A few weeks ago, Mykki Blanco
—a hyper-poetic noise-rapper who often dresses like a woman on stage—released a darn-near industrial rap track called “Booty Bamboo”
that begins with Blanco slurring, “Y'all know I'm from North Carolina, right?” INDY
readers may find that shout-out more heartening than surprising. See, back in 2002, the INDY afforded Blanco
—who was then a 15-year-old Enloe student named Michael Quattlebaum Jr.—the superlative of “Performance Art Prodigy.” Quattlebaum was involved in experimental theater in Raleigh, producing a play entitled Paperdoll Psychology that the INDY
described as being “based on the fictional diary of a girl named Anna who, after experimenting with sex and discovering a humiliating conspiracy among her male partners, commits suicide at age 16.” That heady, conceptual spirit is still at play almost 14 years later, as you’ll see at Blanco’s Duke Coffeehouse show tonight
More than just a rapper, Mykki Blanco is part of an expanding, D.I.Y., performance art-informed hip-hop scene with greater variation in sound, style and sexual preference than even the underground has traditionally allowed. Not long ago, it was trendy to lump together a number of MCs, simply because they were out of the closet, in a “queer rap” scene (Blanco, Le1f, Cakes Da Killa, Zebra Katz and others). But what has emerged over time is less of a scene strictly based on sexual preference than a transgressive rap moment that doesn’t ask MCs to fit in any particular box. This still-forming alternative to the alternative hip-hop world includes Blanco as well as rap-informed artists such as Abdu Ali, Antwon, B L A C K I E, Blamlord, Cities Aviv, FKA Twigs, Ian Isiah, Lee Bannon, Leikeli47, TEAMS and plenty of others that are just a few Bandcamp clicks away from blowing your mind.
If you're new to Blanco’s world, start with “Angggry Byrdz” off last year's Betty Rubble: The Initiation
. The buzzing, hiccupping track finds Blanco boasting that she's “Richie Rich with a clit in the middle” and twisting the familiar “I got haters” trope with absurd references to the massively popular video game. Hypnotic, hilarious and strangely catchy, “Angggry Byrdz” shows how Blanco borrows from anywhere and everywhere—high art, low art and crap tween culture— with a brain that forges connections between it all. The Betty Rubble
EP also features “Initiation,” a song rapped entirely in Latin; “Ace Bougie Chick,” a thoroughly po-faced nod to ‘90s rap; and “Vienna,” a Eurotrash spoken-word track with references to ‘80s heroin flick Christiane F.
and Japanese experimental rock heroes the Boredoms.
Recently, a controversy about accuracy and sensitivity
in discussing non-heteronormative people has engulfed the website Grantland, so this is worth slowing down to explain: Blanco is the performance persona of Quattlebaum, who is gay but not transgender, and who goes by “she” to maintain the spirit of her origins—and, perhaps, to further confound the insensitive or just plain clueless. Blanco isn't always dressed as clearly “female” or “male,” but is always a “she.” Of course, most rappers don't go by their birth names, adopting knotty and complex personas that mingle autobiography and fantasy to arrive at a kind of realer-than-real, ecstatic truth. In that sense, Blanco is no different.
Our perspective must be truly damaged when it’s more baffling for a gay man to adopt a female-skewing persona, which contains variously spirited characters such as “Betty Rubble” and “Black Sailor Moon,” than for a Miami goof named William Roberts to sport shades and a cluelessly cocky demeanor, calling himself Rick Ross. Recently, a real drug dealer named Rick Ross lost a lawsuit over the use of his name to the rapper Rick Ross! We're through the looking glass like twice over, people.
Not to mention that, when it comes to pure bug-eyed rapping skills, Blanco recalls Lil Wayne in the mid-‘00s, when he was a self-proclaimed “Martian,” or the spazzing verbiage of young-gun, mainstream-verging lyricists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper. Blanco’s influences include Kathleen Hanna and Tricky, but Geto Boy Bushwick Bill and the soldiers of Master P's No Limit Records are also apparent in her music. This is not outsider hip-hop, even if scared, conservative rap gatekeepers want to pretend that it is, which is easier than accepting that things are changing.