Mykki Blanco: "I'm Not Hiding In The Shadows Anymore" [Exclusive]
Owing to a complicated recent move to Athens, Mykki Blanco was two hours late to our shoot. Two hours is a lot of late. But it’s hard to be mad at someone like Mykki. He’s filled with unrelenting positive energy; he’s friendly and warm and speaks so quickly and with such passion that it seems like it’s hard for his mouth to keep pace with his brain. Always the iconoclast, when it came to hair and makeup, Blanco immediately went for a crazy, blonde dreadlocked wig amidst an array of more subdued options. “A lot of people just want to categorize me as a queer rapper,” he said. “But I’m a lot freakier than that.”
“A lot of people just want to categorize me as a queer rapper…But I’m a lot freakier than that.”
Born Michael Quattlebaum Jr., Blanco (a name inspired by Lil Kim’s mixtape persona, Kimmy Blanco) began performing as a poet, releasing a volume in 2011 entitled From the Silence of Duchamp to the Noise of Boys. Blanco has described his alterego as “a mixture of riot grrrl and ghetto fabulousness,” and she has served as a cypher through which to explore “hip-hop as a performance medium.”
Blanco is now moving beyond solo performance. Recently, he formed his own imprint – under the Berlin label !K7 records – called Dog Food, a name he says stuck because “there’s something grungy to it.” He swiftly signed like-minded artists and friends Yves Tumor, Psychoegyptian, and Violence. Following their first video put out last month, there’s high anticipation over a collaborative album called C-ORE set to be released on September 18th. Despite all this progression in the music world, the biggest headlines Blanco made was in June for a Facebook post revealing himself as HIV positive, a post containing the now-famous line, “It’s time to actually be as punk as I say I am.”
He is perhaps the only musician since Eazy-E to publicly announce that he has the disease. “I did it for me. I didn’t do it for the public,” Blanco said. “It was a personal thing because I was tired of experiencing loneliness in my love life. I wanted to have a real life. I’m not hiding in the shadows anymore.”
“Through self-love I want to show people what it’s like to be truly living with this condition,” said Blanco. “I want to advocate by living my life to the fullest, and when I feel like I want to speak on something, or feel the need to share something or shed light on something, then I will.” As the old slogan goes, silence equals death.
Long known as a gender-bending performer, at our shoot, Blanco moved seamlessly between the masculine and feminine. He posed seductively in a dress, then subsequently flexed his muscles with his shirt off – all with effortless ease. “In 2012 when I was cross-dressing every day, these transgender discussions were not happening,” he said. “I do think that in the last four years that I’ve been creating work, this whole entire wave of gender think pieces and people and the Caitlyn Jenner moment and Laverne Cox – it’s a truly liberating and really progressive thing. But I think there are a lot of elephants left in the room. A lot of the times we’re still focusing on a gay male-centered voice. A lesbian voice or a woman-centered voice or a female to male trans narrative is still being left out of the picture.”
Clearly Blanco is passionate about human rights issues. Earlier this year he wanted to leave entertainment and become an investigative journalist, news that had blogs in a tizzy. “I was going to shift gears and focus on writing, and in particular kind of social justice, and investigative journalism became a focus of mine,” he said. “I thought that I could better use my time to shed light on some of these things that I feel are inequalities.” Blanco packed up for Nepal, eager to report on human rights issues. And then a week before he was supposed to leave, the earthquake hit. So, Blanco decided to shift his attention to helping those nearby.
“I thought, maybe right now the focus should not be on me, and that the focus should be supporting the friends and artists who are so talented around me,” he said. “I do believe that some people are talented and they need the recognition that some of these mainstream artists get, who are, in a sense, taking from underground culture in the first place.” Thus, with the support of !K7, Dog Food was born.
“I thought that I could better use my time to shed light on some of these things that I feel are inequalities.”
Blanco intends Dog Food to be a “community hub,” where artists that meet a similar underground ethos can be featured. Blanco previously stated that Dog Food is intended to highlight young black artists making music outside of “the singular image of African American music,” like Blanco himself, who compares the sound of his voice to Kathleen Hanna rather than that of any rapper – “that very distinct, coy, Valley Girl voice that’s obviously a direct influence on me from Kathleen, you know?” He hopes that eventually artists from all over the world will reach out, creating a new online community where even non-Dog Food artists can independently advertise their work.
Dog Food comes from Gay Dog Food, Blanco’s most recent mixtape. It stretched the boundaries of what defines hip-hop; Blanco was screaming instead of spitting, inviting Hanna to collaborate on the delightfully fan-girly “A Moment with Kathleen,” and referencing insane concepts like chemtrails (“I wouldn’t put it past the government!” he told us). While he intends for his next solo album to have more of a traditional club-feel, we still think that, as he croons on the song “New Feelings,” Mykki Blanco is “too freaky for bitches.”
Blanco may have dropped his plan for a career change, but he’s taking advantage of his platform as a musician. “I think music is a huge vehicle for change,” he poignantly muses. “That’s why I’m making more of it. I really consider myself a working artist and a lot of times, a lot of celebrities, who have millions of people who follow what they do, come under fire for not being more politically active or not making certain statements. And maybe they have their reasons for not doing that, but I think that musicians do have a lot of power. If they were to lend their voices to certain causes, it would make a big difference.”
Photography by ReviveTheCool
Creative Direction by Paul Bui
Hair by Yuhi Kim
Make up by Kento Utsubo
Video Directed by Lewis Meyer-Peddireddy
Video Edited by Jose Cota & Lewis Meyer-Peddireddy
Audio by Eric Perez
Track: “Runny Mascara” By Mykki Blanco