The press has been quick to lump Mykki Blanco in with the recent surge of boundary-smashing artists emerging in the hip-hop scene, but the Harlem-based drag punk-rapper and poet finds that sort of trend-chasing reductive. “Because I’m rapping, people put me in this category of trying to disrupt misogyny or homophobia in rap music,” Blanco says. “What people haven’t said yet is the most obvious: that I am following in a lineage of glam rock and shock rock.” After releasing the gritty industrial EP Mykki Blanco & the Mutant Angels—along with a deranged, enthralling video for its standout track, “Join My Militia”—Blanco is set to unveil the more party-friendly Cosmic Angel mixtape this fall. “I came to bring lyricism back to hip-hop,” Blanco says. “I’m too twisted to be a role model, but I want people to understand that there are alternative black people in this world and they exist in a major way.”
How did the persona Mykki Blanco come about?
The name is based off of Dee Dee Ramone [founding member of the Ramones]. But, also, Lil’ Kim had a character called Kimmy Blanco, and Lil’ Kim is definitely an influence of mine. Mykki Blanco is an homage to Kim.
I ran away to New York City and cross-dressed a little bit, but Mykki Blanco was born out of a video art project in December of 2010 of a teenage female rapper. Then I started to combine the repertoire of Mykki’s raps with the industrial stuff of my act No Fear. I eventually started cross-dressing in my everyday life whenever I felt like it. And then, at the same time, my book came out and then my EP. I was able to strike this balance between my art-world aspirations and that of being a show girl. It literally all came together in this perfect synthesis.
It seems like Mykki became bigger than you imagined.
Mykki Blanco swallowed No Fear. Mykki Blanco takes that industrial and punk energy and fuses it with rap lyrics. Because I’m rapping, people put me in this category of trying to disrupt misogyny or homophobia in rap music. What people haven’t said yet is the most obvious: that I am following in a lineage of glam rock and shock rock. It’s like people completely forget about Freddie Mercury and Dennis Rodman and Frank-N-Furter. They completely forget that Marilyn Manson was also in drag. Marc Bolan was in drag. Bowie was in drag.
Tell me about your upcoming Cosmic Angel mixtape.
It’s going to be club-focused hip-hop. The Mykki Blanco & the Mutant Angels EP was my exorcism. That EP was the darker, grittier side of me. Cosmic Angel’s songs are to party or rave to—fun, happy songs. I’m digging deep to explore the different sides of euphoria. I don’t want to just make party music. I want to make meaningful songs about the lifestyle I’m living right now. This record is about expressing what it is to have a young debauched life, but it raises its hands towards God and not the gutter. As contradictory as it sounds, you can be a holy party angel.
There’s a line in your song “Join My Militia” about not knowing your “man was in the Taliban.” True story?
The song combines things that are true. I am very attracted to Middle Eastern men. I love Southeast Asian men. But that line “I didn’t know my man was in the Taliban”… I don’t agree with Islamic fundamentalism, and I don’t agree with what you’d call a closed, western viewpoint or understanding of eastern culture. I bring it up because terrorism is a great ideology to use in modern-day shock rock. And that’s what I’m interested in playing with. Terrorism, conspiracy theories involving the Illuminati—these to me are clever 21st century versions of Ozzy Osbourne biting the bat head off. Making references to the Taliban in my songs is the same as Alice Cooper spitting blood up out of his mouth. It’s playing with what pisses people off. I think it’s good to piss people off because it jars them out of their stasis.
The video for the song is pretty intense.
What’s funny is that Fiona Apple came out with a video recently [for “Every Single Night”] where she puts a squid on her head and she’s crawling through the sand with snails. All these people were tweeting me saying, “Fiona Apple copied you.” What people don’t understand is that “Join My Militia” was influenced by her song “Criminal.” When Fiona put that squid on her head, my whole collective unconscious came full circle. The reason I decided to wear panties with a flashlight in the woods was because I idolized that video as an 11- or a 12-year-old. I wanted to make myself as unpretty as possible while still being in drag. That’s why I smeared my makeup, why I was like, “I don’t give a fuck what I look like in this video. I want to be as dirty and messy as possible. I’m going to take this whisky and I’m going to take this cigarette and go in the woods and be me and talk to you.” The director, Mitch Moore, thought it looked like a dystopic version of The Simple Life—like Paris and Nicole got lost on a farm, got really drunk one night, and decided to make a video.
All those late-’90s, early-2000s references—Marilyn Manson and Eminem and The Simple Life and Wu-Tang Clan—are important to me. When I sing “Naz gave me a perm / He said you got the hidden gift, kid / Lead them, they’ll learn” that means Naz is regarding me as one of the best lyricists in all of hip-hop history. That means Naz is giving me a blessing. I really am not a rapper. I’m a lyricist and I came to bring lyricism back to hip-hop. Since the 2000s there haven’t been popular representations of alternative black culture in the media. There are black punks, black hippies, black American freaks. So much of rap imagery is black culture ascending out of the ghetto into this very preppy life, rapping about condos and about how much money they have. Jay-Z is rapping about white Louis boat shoes. There are so many black American people that don’t give a fuck about that culture and are not representative of that culture. I’m too twisted to be a role model, but I want people to understand that there are alternative black people in this world and they exist in a major way.
You mentioned that you don’t what to be lumped in with the queer rap movement.
No, I don’t. I think it’s faddish. People say it just because it’s easy.
What did you think when Lil B titled his recent mixtape I’m Gay?
I’m not going to bullshit: Lil B opened the cultural door. People are talking about queer rap because Lil B named that album I’m Gay. Lil B’s I’m Gay did more than people want to give him credit for.
What do you think when rappers use the phrase “no homo”?
“No homo” is for dummies. Jay-Z doesn’t say “no homo” in interviews. But you can’t change people. When I’m walking in Rockaway Beach and pass an Irish and Italian pub and all of them say, “Hey, it’s RuPaul,” it’s because RuPaul is the only drag they know. Any transgender African American or Latino person could fucking walk by, and they’re going to call him RuPaul. Those people aren’t going to hang out with gay people anyway. I gain a lot of my strength from it. If you think I want acceptance so bad that I’m going to “bro down” with you, that’s never going to happen. You know why? Because I don’t like giving heterosexuals that much credit.
A large percentage of the general population is not that smart. When something like Jersey Shore or Teen Mom becomes popular, it tells you about the culture of that time. So let these people say “no homo.” You know why? They’re not hanging out with gay men. They don’t care about gay men. They want to get dressed by the gay designer who puts them in expensive clothing, but they want to fuck women and be around women. When you make a rapper give a public apology, that’s just appeasing culture because we’re doing what’s P.C. now. But, trust me, that rapper couldn’t give a shit, and still is not going to hang out with gay people. It’s an image thing.
What are your thoughts on A$AP Rocky’s remark earlier this year that he used to be homophobic but that he’s started to change his views?
Marketing. Because on that photo shoot I did with him [with Terry Richardson for Happy Socks], he didn’t speak to me the entire time. He didn’t look at me, looked at me like I was a freak. It’s marketing. Lady Gaga showed the entertainment industry how profitable it is to have a gay fan base. Gay people usually make more money than heterosexuals. Cher knows this, Bette Middler knows this, Celine Dion knows this. Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Elton John know this. A gay fan base is a dedicated fan base that will bring you and your franchise and your production more money. It’s just an entertainment fact. Make your soft “unhomophobic” remark. I’m not trying to villainize him. I don’t know him. He may really feel that way, but do I think it’s marketing. A$AP Rocky made those comments so no one can call him homophobic now. It was safe and smart of him to do—and smart of his manager and publicist to do.
Do you think homophobia in black culture will ever go away? What would have to happen to change it?
I think that people want homophobia to change in black America the way that homophobia changed in white America, but it’s not going to happen that way. It’s gonna happen in a way that is befitting to black culture. Everyone always knew Little Richard was gay, but because of his talent, people overlooked it. Dennis Rodman is heterosexual but was a public cross-dresser, but because he was such a good NBA player, people overlooked it. In black culture, talent has always been this big deal. In black culture, there is an ideology of support, of taking care of your people and your community. Changing homophobia is going to come from public figures and pastors telling their community to love their children, that lesbians and gays are your brothers and sisters, that you can be gay and that doesn’t make you less of a strong black man. Discrimination, segregation, and racism make people feel that they have to be strong. And people relate strength to masculinity. And people relate homosexuality to being the opposite of masculinity. When femininity is seen as a source of power in black culture, homophobia will no longer exist.
Photography by Marton Perlaki