Michael Quattlebaum Jr., a 27-year-old Harlem-based poet and performance artist is a bit of a maverick. With roots in North Carolina and California, he’s actually enjoying his second stay in New York City. As a sixteen-year-old he fled from home and darted for the city to live on his own before going back to California and later attending The Art Institute of Chicago. In the arena of performance, he has a background in theater as a child actor, which later gave way to him creating his defining role in 2010, Mykki Blanco. Mykki, an exuberant female lyricist with the unapologetic braggadocio of a Cam’ron began to consume the bulk of Quattlebaum’s time, penning rhymes for his cross-dressing alter ego over menacing, druggy, club-ready production and Mykki’s visuals commanded attention instantly.
Since then, Mykki’s sound and presentation have undergone a surge in production value, giving Mykki’s identity a full form. From early videos of him rapping on NYC trains to the eerie, borderline-frightening lo-fi visuals of “Join My Militia (Nas Gave Me A Perm)” Mykki’s progress is undeniable. Last November, Mykki dropped his first full length release, Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss, which featured production from Brenmar, Gobby, Sinden, Matrixxman and Leif. It expanded on the unique, experimental sound Mykki warned people of in “YoungRhymeAssasin”: “Roll call motherfucka, heads out here is frontin’/Niggas think they seen it all, but I’m about to show ‘em somethin.”
Mykki alternates looks. In some videos and performances, he’s draped in full drag – a woman in a tight-fitting dress with immaculate makeup. Other times he’s far less striking, a dude with a backwards cap and no shirt, showing his tattoos. There were times when Mykki questioned his character’s duality. “My main trials and tribulations have come from thinking ‘Will people understand that I’m doing different things at once?’ One day I may choose to do a photoshoot in full drag, the next shoot I may be an alien, or I may choose to perform out of drag” he says. “A lot of people want musicians to have one image. If I had chosen to do that in a gimmicky way, it may have made things easier at first, but I would’ve lost out in the end because I would be a prisoner of a persona.” Still, he understands that the blanket statements of being “the gay rapper” are inevitable. “I don’t mind being called that,” he says. “Everyone needs an introduction. I can just keep putting out more music.”
At the moment, Mykki’s in the midst of his first North American tour which will see stops in 25 cities. It follows the 22-date European tour he did in January and February. Next up is Mykki’s sophomore project, Betty Rubble: The Initiation. “Cosmic Angel was a mixtape. “Wavvy” and “Haze.Boogie.Life” bang and kind of set the tone for the Mykki Blanco signature, but at the same time I’m not aiming to always make universal tracks. With The Initiation I’ve taken more risks by going deeper within. It makes for a really cohesive project. I rap so much stronger on it because I’ve been rapping for months now and doing shows every night.”
The EP’s lead single, “Feeling Special” maintains Mykki’s religious references and enigmatic flow, but showcase him in a more zoned-out, atmospheric zone than the party-friendly tracks of Cosmic Angel. With a growing international fanbase, and gracing the cover of this week’s Village Voice, Mykki seems poised to seize the remainder of 2013. “I’m doing everything on time. I finished my EP ahead of schedule. I started touring ahead of schedule. I’ve met with a couple major labels and the one I’m hoping is gonna sign me is having me open for some of their artists over the summer. Maybe The Initiation will be released through them, maybe not. We’ll see.”—Lawrence Burney (@TrueLaurels)