The queer hip-hop movement began way back in 1997 in San Francisco with the Rainbow Flava crew and since then, gay, lesbian, bi and trans rappers have been throwing down rhymes from all around the world – from Cazwell, God-Des & She, and myself, to Zebra Katz, Cakes Da Killa, and Le1f.
One performer, Michael Quattlebaum Jr, an artist of many disciplines including being a published poet and a visual artist, created a female rap character named Mykki Blanco in 2010 and he, or she, has not looked back since. Everybody wants a piece of this cross-dressing politically edged rapper. His hypnotising video ‘Wavvy’ was a viral hit in 2012 and he has been on a whirlwind tour clocking dates all over the world. I got to catch up with him just before his Paris show.
Last time we met we performed together at Summer Rites festival in London 2012 and since then it seems like you have not stopped touring. What are the good and bad points of life on the road?
It’s great, I was at a French festival yesterday, tonight I am in Paris and tomorrow I go back to America and on Friday I am opening for Björk in Canada. It is so beneficial to my career – people can come see me live which is so important to what I do. I have travelled to so many places, exposing myself to so many people I really have a chance to build my own fanbase. Bad points – like right now, when you are not in your own country can include finding a place to do your laundry. When you are on the road staying in hotels that is a very big deal.
Your last EP Betty Rubble: The Initiation got great reviews. Describe it to someone who has never heard of you before.
A distinct mixture of electronic and hip-hop music. Very post-trip-hop.
What are your core messages in your work?
Freedom. Visibility – that is very important to me. Standing up for yourself and enjoying the many beautiful aspects of life.
When was the first time you dressed as a woman?
That was back in 2010 when I first created Mykki.
“What I do contribute to is bringing visibility to queer people and in a positive light to transgendered issues and LGBT issues”
Whose celebrity wardrobe would you most wish to raid?
Rihanna’s closet, I know her stylist, Mel Ottenberg and love what she does.
Do you consider yourself a champion of the trans community?
No, because I am not transgendered but I consider myself a champion for the queer community at large I guess. I don’t think we can use the word champion cause I am just starting out – in twenty years maybe somebody could call me a champion. I still have a lot of work to do. What I do contribute to is bringing visibility to queer people and in a positive light to transgendered issues and LGBT issues that a lot of people try to brush under the rug.
So would you consider yourself part of the queer hip-hop movement or homo-hop movement, such as is shown in the documentary Pick Up The Mic?
I have never seen that documentary but would like to. I used to shy away from that label because I actually felt like it was derogatory, because the music that we make is no different to any other artist, underground or major artist. But I am a part of that movement, but feel it is more circumstantial than a movement, but I am proud to be part of it.
Recently it seems that queer rappers are very fashionable – what do you think is the main reason for that?
I think it has to do with cultural and social progress, the generation that comes after you, if they are socially aware and an intelligent generation – which they normally are, then attitudes should improve. People are not seeing these sub-genres or barriers as any kind of hindrance to enjoying good music and having fun.
Finally, define Mykki Blanco in five words…
Proud, sincere, aggressive, ambitious, spiritual.
• Mykki Blanco will be playing at Lovebox 2013 on Sunday 21st July in Victoria Park, Hackney. Midday-10.30pm. www.mamacolive.com/lovebox/
Photo: Timothy Saccenti