Mykki Blanco: New York Rapper Echoes Tricky, Riot Grrrl, and Master P

"I was just coming out, and I really didn't identify with mainstream gay culture at the time because all you had on TV was 'Will & Grace' and 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,' and those people weren't anything like me."

Mykki Blanco / Photo by Timothy Saccenti
Mykki Blanco / Photo by Timothy Saccenti
Brandon Soderberg WRITTEN BY
Brandon Soderberg

Who: Mykki Blanco, real name Michael Quattelbaum, is a fast-rapping MC who reaches the wigged-out heights of Lil Wayne at his mid-2000s creative peak (the manic "Riot"), taps into the chant-rap fury of Atlanta clubs ("Virginia Beach") and does it wearing a wig and women's clothing. "Drag kind of, like, polarizes people's minds," Blanco says, "Once you put that into [a performance], they don't see anything else." Quite simply, "Mykki Blanco" is "a stage name," no different than Dwayne "Lil Wayne" Carter, or ex-corrections officer William Roberts transforming into coke-rap superhero Rick Ross.

Just Another City Kid: On the mixtape Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss, released last month, blazed-out rhymes combine with off-kilter dance production from Sinden, Brenmar, and Gatekeeper with just enough of the snaps, claps, and grind of the radio. "Michael Quattlebaum was a kid actor who started cross-dressing and started doing it to industrial noise music and, later on, rap — it's a very typical artsy New York story," Blanco explains. The last act of Cosmic Angel nods to those avant origins, building to the stunning "Mendocino, California," an angsty, Gregg Araki-like monologue backed by harsh boom-bap.

Queer Rap's Limits: The narrative tying out-of-the-closet MCs to struggle and rejection is one that Blanco, in part, rejects: "There’s a big generation gap between Generation X and Generation Y. Like Gen X-ers in their mid-to-early thirties are like, 'You're just crazy.' Whereas, people that are, like, 19, or the latter half of Generation Y? To them, it isn't weird at all." Mykki compares the "queer rap" tag (also appended to fellow New Yorker Le1f) to the loaded context and high expectations thrown on the shoulders of any buzzing rapper: "When Busta Rhymes first came out, people knew him for his verse on A Tribe Called Quest's 'Scenario'; that was his introduction to the world," Blanco says. "The plan is to 'keep on making music.'" With each release, the gay rap thing becomes less of a buzzword."

Make 'Em Say Maxinqauye: Mykki lists the eccentric and aggressive Southern hip-hop of Master P's No Limit Records and Bushwick Bill as influences, along with Tricky and Bjork. But the music that came out of the riot grrrl movement grabbed the rapper like no other. He discovered bands like Free Kitten and Kathleen Hanna's Julie Ruin Project in the early 2000s as a teen, via Napster and AudioGalaxy. "I was just coming out, and I really didn't identify with mainstream gay culture at the time because all you had on TV was Will & Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," Blanco recalls, "and those people were not anything like me." But riot grrrl, expressive art from "lesbian women and women who were outside the mainstream, in general," resonated. "I grew up listening to riot grrrl, rap, and trip-hop," he says. "Those are my influences." 

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