As mainstream hip-hop artists continue to evolve toward being less hostile to queer sexuality, the LGBT community has embraced its own rule-shattering batch of rising rap stars. The most interesting, talented and multifaceted of the lot is Mykki Blanco.
Blanco, the chic feminine alter ego of published poet and performance artist Michael David Quattlebaum Jr., has recently set the New York art, fashion and indie music scenes on fire with her unprecedented mix of vigorous rap and glam-drag stage antics.
“All of it happened at once in my life,” said Blanco, who has a show at Oakland's the New Parish tonight. “Cross-dressing and rapping are two things most people don't see going together, along with a frenetic punk energy that is almost never portrayed femininely.”
Growing up in San Mateo, Blanco's first concert was Jamiroquai, and she also cites Yoko Ono, Anais Nin, Pablo Neruda, Sylvia Plath and Missy Elliot as influences.
Some music critics have mistaken Blanco's “frenetic punk energy” for anger, trapping her under the “angry black woman” stereotype. She points out, however, that there's a difference between anger and aggression.
“My music isn't angry, but it does reflect some of the aggression I've experienced as a gay, black feminine man,” Blanco told me. “Most music critics are heterosexual white people, so my cultural life experience may appear 'angry' to them.”
One thing that does rub Blanco the wrong way is being labeled a “queer rapper.” It's a category that helps to elevate a movement in the media tradition that likes its trend stories to come with three or more examples.
But Blanco believes the categorization is inherently homophobic because “queer” is not a genre of music, and it suggests that “queer rappers” can only exist in a clearly labeled box so that audiences aren't shocked when they open it.
“Our culture needs to think less in dichotomies and more in dimensions,” said San Francisco's Kelly Lovemonster, creator of “Swagger Like Us,” a daytime queer hip-hop party at El Rio, and co-founder of AHDM4U.com, a website he started with culture writer Caitlin Donohue to cover queer artists. “Blanco really should be compared to other talented lyricists.”
So is Blanco a talented lyricist? While rap lyrics by other prominent queer personas such as Big Freedia overtly rely on mind-numbing, almost moronic repetition of phrases, Blanco has a distinctly curved way with words. Yes, her club anthems are her biggest hits, but in her latest EP, “Betty Rubble: The Initiation,” it's her spoken-word track, “Vienna,” that leaves you smiling with its clever turn of phrases and outlandish storytelling.
After a summer in which white, heterosexual, mainstream artists (cough, Miley Cyrus; cough, Macklemore) have been criticized for exploiting the plight and culture of both the black and queer communities, Blanco has taken a “n'importe quoi,” anything goes stance on the situation.
“Hip-hop and pop music are practically the same thing at this point,” Blanco said. “White girls twerk, who cares? Just make good music, follow your art, and leave separatist politics to the writers and critics."
Mykki Blanco will perform at the New Parish, 579 18th St. in Oakland, at 9 tonight.
Oscar Raymundo is the head of marketing at a leading LGBT media company.