Release Date: Sep 16, 2016
Record label: !K7
Genre(s): Rap, Pop/Rock
“I want to be in love, I want to know intimacy,” Mykki Blanco confesses on one of Mykki's spoken-word interludes. “This desire burns so deeply…It isn't even sexual/It's love.” The theme of disaffection persists throughout, but is nowhere as plain or heartfelt. And yet, the sentiment's almost too heartfelt, too arch, and when the New York rapper and performance artist goes on to suggest, “Perhaps I'm going to have to love myself first,” the overt triteness seems to give up the game.
In a genre where individuality and uniqueness are king, New York rapper Mykki Blanco is in a completely different league. Even before addressing the distinctive sound of Michael Quattlebaum Jr’s onstage persona, it is worth considering his remarkable rise. Starting off as a teenage girl character created for YouTube, the 26-year-old’s alter ego (named in reference to Lil Kim’s Kimmy Blanco) quickly took on a life of her own.
How to describe Mykki Blanco? The artist has drawn from rap, punk, riot girl and art history to create work that is thrilling and vital in equal measure. Mykki is Blanco’s long awaited debut album, and is the culmination of years spent at the bleeding edge of underground rap. It’s hard to define the record as any one genre, because whilst Blanco predominantly raps on the record, it has the anger of punk mixtape Gay Dog Food and touches of world-weary soul - a new mode for the artist.
Mykki Blanco doesn’t exactly ease you gradually into his inner turmoil on Mykki, the New York rapper’s first studio album proper. “Look inside my soul/ Please call Deepak and Oprah,” Blanco intones on the murky I’m in a Mood, a wry, addled flow warped further by numb Auto-Tune. He doesn’t provide much comforting closure, either. The stark final track, Rock N Roll Dough, reflects on Blanco’s past travails – having a sugar daddy, working for nothing in art galleries – without much hope that any “rock’n’roll dough” will sort it.
Mykki Blanco started life as a piece of video art. With a name inspired by Lil’ Kim’s alter ego Kimmy Blanco, Michael Quattlebaum created the character of a teenage girl who records vlogs and rap songs in her room. Later, the New Yorker, who was also making industrial rock as No Fear, was encouraged to perform live in that guise. Nowadays, Blanco is less a skit and more of a fully fledged artistic identity.
Mykki is the first proper studio album by Mykki Blanco, but it’s just the latest in her long line of punk moves. The New York rapper has been rising through the Afropunk scene for half a decade, cleaving apart the conventions of hip-hop through her dense rhymes—hectic, often hilarious gasps of speech have their own internal scaffolding. It’s something Mykki offers in spades, from her declarations of “smoking blunts wit my cunts” in the club to raging, “They swear they kingpins in Rio but really D boys in Jersey/Put a hit out he swerved, the nerve of doing me dirty!” But often enough, Blanco is radical merely by holding steadfastly to her persona: the queer, gender-fluid alter ego of the performance artist Michael David Quattlebaum Jr.
Hip-hop loves a good künstlerroman. Some of the genre’s greatest narratives have been fueled by the temporal disjunction between past hardship and present success. On her debut album, Mykki Blanco takes up the rapper-as-memoirist mantle, placing herself within a lineage of storytellers and weirdos, whose origin stories (real or imagined) are intrinsic to their art.
Unlike their experimental mixtapes, Mykki Blanco's first full-length solo release doesn't leave much to hold on to. The New York performance artist and musical chameleon showcases a unique brand of warped, darkwave noise-rap on their debut album – but ultimately plays it safe. Loner and Hideaway show the rapper in full flow, and the production is largely trap-influenced, with industrial, minimal 808s and distorted synths throwing back to earlier work with the likes of Kingpinning and Haze.Boogie.Life.
Mykki Blanco 'Mykki' (!K7)You can’t say that Mykki typifies New York rap (even in 2016), but he was at the forefront of the queer hip hop movement. What made it a movement other than homosexual MCs? The use of experimental club producers for beats, a combination that's yielded great results. The fact that this LP is released by !K7 and produced by Woodkid and Jeremiah Meece (of The-Drum) means Mykki’s gained visibility since then, but he hasn't lost any edge either.
It's difficult to imagine that an artist like Mykki Blanco would have enjoyed so much buzz around her debut album even just a few years ago, but the world seems finally ready to embrace someone as unique as her. Genderqueer hip-hop with punk attitude and experimental undertones is the kind of thing generally relegated to the niche music bin, but Blanco is clearly aiming higher, and has come up with an outsider rap album that hits hard enough to cross over to a much bigger audience than many would have predicted. The production is strong across the album, bouncing effortlessly between experimental textures and punchy beats.
Mykki Blanco’s career has resided in the form of mixtapes, singles and EPs since his beginnings in 2012. These releases have stayed firmly in the underground until now, where up surfaces a ‘proper’ debut album release to mess with the mainstream. Blanco has been consistently bold, unashamedly explicit and experimental throughout his career, finding a solid ground and identity in his androgynous form.