Photo by Nigel Parry
Although Mykki Blanco doesn’t want you to consider his image subversive, he’s reinventing rap politics and taking it to the next level.
“I’m a gay punk performer who raps. It’s 2015, and that shouldn’t be a subversive thing,” says Michael Quattlebaum Jr., better known by the stage name Mykki Blanco. The Blanco persona was initially a form of social media performance art in which Quattlebaum impersonated a high school girl dreaming of becoming a rapper. It arrived at a critical time in the artist’s life as he transitioned into cross-dressing and elements of transgender identity (where exactly the line exists for Mykki is unclear). After he began putting out actual raps, Blanco infused the music with an aggressive punk vigor, resulting in a mélange of genders and genres that simultaneously built an enthusiastic following and a boatload of controversy. Blanco also layers in racial commentary, explaining: “Hip-hop for the most part reflects black culture…so many people within and outside the community don’t accept the myriad experiences of blackness other than the street experience. Some view the streets as the only authentic way to approach the art form while most people just want the fantasy.” Putting it another way, he adds, “I don’t consider myself a rapper, even though I rap.”
Blanco’s belief that audiences should not consider his avant-garde image “subversive” is not widely shared; in the summer of 2014, he was arrested in Portugal “for being gay,” followed up by an episode in Moscow where, while promoting the Gay Dog Food mixtape, his performance was canceled after the club was raided by anti-LGBT extremists. Since its founding days in the Bronx, rap has been a political art form that made the authorities uneasy — Blanco’s just taking that to the next level.