Mykki wears bordeaux snakeskin print shirt and orange shirt by PRADA , knitted golden turtle neck Mykki’s own and silver necklace by WALD BERLIN
It’s 15 minutes into our chat, and Mykki Blanco has passed out on the carpet in front of me. I guess declaring Total War on the mainstream music press would be pretty tiring. Plus, his Eurostar stopped dead in the sea for an hour earlier that day. When he released C-ORE back in September – a compilation of songs from the artists he signed to his record label, Dogfood Music Group – it came with a pretty unambiguous mission statement: “We are a group of friends who have created a release that represents a slice of what we’re into, our culture and what we want to show the world. People all over the world are only fed this singular image of ‘African American Music’ and we want to disrupt that. We all come from backgrounds outside of the black American norm, and the world deserves to see our culture as much as anything else.”
Blanco met these friends – multimedia artists PsychoEgyptian, Violence and Yves Tumor – while exploring his native Manhattan’s outer limits music scene. To them, black American music, and specifically black music outside of the hip-hop bubble, is marginalised and misrepresented by the media. The point of C-ORE is to gouge a hole in the matrix; to confront and ultimately tear asunder the way black musicians are presented in the media. “Music websites seem to not know how to talk about African American artists who are not doing hip-hop,” Blanco tells me, peeling himself off the lino floor of his Airbnb. “Journalism always slants to this other place, that has nothing to do with the music. When I started to understand this I was like, ‘Wait a minute, this person came out with an awesome project, but you don’t know how to talk about it because it’s not accessible.”
The terrorist soundscapes of C-ORE – noise music, crushing industrial rhythms, cryptic sermons and doom metal – are musical tropes not typically associated with young, black, “highhats ‘n’ snapbacks” New Yorkers. It’s a scatty, eclectic, shapeshifting record that’s difficult to categorise: skipping from snarky agitpop (PsychoEgyptian’s “LBCD”) to foghorn grime (Violence’s “Saturn”), C-ORE plays out like one terrifying 41 minute thunderstorm. “And that’s actually why I did it,” Blanco explains, jiggling on his seat. “Yves executive produced the whole thing, but I had the idea of putting those artists together because I felt like there was a cohesion there.”
Live, it’s a whole other story. At a gig in a large underground hanger in east London later that night, all sorts of carnal mayhem played out. At one point, Blanco smashed a steel chair into a concrete slab beneath him in time with the beat, while Tumor somersaulted fishnets-first into the crowd. “That was my favourite moment from this tour,” he says, showing me a picture of Violence strangling an oddly grateful-looking fan.
Psycho – real name Devin Cuthbertson – was sadly absent from the show. He was one of the first people Blanco befriended when he moved to New York back in 2003. “We kind of had a similar haircut and I would not get let into bars because they thought I was him,” he remembers. “His reputation preceded him before I even met him, and then when we met we instantly became friends. Like, I wouldn’t call him volatile, but he’s definitely a wild card. At least.”
Back then Blanco, born Michael Quattlebaum Jr., was more of a performance artist than a musician, revisiting his roots as a child actor growing up in North Carolina. A wordplay on Lil Kim’s “Kimmy Blanco” alter ego, “Mykki Blanco” was the Janet Leigh-esque Hollywood doll he’d escape into at night, working Harlem’s spoken word circuit. As his Beats-style performances became more and more exuberant, he started filing ideas to wax. In 2012 came the excellent debut mixtape Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss, featuring maestro production work from the likes of Le1f and Brenmar. Kathleen Hanna – a riot grrl hero of Blanco’s throughout his teens – performed a spoken word monologue on his third tape, 2014’s Gay Dog Food.
Identity-fluidity, and the peculiar, particular joys it brings, is core to Mykki Blanco’s artistry. Why commit to one persona when there are so many out there to explore? The “Queer Rap” tag thrown around two or three years ago never sat comfortably with him: he’s a performer, before he’s a rapper. The same goes for transvestism. “That’s the weird thing – I’m not transgender. Like, for two years people were like ‘transgender rapper’, but that’s been the funny thing about my career. People like having those contradictions. And now that we’re in a time where there’s so much more transgender visibility, I think it’s become more obvious to people that I’m not.”
He swapped his curly browns for a writer’s cap earlier this year, announcing that he was leaving the music business for a career in investigative journalism. That was, until the Nepal earthquake scuppered his plans to explore the country’s so-called “third gender” population. The quake was a slap in the face for Blanco, who was desperate to do some sort of good. Dogfood Music Group became his sole concern. “I thought, maybe right now the focus should not be on me, and that the focus should be supporting the friends and artists who are so talented around me,” he said back in April. “I do believe that some people are talented and they need the recognition that some of these mainstream artists get, who are, in a sense, taking from underground culture in the first place.”
I lead Blanco to the window of his flat, and point him in the direction of Throbbing Gristle’s old Industrial Records dungeon a couple of streets to the west. We reach the same conclusion: the world can seem a small place when you’re on the outside. An image flicks up on a laptop next to us: it’s him, dressed as a scuba-diving damsel in distress, scabbing the fuck out of an octopus in the forthcoming video for “Coke White, Starlight” – one of Blanco’s excellent, amorphous C-ORE tracks. We catch each other’s eye, and burst out laughing. The Tristan Patterson-directed short sees Blanco take to the Aegean in a rowing boat, surrounded by nothing and no-one. It’s a poignant piece of imagery: a stark reminder that, really, right now there isn’t anyone quite like Mykki Blanco. Hail to the hellraiser.