Amanda Blank Paints a Self-Portrait

Amanda Blank is part of a new wave of genre-hopping female rappers who also traffic in the business of party-starting. The Philly-born emcee is part of a crew that includes some of music’s coolest kids. She’s collaborated with M.I.A. and Ghostface Killah, is bffs with Santigold, toured with Peaches, and can cite Spank Rock, Diplo and TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek as producers on her first album I Love You . She also does part-time in the notorious performance art band Sweetheart. Here she is backstage before a recent gig at Terminal 5, where she talks about the ghetto-ness of Philly education, dressing up like a Mormon, and being a woman in a man’s game.

Look at those nails! Damn, girl. I remember I wasn’t allowed to get fake nails when I was in junior high. All my girlfriends had them. I really wanted them too, because that was the style, and for my 8th grade graduation my mom was like, ‘Okay, you can get your nails done now.’ And ever since I would get my nails done. I stopped getting fake nails because it’s really hard to make artwork with them; it’s hard to play instruments with them. I do this when I’m touring because it looks good with the costumes, but, when I’m not on tour, I have really short nails. It’s hard to play the piano with these. These are long. These are thick. Only one girl can do them like this. She and I came up with this idea for me to have cat claws. These are straight up talons. They’re just for the show. But they have to look extra silly onstage.

I read that you get into character with your other band, Sweatheart, you dressed up as Mormons? Yeah, we wore these ye olde, high-collared, wool, to-the-floor, to-our-wrists dresses. We held hands. And it was so fucking unbearably hot in those awful dresses. And all I could think was “How do women wear these every day?” Because women still wear shit like that. They totally do. It was awful. And they’re totally ugly.

Are there other costumes you’ve put on in the past to get into character? Oh yeah. I’ve been everything from Scooby Doo to a McDonald’s French fry to a goth queen, to an ice princess. I’ve been covered in full-on body paint, like, naked. We do everything in Sweatheart. I’ve been a thousand animals. We really get into the costumes.

And you’ve worn a pregnant suit before. I’ve worn a pregnant suit. I’ve worn full-on fake plastic surgery. I’ve worn a fat suit. Sweatheart shows are really incredible. I love it.

Lykke Li guests on your recently released album I Love You. What was it like working with her? She’s great. That’s my girl. She’s a real girl’s girl. She’s fun to be friends with because she’s such a good chick. I met her through one of my best friends. We have a mutual best friend, this girl Mapei. She works with Switch and Diplo.

I figured as much. Speaking of fun, you’re pretty tight with Santigold and Trevor “Trouble” Andrew and all those guys, right? The thing with Santi is that she’s one of my best friends, in music and also completely outside of it. I lived at Santi’s house in Brooklyn forever, trying to finish my album, writing songs on her couch.

I understand you got kicked out of high school. I was always a good student, I just didn’t go. I was way more interested in doing other things. Philly public schools are fuckin’ — I couldn’t even take home my American History textbook because there weren’t enough books for the kids in class. It’s ghetto. It’s some hoodrat shit. That is some hood shit. I couldn’t even go home and study. All of our tests were open book because they had to be, because no one could take them home to study. That’s really learning something. Children aren’t taught to think critically. They’re not taught to approach learning in a thoughtful way. It’s all memorization. I have major issues with the Philadelphia education system. It was a nightmare.

Someone said you were a better rapper than you were a singer-songwriter. Would you agree with that assessment? Yes. I’m more well-versed in rapping. I think rapping comes more naturally to me. Songwriting is something I think about more. I don’t really think about it when I’m rapping. It’s hard to be that personal and intimate with your music. Writing fun, lighthearted things when I rap was easier for me. Writing vulnerable music is not easy for me. I hold back a lot, with the songwriting. That’s something I’m still figuring out.

What’s it like being a girl in the rap game? Interesting. I don’t get fucked with too hard. You definitely see the difference in the way people treat you. Or take you seriously. Most music writers are men, and most of them are white. That’s always interesting, having a middle-aged white man write 25-year-old girl pop music. Women in general are low on the totem pole, it doesn’t have to be music. I think women have to be tough to be taken seriously.

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