The Mutant Rap Takeover Part 4
“Transgressive… what does that even mean?” poses Michael David Quattlebaum, Jr. while thumbing her well-worn notebook at the Bouchon Bakery in New York City’s Time Warner Center mall. “Mykki Blanco,” is the name of her performer self, and she has doodled all over the book’s cover. Quattlebaum talks whip-fast and jerks around in the faux Euro-chic metal chair, her tall, lanky frame and hands, endless legs, and long oval face all moving in different directions.
It’s day one for carrying the lyric notebook again. It’s time to start work on the next project, the album. Quattlebaum is all anticipation. She is a writer by disposition, a performer by upbringing, and a young star in the making by talent and no small amount of personal charismatic hustle. In what field—music, theater, art, poetry, or fashion—it has yet to be determined, but all signs, and this recording project, point to Blanco being the next big buzz underground rapper, with a flow like Lil Wayne and an act closer to Nicki Minaj, which is to say a trans-identified, bio male-dressed hyper-femme.
“The fashion world is cyclical, and the tranny is back in that culture, and that’s why what I happen to be doing now works. I think I have talent, and if I wasn’t talented it wouldn’t cross over,” she says. Quattlebaum goes on to explain that Glambert, Gaga, and RuPaul paved the most recent way to the limelight, but the flashy turn in hip hop is what really opened the door for Blanco. “Being hood is not in right now, and if you want to be stylish you are going to be around gay,” she says. “And how many rappers are still in the closet?”
Nicki Minaj’s femme love, Lil B’s “I’m Gay,” and Jay-Z’s recent public peace on gays are all a direction, but who will be the first out gay superstar rapper? We chat about Queen Latifah playing Long Beach Pride this summer. Queen has been in the limelight for over 20 years, those have been two long decades for closeted lesbian and gay Black American celebrities, with the silence just now breaking in mainstream circles of politics, the church, and pop culture.
Mykki Blanco is from another generation, and baby, she was definitely born this way. Quattlebaum was brought up between coasts in performance art-oriented households, was a child actor, and started her first art collective at 15. Her youthful obsessions were with anything no wave and anything associated with Black Mountain College. In college, she and a friend had a band ONNOPSYCHO, which featured the very art school line up of air-conditioner, blender, guitar, and vocals. Blanco’s first EP bares the legacy of these half-serious, totally hard collage textures and a variety of voices and characters Quattlebaum is trying to work out, from Laurie Anderson deadpan to drag queen bitch.
Blanco cites Pablo Neruda, Anaïs Nin, Ghostface Killah, Missy Elliot.t, and Eminem as lyrical influences, which indicates Blanco’s desire for sophisticated tongue play both on the mic and in bed. Her sound and subjects are anything but pop. Blanco says there will be no Minaj-style “Starships” anytime soon, and her “fun” is always sung on the naughty side. She’s aiming for theater, but not for child’s play.
Blanco’s lyrics often portray the world of club kids and after hours that Mayor Bloomberg would have us believe no longer exists, and each song tells a Blanco story. “I want to make a total, theatrical fantasy world. To have a gay rapper just rapping about being gay, that’s so mediocre. I’m going to give you a world with everything, and it’s going to be gay world.”
Quattlebaum calls Blanco’s presence “aggressive,” and imagines success as throwing full-scale rock opera style spectacles in the vein of Marilyn Manson.
For right now, it’s all about progress offstage. Quattlebaum has very little budget and no booking agent quite yet. Buzz doesn’t pay bills, but it puts her on a cusp, or precipice. The notebook on our table seems to be growling at her from a half hour’s neglect, becoming the focus of the anxious energy filling Blanco as she lists her breakneck schedule. “My mom was a giving and warm person, but if she was disapproving of you, you felt really bad. And there was nothing she disapproved of more than laziness,” she says.
In the last year, Quattlebaum published a book, From The Silence Of Duchamp To The Noise Of Boys (sold at Opening Ceremony, among other places), appeared in a Terry Richardson ad campaign, put out an EP through UNO NYC, a single from L.A.’s OHWOW gallery, and has garnered attention through numerous, highly theatrical shows. In addition to folks from her childhood and art school days, like Chicago producer Brenmar, a small cast of talented mythmakers is gathering around, such as director Nick Hooker, who made the video for Grace Jones’ “Corporate Cannibal” and is now working with Quattlebaum, after catching a Mykki Blanco live show. It’s not often you share a table with someone both humble and brimming with genius, and to be sitting quietly, having a chat with one who is also a gorgeous, talented trans-identified rapper at a mall can’t help but be a moment a lot of people, not just me, have been waiting for. Hopefully, it will never be this easy to get to Mykki Blanco again.