Michael Quattlebaum Jr. is wearing lace-up combat flatforms, two different kinds of plaid, and a pink and black bomber jacket. It’s a look that doesn’t scream Sunday afternoon so much as it screams: It is still Saturday night to me! That’s because he’s pretty much coming from the club. He’s just off a flight from Boston, and tells us he was partying till 6 am. He’s been off his tour for a few days and says he’s exhausted. “Next time I’ll know. After twenty-six days on tour you need more than four days to rest before you start the next one,” he says. “It was amazing, but I’ll never do it again.”
The thing is, that kind of schedule is paying off. Mykki Blanco, Quattlebaum’s tough-rapping, cross-dressing stage persona, is gaining momentum: lots of club play, her song “Wavvy” has half a million hits on YouTube, and the New York alternative weekly, The Village Voice, just put her on the cover.
We’re standing outside the hotel and Quattlebaum looks almost apologetic when he tells us that all he really wants to do is go inside for a nap. We agree he should rest and make plans to come back the following morning, but the next day there’s evidence to suggest he might not have napped at all, or even stayed in. For one thing, he doesn’t want us to come up to his room: he says it’s too messy. Then when he comes down he’s wearing the same thing as the day before. But so what if he went out? Quattlebaum's a club kid, and club kids are powerless to the call of the wild.
When we sit down to talk, Quattlebaum speaks thoughtfully, but with intellectual turbo-charge. He loops from answer to idea to anecdote before realizing he’s lost track of the question. It’s digressive, but it’s also engaging and fun. Keep reading for a handpicked selection of Quattlebaum’s best quotes and click below to hear “The Initiation”, our exclusive single from Mykki Blanco’s new EP, Betty Rubble: The Initiation.
It all started through this art project. I was very much about the art world, about the gallery system. I thought about everything through this interdisciplinary, post art school post-post-modern framework. I talked art-speak. I was not a musician even though I wrote lyrics and I wrote songs. I felt comfortable just saying, I am a contemporary artist, using music as a performance medium.
When I was fifteen I was doing performance art stuff in North Carolina, and this writer gave me a book, RoseLee Goldberg’s Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. That encouraged me.
By sixteen I felt like I had to make a decisive decision to strike out on my own and these things were provoked by the literature that I was reading. I was reading an anarchist textbook called CrimethInc. I was reading that like, every day.
I was listening to Lauren Hill Unplugged, I was reading biographies about Vincent Gallo running away at sixteen. Obviously every gay boy at thirteen who is a Madonna fan knows Madonna's story, so I thought I was going to move to New York and just live the life. And I kind of did live the life for a little bit. All this experience has definitely informed the first chunk of my adult writing.
We were not pen pals. I sent one email to him and he replied. He said something like, "You're an idiot don't runaway to New York." But then at the very end he said, "If you get really sick message me again." That was it.
The first time I performed Mykki Blanco was actually at a Ghetto Gothic party. I had been performing my punk act No Fear, which was actually the poems from From the Silence of Duchamp to The Noise of Boys put to industrial loops. It was when I combined that repertoire with this new a cappella freestyle fantasy that this symbiosis happened. I was cross-dressing before the Mykki Blanco project started, but my cross-dressing was kind of like the precursor. My own cross-dressing made me more comfortable to start the Mykki Blanco project.
It’s really important to me that Mykki Blanco always tells authentic stories. When I write, I write to be Mykki Blanco. Mykki B is different personas - there's Mykki Blanco the Black Sailor Moon, that's sweet and quirky. There's Betty Rubble, which is really tough talking, really sad. Then I have the Black Jew Prince, which is more like old wild boy. When I write these songs it’s as if I’m coming from a narrative place where I am telling this story of the lyrical scenario from each character.
Mykki Blanco's music is aggressive, it's hard hitting. I feel like the cadences I use are tripped out, there's a ton of lyricism, it's sassy, fun, confrontational.
The production is really kind of a smorgasbord. A lot of people are finding their producers on SoundCloud, but the people I’ve worked with - Nguzunguzu, Brenmar - I've known for years. A large group of those people went to art school in Chicago. People were like, Mykki Blanco, how did you work with these producers, how did you work with Nostradamus? I've known him since I was 19 years old.
One of my friends told me the reason why women like what you do is because Mykki Blanco is a fragmented girl, she isn't always playing up the hyper-sexualized pretty-pretty.
I am grungy. I have tried to be other things in my life. I have tried to be mod, I've tried to be a hippy child. Embarrassingly enough, I’m just too broke. I looked like those boys with cheap boat shoes carrying around cheap fake bags. I was working with a close friend who was a stylist and she was like, ‘You know once you start playing those games you can't go back, you're going have your photo taken on Style.com in some dress and that dress is custom made,’ and I was just like, you know what, I'm too broke to play this game and I don't have enough connections. So I reverted my style back to being kind of grungy.
I like it [Riot Grrrl Rap] because I like what's associated with it, but I don't know if the original Riot Grrrl theorists would necessarily agree. I use derogatory language against women in my raps but I do it from the standpoint of a gay man, so when I use the word "bitch" I’m saying it in a gay way. But that doesn't change the fact that I’m still saying it, and it doesn't change the fact that as a born male, who's not actually transgendered, that dresses as a drag queen I still have an advantageous position.
It becomes stressful because as an artist I can't weed out the life experiences that have made me who I am, and that will resonate in the songs, but at the same time I’m aware of it and I don't know quite how to defend myself yet.
As an example when Azealia Banks called Perez Hilton a messy faggot… I mean anyone who's gay knows how cunty Azealia Banks is, she surrounds herself with gay men, anyone would have had prior knowledge, like oh that's how she talks. When that situation happened I, maybe immaturely, took the position of, "I don't like the fact that the white gay mafia is beating up on this person." Because from the time I was thirteen years old I've seen gay politics in this country and gay media and the messages that are promoted, and I've been unsatisfied with them.
Now we have recognizable gay icons on daytime TV and I think those are good things for gay culture but at the same time, no gay celebrity who really has pull in this country ever promotes or calls attention to serious LGBT rights. I want to get to a place in my career where I can take those positions, but I can't yet because I’m still too uninformed and I’m still just trying to figure out my own stuff.
What's funny is that sometimes, younger fans want to create familiarity with you. Sometimes boys ask me, ‘Do I call you Michael or Mykki?’ And I'm thinking in my head - I never say this, but I'm thinking - Well honey, you only know me as Mykki and you should call me Mykki, but I'm always just like, ‘Oh call me Michael.’
What is funny is when some of my good friends come into this mix. My manager is saying "she" left and right, and then they leave and my friend says: are you going by she now?
No, but I’m sticking by this decision. When I started this in all my press releases when you talk about me, you're going to say "she" because that is the origin of the character. It doesn't matter if it's a photo of me and I have a beard, or a moustache, it always has to say "she." That’s my small way of subverting the language.
There was period a couple months ago, I will be flat out honest, because it's real, there was a period a couple months ago where I thought, should I distance myself from this whole ‘gay rap’ thing? But if my success is linked temporarily to being the gay rapper, that's fine. I never really did distance myself. Le1f, Ian Isiah, Cakes Da Killa, these are all people who are really close friends who are black and gay and involved in this entertainment culture. I thought no, I never want to distance myself from those people... those are my people, that's my community, it’s important.
"Written entirely in Latin and with haunting sonic production by UK/LA-based producer Sinden, "The Initiation" is the embodiment of my punk and industrial roots. Lyrically it follows in the self-mythology created on my first mixtape that I, Mykki Blanco, am the Illuminati Prince come to bring a new world order to hip-hop in the twenty-first century. I wanted to create my version of what a "black American gothic song" sounds like and with Sindens trance-inducing yet club-ready production, I believe we achieved that synthesis."