Pandemic Playlist: 5 songs from queer icon Mykki Blanco that are perfect for isolated dancing or a revolution
The artiste has been hailed as a pioneering act for queer hip hop, being one of the few widely known black trans rappers on the scene
It's barely been a while since we've heard from rapper, performance artist, poet, activist and queer icon Mykki Blanco, but that doesn't mean we can't revisit some of her most iconic tracks during Pride Month 2020.
The 'Mykki Blanco' persona was originally created for a YouTube video in 2010 but eventually evolved into a musical and performance art piece, the name was inspired by Lil Kim's alter ago 'Kimmy Blanco'. Musically, Blanco drew inspiration Lil' Kim, GG Allin, Jean Cocteau, Kathleen Hanna, Lauryn Hill, Rihanna, Marilyn Manson, and Anaïs Nin in addition to the riot grrrl movement and queercore, with director Bruce LaBruce and drag queen Vaginal Davis serving as some of Blanco's biggest influences.
Long before she found her musical footing with her 2012 debut EP 'Mykki Blanco & the Mutant Angels' (or 'Mykki' for short), however, Blanco had already begun shaping her artistry, winning an Indies Spirit Award for her performance collective 'Paint In Consciousness Experimental Theater' at the age of 15 before releasing a book of poetry titled 'From the Silence of Duchamp to the Noise of Boys' in 2011 and the mixtape 'Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss' in 2012. She additionally appeared on Basement Jaxx's album 'Junto'.
Her second EP 'Betty Rubble: The Initiation' dropped in 2013, followed by the 'Spring/Summer 2014' EP and her second mixtape 'Gay Dog Food' in 2014. In 2018, she collaborated with Kanye West on the track 'Bye Bye Baby' off his album 'Yandhi'. The album was scrapped, sadly, but the song was later leaked.
In 2015, during Pride, she revealed via her Facebook page that she had been HIV positive since 2011. On her decision to reveal this information she stated, "I did it for myself. At a certain point, my real life has to be more important than this career." Expecting the music industry to shut her out, Blanco braced for the backlash following her revelation, even making plans to become an investigative journalist who would report on global LGBT issues, but instead, Blanco was flooded with positive responses and found herself emerging as a queer icon. This was further solidified by Blanco's choice to openly identify as transgender in 2019, following years of having to repeatedly clarify that her persona was an expression of her own journey and not simply a 'drag performance. Despite often being hailed as one of the pioneers of queer hip hop, Blanco herself originally resisted labels like 'gay rap' or 'queer rap' when it came to her music, though she eventually begrudgingly accepted them.
Much like her persona, Blanco's genre defiance has a fluid aesthetic, one that is constantly changing and growing. Here are five tracks from the artiste that are perfect for the season, whether you're continuing to self-isolate amidst the lockdown or choosing to start a revolution and change the world.
'You Don't Know Me'
In an interview with The Fader, Blanco shared, "'You Don’t Know Me' is directly about me coming out as HIV-positive and about the fallout, too and all the articles. It’s like never before had Time Magazine wrote about me, but when I came out as HIV-positive, Time Magazine was like, “Mykki Blanco, rapper announces…” And I didn’t realize just how big of a deal that was to so many other people, because it was so personal to me."
The song features on Blanco's debut album and the artiste further added in the interview, "That song is also about the fact that I feel like a lot of my fans and a lot of the people that like my music, up until this album, don’t really have a sense of my personality. This album, the reason that it’s called Mykki is because I think [it] is so much more representative of how the people who actually know me, my close friends, how they know me.)"
Listen to 'You Don't Know Me' HERE.
'Ace Bougie Chick'
In a major '90s throwback, this track is off Blanco's 'Betty Rubble: The Initiation' EP features one of her best instrumentals and beats to date, full with a jazzy piano and a two-stepping groove that perfectly backs a gorgeously soulful chorus. The song itself revolves around a clandestine affair that despite not being ideal will continue away from watchful eyes, all while establishing that she's a top-notch gal who calls the shots.
Despite being one of her older tracks, this song clearly demonstrated Blanco was a star from the get-go.
Listen to 'Ace Bougie Chick' HERE.
This song is easily a standout from Blanco's catalog. Everything from its sound to its lyrical themes to Blanco's vocals on are intriguing and will, without question, get under your skin. The song features growling Latin incantations over a heavy beat that seems to bear the weight of what the song - and its video - are trying to convey: hidden identities forced to exist in a world that punishes their very existence.
The video sees Blanco grow an extra face before trawling the city on all fours, spotting others like her across the city being rounded up by police, eventually finding her way to an underground 'dog fight' that pits her against her own kind for money before she walks away into the shadows of underground tunnels. The creepy song and video do a remarkable job of highlighting what it means to have an identity that society doesn't accept, showcasing how the world forces these identities to stand against their own kin as their only means of survival.
In 2016, Blanco found herself in a tug-of-war with YouTube after the platform removed her video for 'Loner' for 'failing to meet community guidelines'. The artiste called the platform for what she perceived as homophobia. In several tweets she queried, "Why is Queer sexuality censored & policed but images for a Cis male gaze of sexualized women are not?" adding, "Our society grants hetero privilege to parade overly sexualized images of women for a cis male gaze yet Queer imagery is policied, demeaned." The video was soon restored, albeit with a content warning.
Rather ironically, 'Loner', as the name implies, deals with personal feelings of sadness and isolation, and its message is made even more poignant due to the censorship. Blanco has stated that while 'I'm in a Mood' had her in her own comfort zone, 'Loner' forced her to work in a space she had never been in before, making this her first pop song ever.
The process for the song, therefore, was extremely organic, with Blanco just allowing her artistry to flow, resulting in her writing a pop song despite not thinking she would be able to. 'Loner' features vocals from indie R&B singer Jean Deaux who came on board after Blanco began hunting for a female vocalist via Twitter. She recorded vocals for the hooks of both 'Loner' and 'I'm in a Mood' in just a day. The experience made Blanco realize that she did, in fact, have a gift for writing and allowed her to consider branching out within her own artistic exploration.
'I'm in a Mood'
Off Blanco's debut album 'Mykki', 'I'm in a Mood' is a stunningly smooth rap track that has the artiste embrace and celebrate her own identity, contrasting her drag and feminine gay aesthetics with the traditionally masculine genres of hip hop and rap.
Speaking about Deaux's work on the song Blanco stated in an interview with The Fader, "Jean [Deaux] was in the studio that day with us, and even though she only features on two tracks her presence on my album is super monumental because she softens and adds so much soul to each track that she’s on. When she laid down the vocals for “I’m in a Mood,” it just completely transformed the song [and] gave it so much more depth."
Pandemic Playlist is a daily list of songs that will keep you entertained instead of feeling drained while you're isolated at home. Look out for a fresh selection of great tunes from MEAWW to refresh your mood every day!