody Gucci bag on her arm.

Cupcakke, DJ Funk, DJ King Marie

Part of the Red Bull Music Festival. Sat 11/10, 9 PM, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport, $15, all-ages

Mostly, though, she talks about her material success in terms of the obstacles it’s created. For one thing, it makes her a lick—a glowing target for opportunists on the block, who might run up and snatch her purse to sell it.

When you have money, Cupcakke says, people get harder to trust. “The only time I really come to the hood is when I’m coming to the beauty supply—’cause you can go, like, in nice neighborhoods in Chicago, and [they] ain’t got no wigs like they got wigs here.”

We’re standing in the middle of Cosmo Beauty on 63rd and Cottage Grove. A hood staple, it’s right underneath the Green Line stop and just a few blocks from where Cupcakke lived as a child. It’s one of the few beauty supplies in Chicago where Cupcakke knows she can find a variety of wigs to match her moods from day to day, including the $19.99 long jet-black girl she’s rocking right now. She bought it here.

“Even with a lot of money, I still come here because I like wigs,” Cupcakke says. We’re walking around the store looking for a tiny comb for her bangs. She’s already grabbed an unopened pair of big silver hoops from the shelf and put them on for the photo shoot. The two items rang up at $2.76 total—and would’ve cost more than $10 at Target.

Cosmo Beauty is under the Green Line station at 63rd and Cottage Grove.
Cosmo Beauty is under the Green Line station at 63rd and Cottage Grove.Credit: Qurissy Lopez

“The beauty supply, to me, is everything. I get my combs here, my wigs here, my lip gloss here. Everything comes from the beauty supply,” Cupcakke explains. “I just bought some leggings from the beauty supply, and I didn’t give a fuck. It was dope. I like cheap shit. Cheap shit with a rich spirit goes a long way.”

The relationship between a black woman and her beauty supply is one built on trust—just as she trusts her beautician with her hair or her nail tech with her mani-pedi. The beauty supply stores of the north side and white suburbs can’t compare to the likes of Cosmo Beauty. For one thing, it’s cheaper. A tub of Eco Styler gel could be $5 to $8 at Sally or Ulta, but it’s only $3 or $4 in the hood. Plus, the hood beauty supply carries everything the black woman wants and needs.

In the aisles of Cosmo, you’ll find the relaxer kits from ORS Olive Oil and Just for Me, the Softsheen jams, and the tiny brushes for creating perfect swoops of baby hair and sideburns. For the naturalistas, there are plenty of silk pillowcases, Cantu Shea Butter leave-in conditioners, Shea Moisture curl enhancers, and Eco Styler gels to go around.

With her multiple alter egos, Cupcakke thinks of herself as many women in one, and the beauty supply affords her the freedom to be whoever she wants to be. Today, she’s Elizabeth Eden Harris, the persona that uses Cupcakke’s birth name.

“As you can see, I got on black hair right now, because I feel like this is more normal and civilized. That’s how Elizabeth is,” she says. But when she’s Cupcakke, it’s an entirely different situation.

“When you get Cupcakke, you get, like, the big-ass frisky, big-ass wig,” she says.

The most fun of her three personalities is Marilyn MonHOE, a play on the famous 1950s sex symbol. Marilyn’s Twitter bio reads “the goal is to suck 100K dicks,” and she’s amassed 379,000 followers by tweeting photos of herself with deliciously witty bars as captions. “Marilyn MonHOE is just, like, the soft wave,” Cupcakke says. “If I have to describe [my alter egos] as wigs, that would be them three.”

The hood remains a big part of who Cupcakke is. It taught her how to hustle. She didn’t have a manager at the time of our interview, and as an independent artist she’s booked her own shows, studio time, and travel—which means every dollar she’s made has gone straight to her.

The hood also taught Cupcakke how to be fly on a budget. When she was growing up, her family didn’t have much money. Her mom regularly shopped at Payless for her shoes, and Cupcakke got made fun of at school because of it.

“I remember one time, my mom finally bought me a pair of Jordans,” she says. “I never even knew there was, like, Jordan numbers and shit. I was just, like, super happy to have some Jordans. I walked into school and everybody was like, ‘Take them shits off. Them bitches old.'”

Cupcakke and the girls
Cupcakke and the girlsCredit: Qurissy Lopez

Stories of hardship like that are a big part of what makes Cupcakke so relatable. In her music and on social media, she’s open about her bouts with depression. In August, Cupcakke logged off Twitter for a couple days after posting that “it seems like absolutely nothing excites me no more.” At the same time, she shared a story about trying to pass out money to a crowd of homeless people she’d seen sitting on a corner in Texas—she said her cash was snatched from her hand and her mom was hit in the head, and that she regretted even getting out of the car.

“That was just 1 percent of my depression,” Cupcakke says. When she feels low, she explains, it often comes from having money and losing friends because of it.

“When you got money, you can’t really have friends. It don’t match, because everybody want something, and it’s like everybody have they own motives,” she says. “It’s like, damn, is this person using me or is it my true friend?”

Because Cupcakke has blown up in popularity, people seem to expect her to abandon everyday activities. When she’s at the boat, the other gamblers at the casino act shocked to see her. “‘Why are you here? Why are you trying to get money?’ Shit. I’m trying to flip,” she says through a laugh.

Even when she’s at the beauty supply grabbing a wig, women will ask what she’s doing there. “Same shit you doing in here,” Cupcakke says. “We both getting the same shit. We getting some wigs.”

She may indulge in the occasional piece of designer gear, but Cupcakke herself hasn’t changed. She’s just as comfortable, if not more so, in her $19.99 black wig from Cosmo as she is with her $1,200 Gucci bag.

“No one else looks like you. So you should always be confident, and that’s just how I feel,” Cupcakke says. “I can wear a fucking sheet outside, and I’ma rock it like it’s a Rihanna gown. It don’t matter. It is what it is.”  v

Qurissy Lopez