Hip-hop speaks on the black experience. Even when it seems MCs are more interested in stunts like detailing their bank account in a verse, they are speaking on an experience exclusively shared by black folks. It’s not a reach, because while the lives of black people are varied and non-singular, the dream to get out, to defy the odds that non-black gatekeepers have placed around us—that is universal. Still, while people of color have used music and braggadocio to give a voice to a struggle often left without one, hip-hop has not always been welcoming to queers. The machismo of hip-hop is another piece for another time, because in this turn we focus on a force within the soundscape of rap music that has defied any entry barriers queer artists are expected to face: Mykki Blanco.
Mykki Blanco is the divine feminine extension of gay NYC multi-discipline artist and writer, Michael David Quattlebaum Jr. Before donning the visage of Miss Blanco, Quattlebaum published a book of poetry through the Moran Bondaroff gallery’s publishing imprint OHWOW. Unsurprising, as poetry is the perfect segue to becoming an MC. Following this, in 2012 he released his first EP as Mykki, titled Mykki Blanco and the Mutant Angels. The project was heralded as “mental” and “fun”; welcoming the era of one woman seeking the truth.
Discovering Mykki’s music is like finding a book of answers. She affirms the idea that a queer, gender-fluid, rapper can deliver bars, fabricate a bomb flow, and get grimy with the best of them without going full on Beam Me Up Scotty. Before her, I thought Nicki Minaj was the closest rap would ever step to the flamboyant and full-on nature of so many fags the world round. So it was an immense honor to finally speak with the trailblazer that is Miss Blanco, while she and fellow NYC-based queer rapper Cakes da Killa embark on their Stunt Queen tour.
I spoke to Mykki early in the morning, my time, and she was working on Mountain Time heading to Colorado. There is something about talking to famous people, or people you consider heroes—often, you don’t know where to start. In a 30-minute conversation, I pressed Mykki on her own understanding of her place in many queer kid’s hearts and record collections. I was surprised to find her gravelly yet feminine voice carries just as much punch outside of a beat, particularly because she speaks with such affirmation regarding her own craft and herself.
Still, she is very unpretentious, “If people come to my shows and they take something away from that, [which] they find inspiring, that’s good,” she says. Often, when an iconoclastic artist makes their way into a mainstream medium, we assume they are bound to the image of a cultural messiah. Mykki may not be that to herself, but to fans she is.
“That’s in the eye of the beholder. It feels good when someone comes up to me and says that [my show is inspiring] but that’s not exactly what I’m out to do,” she says. She is determined to craft a good product; what comes after is a welcome addition. This is why her music is taken seriously as a cultural marker. Respect aside, she is not immune to the trials of fame and prestige. She’s noted for her brash condemnation of hip-hop head media outlets like Complex, Vibe, and BET over their lack of coverage of black queer artists. Of course, some of those trials have been more personal: in 2015 Mykki announced that she was HIV-positive, and by all standards many assumed Michael, the artist, would suffer detriments to his career—including himself. Yet, even though Michael opted to be vulnerable while in the public eye, he has no interest in being an advocate per se.
“I don’t want people to think that’s all I’m capable of,” she says speaking as Mykki, describing an understandable fear of being pigeonholed as not just a queer artist, but also an HIV positive one. Since the announcement, she’s released her first album Mykki to shining reviews (the long-game result of three EPs and three equally well-received mixtapes dropped years earlier) and she embarked on her Stunt Queen tour with Cakes, an artist she only recently formed a bond with.
“I knew of him before,” she says; she then goes on to describe the natural chemistry they shared as artists when they met before planning the tour, focusing on the ease of their connection. That’s a welcome dynamic when you decide to tour the country with someone, hitting city after city at breakneck speed and cleaning post-show glitter out of your ass. When I ask her to describe her show so we know what to expect here in Atlanta, she replies “You can’t control how you impact people.” It’s that respect for her fans individual experiences that makes Mykki a special addition to not only the landscape of rap music but to black culture itself.
Mykki Blanco and Cakes da Killa bring their Stunt Queen tour to Drunken Unicorn, March 18th. Tickets are available here; the show is 18+; doors open at 9.
WUSSY will be hosting the afterparty directly following the show, with LEONCE and DJ Ree de la Vega. Party is 21+, enter through the Drunken Unicorn side. Details here.