Mykki Blanco talks chain saws, cross-dressing and Nikki Minaj
From performing in a punk band with chain saws onstage to spending a year living as a woman, poet, performer and rapper, Michael Quattlebaum Jr., who performs under the name Mykki Blanco, spoke about life and art in a panel entitled “Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Hip Hop.”
Quattlebaum, in town for Mykki Blanco’s KWUR Week performance at the Gargoyle later that evening, guided the audience through Blanco’s musical timeline. The artist spoke about the first mix tape he owned (by the B-52s), not being bullied despite being artistic as a child, discovering Riot grrrl’s music while in high school, dropping out of college twice, publishing a critically acclaimed book of poetry and discovering Mykki Blanco the performer.
Inspired by the contemporary feud between female rappers Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj, Quattlebaum began posting video diary entries on YouTube as Mykki Blanco.
“I said, ‘What if I did a video art project where I pretend to be a teenage girl who wants to aspire to be a famous female rapper?’” Quattlebaum said.
One day, the artist decided to leave a video shoot and walk through New York dressed as a woman. The sharp responses from the media, Quattlebaum said, were indicative of the media’s tendency to place people in boxes—which led to alternatingly being considered as unrealistically over-feminized or simply as a man dressed in a woman’s clothes.
“The reactions from people ranged from horrified to pity to that very cheesy thing that straight women do where they’re like, ‘You go, girl!’ and you’re just like, walking down the street,” Quattlebaum said.
Although Quattlebaum’s parents were not happy with their child’s choice to live as a woman, the artist thought other musicians would be more receptive, but the actual reception varied. Rapper and Internet icon Brandon “Lil B” McCartney expressed support that Quattlebaum continues to hold on to today. But Quattlebaum also relayed an anecdote in which a close friend and music producer acted uncomfortably with Quattlebaum when they were in the presence of another rapper.
“What I thought was especially interesting about his narrative was that as his motives for dressing in drag evolved, so did his personal drag style,” freshman Nina Stoller said. “For example, he changed from fabulous to everyday when he saw himself portraying ideal femininity.”
“He seems like a cool guy. He was wearing a very big leather jacket and looked like a cool, fashionable thug,” freshman Maxwell Foley said.
Quattlebaum advised the audience to stay culturally aware.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned in this career, in my life so far, being 27 years old, it’s watch culture because culture happens. And it keeps happening, and things happen, and when they go unchecked and people don’t talk about them, or when we kind of brush them under the rug, then that’s not really progression,” Quattlebaum said. “Just be aware.”