Mykki Blanco Rips Up the Rule Book

Mykki Blanco, photo by Julia Burlingham
Mykki Blanco. Photo by Julia Burlingham.

After years of shapeshifting and self-sacrifice in the name of performance, Mykki Blanco (aka Michael Quattlebaum, Jr.) has released a potent debut in Mykki. If anyone was hoping that Blanco would stick to any rulebook, we have bad news: on Mykki, Blanco’s blend of pop, rap, punk, and classical styles burns that book and dances on its ashes. The album showcases a vulnerable Blanco, someone capable of pivoting from wistful longing to fire-breathing on a dime. It’s still unapologetically queer. It’s still unapologetically black. It’s still set to inspire head-nodding and head-scratching in equal measure.

We spoke with Mykki Blanco about the creative process for Mykki, music industry homophobia, and being the Weird Black Kid™.

Debut albums are seen as defining statements. What makes Mykki an album versus a mixtape?

First, money. For the past 4 1/2 years, I have been independent. Last year, I worked with K7 and was starting my imprint. Second, distribution. Thirdly, this is the first time that I was able to create music without needing to tour. Every project before this was a quick turnaround. Here, I took my time to focus on musicianship. This album is me going from being an entertainer to truly becoming a musician.

Mykki Blanco, photo by Julia Burlingham
Photo by Julia Burlingham.

Your usual songs are confrontational, but Mykki starts with more internal tracks like “Loner.” Why did you put this side of you first?

I made this album about me in a way my fans didn’t already know. It wasn’t about making a feminist hip-hop grunge record or making an acid house gothic record. Before, I played with many different concepts in my music. With Mykki, I wanted to make music that was melodic. I wanted to make music where I was talking about heavy shit in a way that could make people dance.

The production on Mykki is multifaceted, ranging from trap and grunge influences to choral elements. How did you assemble the production?

I worked with just two people. Originally I was gonna work with just one person, but when you work on an album with one person, they craft the entire sound. When I started working with Woodkid, I had no idea I was making an album. It was organic. I worked with Jeremiah in the second phase, when I knew it was an album. Woodkid brought in things I had never done before—singing, strings, and an orchestral vibe. Jeremiah countered that with hazy R&B and trap. Both producers are extremely different stylistically, but played off each other.

How did you meet Woodkid?

When he was locked out of his hotel room in a festival in Ireland! Later, I posted on Facebook that I had stopped recording music. Everyone with a blog had nothing to write about that day, so they all wrote about my post. Woodkid is one of the only industry people—he’s super industry—who reached out to me. He directed Rihanna and Drake’s “Take Care,” you know? He said “you’re too talented to stop making music.” Maybe he could empathize because he’s gay. The industry is so fucking homophobic.

How have you navigated that homophobia from 2012 until now?

It’s softened a lot, because things that made my career taboo in 2012 became mainstream. But 2012? I took a shit-ton of homophobia from people who act like they’re so fucking accepting now. I don’t need to name names. It was gross because it was both homophobia and racism. If I was a white guy in drag, everybody would have thought, “This is a skinny white guy in a dress. We know what this is. We can report about this, write about this. It has a history and a place.” A black guy who does anything feminine doesn’t get that leeway. The other thing is the fact that I was rapping. Thugger plays with queerness, but since he’s not queer, he gets away with it. If I remained in the closet and said, “I’m not gay, but look at this,” people would have had a different response. Lil B played with that stuff. Andre 3000 did. Busta Rhymes did. A straight guy can get away with playing gay, but an actual gay guy is shunned. People say, “I can’t relate. I won’t listen to that. Fuck that gay shit.”

The whole purpose of Dogfood is to disrupt that stereotypical image of blackness and queerness. How has that worked?

Next year, I want to do another EP or single release on Dogfood with a new artist. Last year, I did C.O.R.E. with four friends and it was awesome, because it was taking naughty music and creating a compilation. I grew up listening to compilations and it’s something people don’t do anymore.

Mykki Blanco, photo by Julia Burlingham
Photo by Julia Burlingham.

Which records and compilations were influential to you?

The Electroclash Compilation with Felix da Housecat and Peaches was super-formative. Tracy and the Plastics. The Moldy Peaches—Who’s Got the Crack. What was that Beck album? Midnite Vultures! That album changed my life. Beck was the coolest person ever.

Many black punks feel isolated. Others feel they “belong” in punk just as much as anyone else. Where did you fit as a kid?

As a teenager in Raleigh, I never felt alienated because it was the kinda thing where if you went to a show, you knew there’d be almost no black kids. There was no alternative. Where I was living, we didn’t have local young rappers. If you wanted to hear hip-hop and you were a black teen, you had to go to school dances or house parties. In hardcore, the white kids organized shows in churches and basements. Because Raleigh was a small scene, we hung out with college kids. I went to MacRock on my 18th birthday.

Last year, we were in Atlanta for the Afropunk Fest that got cancelled. There were many people who had organized shows around Afropunk. I thought, “This is so cool,” because when I was coming up, you couldn’t find 100-200 alternative black kids all hanging out in one spot.

—Nnamdi Bawsism

One Comment

  1. Posted October 10, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Amazing interviewer, amazing artist!

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