I first saw Mykki Blanco perform in a grimy warehouse in Providence, Rhode Island. I was bone-tired after a week of grueling exams, and the only reason I was at the concert at all was because my friend dragged me to the performance, claiming I just had to see this. The venue was cramped, hot, and sweaty, and I almost felt myself regretting the decision until Mykki entered the room like a crescendo. She turned us all from exhausted students into her enthusiastic, ardent fans with one song.
Mykki Blanco is an artist in all senses of the word: a poet, a rapper, an actor, a writer. His given name is Michael David Quattlebaum Jr., but Mykki Blanco is his female rapper persona. In a game where female MCs are rarely welcome, Mykki treads on wholly new ground as a multi-gendered artist. She started performing as a teenager, exploring theatre, punk, and riot grrrl as genres before settling on a gritty, flowing, stylish hip-hop.
Her style is absolutely impeccable – she dons wigs better than Nicki Minaj ever could and rocks both high fashion and grunge like she was born in it. Her pseudonym is the Illuminati Princess, which she performs with a smirk, knowing all the implications surrounding Hollywood’s obsession with the Illuminati and its possible tenuous connection to hip-hop.
Quattlebaum published a book of poetry, From the Silence of Duchamp to the Noise of Boys, in 2011. It was also the summer he started cross-dressing and experimenting with performance. “I had no idea that sexuality was so fluid,” he says, adding that he realized that the theory he had read about the creation of the woman could be put into action, that “a little pretty boy can put on the same thing and then become that.”
As a teen, he was inspired by groups like Bikini Kill. Their songs about oppression and abuse were relatable to Quattlebaum, who grew up as a gay black teen in North Carolina. He read works by queer theorists like Audre Lorde to try to figure out how to express himself, how to use jargon as tools against oppression.
"To be able to identify as a feminist at that age felt really good," he says. "I was still angsty—I was 15—but I was able to identify with something,” he says.
However, he believes that academia is flawed in its own privilege and exclusivity: "I have a lot of problems with the academic queer community because it's a community that exists completely removed from reality. Those kids who are selling their bodies on the West Side Highway, on Christopher Street, they don't even know what the fuck queer theory is," he states bravely.
As Mykki Blanco, the rapper is careful to say that she is uninterested in identity politics. She is firmly interested in creating her own art, in making us listen to her just as she is, not as a prop or a tool for anything. "There is a very safe gay attitude toward entertainment. Which is: Make noise! But not too much noise. And if you want to really be accepted, you're going to have to tailor your image a little bit to a homogenized, heterosexual mainstream. I am not willing to do any of those things. I'm not going to be some sort of gay political dress-up doll."
She dropped her new EP, Betty Rubble: The Initiation, on May 21st, which she says contains a riskier sound. “Let me dominate on every hating motherfucker watchin’ / Let me dominate on every basic bitch that try to stop me,” she spits, and it’s clear to everyone around her that she certainly will.