Queer hip hop icon Mykki Blanco breaks boundaries

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Rapper Mykki Blanco

After years of anticipation, queer rapper Mykki Blanco released their debut album in September 2016 and part of their upcoming tour will bring the artist to Strange Matter next Monday, 3/20.

Blanco is the persona and stage name for Michael Quattlebaum. After releasing their latest EP in 2014, fans had yet to see a full-length album until recently. Blanco explained that it took time to find the best fit for a record label to work with. The album, Mykki, produced by Woodkid & Jeremiah Meece, is out via Dogfood Music Group and !K7.

“It literally took that long to find a label that was willing to work with me,” Blanco said. “I still would see so many people questioning whether or not what I was doing was valid as a career. And also, general homophobia.”

Blanco’s music, though hip hop and rap in its majority, also incorporates elements of other genres. Blanco has even collaborated with Kathleen Hanna of the feminist punk band Bikini Kill on a track.

Blanco’s aesthetics involve numerous tattoos and long, flowing locks of hair that appear to challenge the gender norms in hip hop, though it’s simply a part of who Quattlebaum/Blanco is. More mainstream conversations analyzing hip hop culture are usually more inclined to cite a rapper like Young Thug for sparking the antithesis by wearing women’s clothes, but it ignores the queer artists who are inserting themselves into the scene.

“These people still struggle to acknowledge the fact that we exist, Blanco said. “ I don’t think it’s malicious, but they don’t want to acknowledge our impact. They don’t want to acknowledge the fact that we have hundreds of thousands of fans of our own across the world.”

“So like if someone writes a scholarly article about how Young Thug is deconstructing gender norms in hip hop, but all they know is Young Thug, then I guess I have no critique of that because it’s like if this person knew who I was, they would include me in the conversation,” Blanco said. “If they don’t know who I am and they feel like Young Thug is actually in the community doing that, then they’re not necessarily wrong to write the article. But at the same time there’s people who do know who we are and they still chose to overlook what we do.”

As Blanco tours, they claim that they’ve seen a change in demographics of concert goers. According to Blanco, there has been a rise of young faces in the crowd. Blanco wants fans to feel empowered by his performances, especially those who identify on the LGBTQ spectrum.

“It’s those little things, like feeling the gay moment in a song or in a lyric. It’s those small things that make you feel yourself and I want people to feel themselves,” Blanco said. “It would have been cool if when I were that age to hear something like that.”

In October 2016, Blanco was filmed reciting artist/activist Zoe Leonard’s 1992 poem “I want a dyke for president.” The poem’s words, which challenges political and societal norms, still resonates.

Blanco was contacted by Dazed & Confused Magazine and asked to write something. Due to a busy touring schedule they settled for reciting a poem instead. It was then that Blanco first discovered “I want a dyke for president.” When they first read the poem they said that they thought “this is amazing. This is iconic.”

The video has since been viewed over 70,000 times.

“I never called myself an activist. Other people did. I guess I’m okay with that,” Blanco said. “I think a true activist is about being on the front lines.”

Blanco cited examples such as protesters in Flint, Michigan or at Standing Rock.

“I view that as actual activism because you’re on the ground. You’re physically in a space, adding your life force and your presence to making a difference or provoking discussion,” Blanco said. “I think that being called an activist just because you choose to engage in a topic online or because you choose to use your platform is a little too easy. I think it’s just something that you do because you have a conscience, not because you’re an activist.”

This article was originally published on GayRVA.com and can be viewed here. 

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