Mykki Blanco Has Lots To Say About His "Sort of Rap With Screams"
Describing Mykki Blanco (a.k.a. Michael Quattlebaum) is tough. Is Mykki a he? Is Mykki a she? Is s/he a rapper? A performance art project? An alter ego? A stage name? A poet? A nu-industrial bandleader?
The problem (or, really, the fun) here is that Quattlebaum has been some combination of these things in the past two years, and he is constantly revising and reconfiguring, redrawing the borders around Mykki; assuming (as I did) that the Mykki on Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Price/ss, his rave-spiked mixtape, sounds likes the Mykki currently touring with Death Grips is not recommended.
It's impossible to predict which direction Quattlebaum will take Mykki in next. Yet after chatting with him on the phone before he and his tour mates headed into Canada, it seems safe to say that Mykki's future is also in thoughtful hands.
Let's start with the tour with Death Grips. The energies between your records are very different...does that manifest itself on stage at all?
Well, if you'd seen my last show you wouldn't say that.
But there are two different things you have going on.
If you'd read any of the reviews you'd know my last show was really intense. It was like being at a punk show, even though I do hip hop music. When you see our shows together, it makes a lot of sense.
You used to be in No Fear for a while, and one of your earlier releases, Mykki Blanco & the Mutant Angels, has a quasi-industrial feel to it. What's it been like trying to negotiate performing in a hip hop mode versus performing in an earlier mode?
I perform hip hop music, rave hip hop music, but I perform it in a punk way. You'd understand that the songs that I do are a mixture of both, and they're reminiscent in energy to both, so it's really not hard for me to negotiate the two. The only thing about me that's hip hop is the fact that I rap, and the fact that I'll do hip hop-styled shoots some times. But lately I've been really coming into my own in a way that makes it harder for music writers to just lump me in with hip hop. You can say I'm hip hop, but really I'm doing a lot of things, things with rock n roll and rap that have been touched on before, especially in the early 2000s. I was a kid who came of age during the whole rap-rock thing, and that's the kind of thing that I look to, that sort of rap with screams, that I feel like I put myself into.
Both ethics were happening at the same time, so it wasn't so much about one eating the other one so much as it was about different ways of performing and doing both. Now I feel like I've come full circle, where I can have hip hop performance with an industrial edge.
Obviously, hip hop is central to Mykki as a character; none of this stuff materializes without the idea of a teenaged Myyki wanting to rap on YouTube. But: now that Mykki has become a thing you inhabit more wholly and something that's valenced by a lot of other things, how central do you think rapping will be moving forward?
As long as I write songs, I'll rap. Even if I sing or choose to sing in a punk style or a style of singing and shouting associated with Metal or even gay house music, I'll continue to write where I rap because I'm good at rapping.
So let's talk about the music you've got on Cosmic Angel. You met Brenmar and a lot of those other guys in Chicago, right? What was that phase of your life like? Had you been into clubbing much prior to that?
My life then and their lives then were not so much career-oriented in the same way. Many of us were in school, or doing other musical projects in other genres. I was very much still involved in a contemporary art practice of performance and installation art. I was very into music but much more lo-fi stuff like Ariel Pink, John Maus, Syd Barrett. I think I really came into electronic music culture as I got older, certainly after the vibe really started sweeping NYC again in this really organic way.
In the past year, you've gotten a ton of press, and, as so often happens, you've been forced to answer the same questions over and over and over again. What kind of effect do you think that's had on the evolution of Mykki Blanco? Does it help you focus on where to take it next, or do you think having to constantly correct and deflect has a negative affect on its evolution?
I think this is going to help things grow, because it's been the exact same organic process: every time you put out a new single, you let people see a new side of yourself. About six months ago, if you were interviewing me, I guarantee every single question would have been about gay rap. I've probably answered every question that could possibly come up--"No, I do not vogue" ; "No, I don't know about that culture"--to describing and having to talk, in an interview ostensibly about me, about five other people for 20 minutes.