Mykki Blanco: the gender punk poet disrupting the norm.
INTERVIEW BY KATE LAWSON
What does Mykki do?
He’s the punk-rapper-come-think-tank who provokes a discussion about race, gender, sexuality and showmanship.
Where does Mykki live?
Out of a suitcase mainly, but from November, home is Paris!
What do we need to know about him?
He champions equality and is using his voice to elicit change.
Why should we pay attention?
Because as he wrote on his Twitter page, “I’m just different”.
Mykki Blanco (the womanly side of 29-year-old Michael David Quattlebaum Jr), is the alt-hero performance artist, activist, poet and queer rapper, who with his trademark go-for-broke intensity, created a compellingly sharp drag persona with a poetic conscience which redefined the NY rap scene.
Living transparently having publicly admitted being HIV positive, Mykki announced back in March that he was quitting music and giving investigative journalism a shot, but now he’s back and rather than writing rhymes for other people’s beats, his latest project - record label, Dog Food Music Group - is a collaboration with fellow multidisciplinary creatives, Yves Tumor, PsychoEgyptian and Violence, which gives a voice to the underground artists inspiring their communities and transcending conventional cultural boundaries, disrupting the singular image of African American music.
Living proof that artists speak the new eternal in the language of their times, we caught up with Mykki to talk independence, poetic dinners and why New York City is dead.
Where did you wake up this morning?
On the day-bed of one of my best friends Julia in her flat in Berlin, I've slept here for many years now.
Ever woken up somewhere and regretted it?
When I was 18, I slept on a couch in an abandoned house with no heat in November outside of a punk festival!
Where is home now and can you describe it for me?
I was on tour for basically 2 1/2 years. Then in Jan 2015 I tried to living in Los Angeles because I'm originally from Northern California.... I tried loving LA and I do love my friends there but after "living there" for 6 months ... I was never, ever home.. I think I stayed home maybe just 3 weeks at a time... I broke the lease and now I am living out of my suitcase again, but I think this November I will start calling Paris home.
What’s the one place you go to where you can be yourself?
My Mothers’ home in North Carolina where my immediate family lives and my Grandmothers’ home in the suburbs of San Francisco.
When does Michael David Quattlebaum Jr become Mykki, or is she always a part of you?
I am Mykki, I don't become someone else and Mykki Blanco has never been an alter ego. It's the more feminine aspects to my own personality.
And when was the showgirl in you born?
I was a child actor. Then I began a love of performance art. Then I published a book. Then I had a punk band. Then I started cross dressing. Then I started Mykki Blanco as a video art project. I'm a working artist... the story will keep evolving.
"New York City is dead. No one but bankers should live in New York City anymore."
Why ‘Mykki Blanco’ as a name?
It feels like an international show girl, it feels like a cross dressing multi disciplinary performance artist.
Do you think being in New York City at the time helped to give you the energy and confidence to express yourself?
New York City is dead. I was young and didn't see that economic and creative death was all around me... no one but bankers should live in New York City anymore.. so many of my close friends have escaped to Europe and South America and others corner of the world where being an artist makes much more sense.
Rap is traditionally known for its rampant homophobia - you came to prominence as a queer rapper along with others like Zebra Katz, and distorted the genre's male chauvinism and helped to make gender roles nonexistent - how does the landscape look to you now in terms of industry attitudes?
Nothing has changed. Me and the others artists you mentioned have made our own way, paved our own lanes and created our own markets with our own fans and our own revenue streams. I've established myself as an artist that has pull that can make money and that can make other people money. I have a very keen idea on how to market myself and the "Mykki Blanco Brand" which is really just honesty, integrity and showmanship.
I believe in making money outside of Patriarchy is the only way that queer artists will really push culture forward.
"Making money outside of Patriarchy is the only way that queer artists will really push culture forward."
And what about the lyrics on your latest track 'Coke White Starlight' from the C-ORE LP, “they don't wanna see a man in a dress succeed" - what's the message behind that?
I think it speaks to the volumes of homophobia ANY queer/lesbian/trans artist faces in a industry that is run for and catered towards straight men.
So do you care about being mainstream, but succeeding without having to compromise your personal and artistic vision?
I would love to be mainstream. I probably before the end of my career will be mainstream, I don’t think there is anything noble in remaining "underground". Just keep making cool shit.
So every international showgirl needs her down-time, do you ever crave your own space?
I am a social person but I MUST HAVE MY OWN INDEPENDENCE. I MUST BE ALONE. If I could I would actually prefer to be alone most of the time and magically have people appear when I wanted them around [laughs] but relationships don’t really work that way do they?!
What about your many inspirational idols, if you could choose from Marcel Duchamp, Anais Nin, Pablo Neruda or Sylvia Plath, which one would be your ultimate dinner guest?
You've chosen all of my idols, I'd never choose between them, I'd invite them all!
You write and love poetry - favourite line ever?
‘Stasis in darkness. Then the substanceless blue Pour of tor and distances. God's lioness, How one we grow.’ (Ariel, by Sylvia Plath).
Ok so I’m going to ask the obvious question now, how many wigs do you own?
This is a fantasy [laughs], the "drag queen that owns so many wigs". I wear human hair wigs that usually cost $1,400. I usually keep 1 or 2 wigs a year.
"I would love to be mainstream. I don’t think there is anything noble in remaining "underground"
What about your wardrobe, is it a showgirl’s costume heaven?
I tour constantly, and lose things constantly!
As such an evolving creative force, how does it feel to be where you are now?
I haven't in my eyes accomplished very much at all. I have only had a career in music and entertainment for 4 years, 2015 being the 4th year. I have MUCH more to achieve!
I love what you recently wrote on Facebook, 'Fuck stigma and hiding in the dark. It's time to actually be as punk as I say I am" - so how can we all be more punk Mykki?