Exploring the visceral and diaristic music of Mykki Blanco

Photo by Julia Burlingham

MCF: Mykki Blanco, with Flint Eastwood, Meka Jean

Blue Moose Tap House — Thursday, April 6 at 9:30 p.m., $15-18

Mykki Blanco has gained prominence in the past few years as an artist that blows up conventions — in the hyper-masculine world of hip hop, she’s queer, HIV positive and gender fluid, a gay man performing as a woman without being either trans or drag. Her songs are, as she says “diaristic,” speaking about personal fears and feelings in a genre known for bragging about expensive cars and coke-dealing and violence. She is both Mykki Blanco and Michael Quattlebaum Jr, she and he — an artistic creation, but never artificial.

Her debut album, Mykki, has the kind of range and ambition of recent albums such as Solange’s A Seat At The Table and Beyoncé’s Lemonade, but is less overtly political. Or rather, simply being Mykki is political. When she talks about finding love, it’s real talk that transcends gender and politics. She’s true to the craft, loving a well-made rhyme: “I’m buried under the club, ghost on the rhythm, Blanco spit the venom like a Marvel comic villain.”

At the same time, Blanco is tired of having to explain who she is, when straight artists never have to justify their sexuality and presentation. Her notoriety, the identity politics of being black and queer are the outer form. The real substance is the words and the music.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mykki by phone on her day off in Dallas while on the tour that will bring her to Iowa City for Mission Creek.

When I listen to your music, I react to the beats and lyrics and your voice, but beside that is the Mykki Blanco persona. How do those two things go together?

Mykki Blanco began as a performance art project. So when I began making music, it had a lot to do, kind of like, with the character I was creating with Mykki, but then I also started to interject things from my own life into that scenario. It’s just always been for me a really natural back & forth.

Even though it is a performance, it’s also a form of exposure and honesty?

Yeah, I think so, because I’m kind of really diaristic. I talk about things in my personal life. And also I always try to include the audience into the narrative because it’s kind of interchangeable. I try to make my life really visceral and I try to have a lot of audience attraction.

Hip hop usually involves MCs choosing beats, but this album feels like it’s more collaborative between you and the producers, particularly on the song “High School Never Ends.”

I worked with two producers: one, Jeremiah Meece who’s based in Chicago, who is responsible for the more R&B-sounding productions. Second I worked with the French producer called Woodkid; he was responsible for more of the orchestral moments on the album. We were actually able to work with the Paris Opera to do strings on “High School Never Ends.”

That was just a unique experience to be able to record the album in Paris and then Chicago; I think both places really informed how it ended up sounding.

The other day on Twitter you had a series of intense tweets. One of them was, “I’m gonna be honest, touring America really frightened the shit out of me for a variety of reasons, but it’s been extremely fulfilling.” What was frightening?

I was, you know, just really afraid of going to these non-big city places now that Donald Trump is president. I think that fear is quite real. I was just really apprehensive about what the people were going to be like when we were traveling through, but it’s been really amazing to me the really compassionate and awesome people that are coming out to the shows. We are performing in red states. We’re meeting really interesting people who want to be engaged and invite us into their community.

Another tweet was about talking to the media about politics and being queer — that’s difficult or tiring? Or you feel like the media engagement with that is not always productive?

I guess I was just trying to say, yeah, it can feel a bit redundant, asking the same questions or creating the same kind of tropes but not—I guess what I was trying to say is that a lot of times people put queer artists under this fishbowl, where they continually have to somehow explain their identity when talking about their music, and people don’t necessarily treat heterosexual artists in that same way. They just talk about the music and it’s not tied to their sexuality.

When it’s [a] queer artist the media consistently, always has to somehow tie your identity politics or sexual politics before taking the music at face value.

That being said do you think artists have to be somehow on the outside of the mainstream?

I think so, it’s like — you have to navigate the industry with your ability, and you have to do what’s right for your particular brand.

There’s a mixtape called C-Core you put together, that’s as much a noise album as spoken word or hip hop; how did that come about?

The C-Core album was a collaboration with 4 other artists that are close friends of mine: Yves Tumor, Psychoegyptian, Violence and Slum Savage. That was the first project to start my mini-label which is Dogfood Music Group. It was a chance for me to branch out and to start to create collaborations under my own helm.

I plan eventually to do another one. Right now I’m obviously really focused on my next album, but I think that project was my first try at financing, and also managing other artists, and creating that whole world, stepping out of the world just of entertaining and functioning as the manager and curator.

Kent Williams cares because you do. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 218.

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