Mykki Blanco: ‘Without Queer People, I Wouldn’t Have a Music Career’

Artist Mykki Blanco began their music career in 2012 after publishing a book of poetry and seeking a new way for audiences to engage with their work. Seen by many as a pioneer of queer rap, Blanco has worked with a number of artists including Kanye West, Teyana Taylor, all before the release of their second album.

Earlier in 2021, Blanco obtained their first major record deal with Transgressive Records, and plans to release their newest album ‘Broken Hearts and Beauty Sleep’ this June. Here, Blanco reflects on how queer fans are the driving force behind their success.

I STARTED MAKING MUSIC for the first time when I was 25 years old. I started making music because I had written a poetry book that was published called From The Silence Of Duchamp To The Noise Of Boys. And so when I published this poetry book, I quickly realized that I needed to find a more refreshing way of getting people to listen to the poems than just reciting them. I’ve never really been a fan of the slam poetry style, so I really took inspiration from these early ’80s New Wave acts, people like Patti Smith and Richard Hell. I started to collaborate with my friend who was a drummer, and my friend who was a bassist. And so the first iteration of music that I ever made was kind of this really noisy punk, you know, harsh stuff. You can find it online, there’s a record that we did, it’s called Mykki Blanco & the Mutant Angels and it was around this time that I met my first manager.

His name was Charlie Damga. He had a record label called UNO Records. Charlie approached me and one day was like, ‘Do you realize, you know that you’re really making music?’ I was still thinking about a lot of stuff in this kind of multi-disciplinary context. I’ve been to SAIC and I dropped out, I had gotten the scholarship to Parsons and I dropped out. And so I was really considering myself like a performance artist, like a multidisciplinary contemporary artist. But Charlie was like, ‘Do you realize you’re doing music?’ and at the time I was like, ‘No, no, I don’t’. And so he was like, ‘Well, have you ever considered pairing up with producers?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ I didn’t even really at that time, even really understand what a producer was like. I was really not like I was really not a music person. I really was not oriented with music. But I enjoyed doing the songs and I enjoyed the idea of being in a band.

Two of the first producers I ever worked with, with an electronic producer named Gobby. And then the second producer I’ve ever worked with was with Arca when she was a freshman at NYU. I remember the track I did with Arca really went viral, a song called “Join My Militia.” It was shared at a lot of places. We did a video for it that was really really strong for the time. And I always loved performing so yeah that’s how I began making music. I really kind of fell into it in this organic way. And then it was kind of just like using it as a medium for creative expression. But I would say it wasn’t until I really got into it a few years later that I really started to even consider myself, you know, a musician.

THE SUCCESS OF MY CAREER also had a lot to do with the birth of certain social media platforms like Twitter [and] Instagram. Facebook obviously existed but people were using Facebook in a different way at that time. And Tumblr. For the first time, queer communities all over the world could kind of raise their hands and say, ‘We like this artist. We support this artist. We’ll share this artist’s work.’ And in getting in, you didn’t need the PR machine of a major label. So what happened to a lot of artists like me is that we were able to organically build our own fan bases through touring and through our musical outputs and through our visual outputs and so and so. Definitely my success, you know, is 100% accredited to [queer communities]. I mean that. I’m not trying to sound cliche, this is the truth.

My success has to do with queer people all over the world telling their local venues, telling the promoters, telling the agents, ‘We want a Mykki Blanco show.’ All the way from Santiago, Chile to Melbourne Australia to Bali, Indonesia to Hong Kong, all over Europe, all over the United States. In my career I’ve done three world tours. Certain people who don’t really have an understanding of the different tiers and levels of the music industry, when they hear that, they think of Mariah Carey world tour, doing arenas. But it’s like, in this very kind of almost historical rock and roll context and also in this very punk context, it’s like big music halls to huge festivals of thousands of people to small punk shows. I played them all. I’ve had the opportunity to play them all over the world because queer people all over the world have reached out and wanted to see me, so that’s like a blessing.

WHAT’S BEEN REALLY AWESOME about my trajectory is that the creation of my stage persona and my music really coincided with the discovery of and really the expression of my trans identity.

It’s kind of rare that a lot of people that are pioneers are really ever able to kind of like, enjoy the fruits of their labor, the blueprints they laid down for other people. What’s kind of interesting about my career is that there was so much that changed in society within a very short amount of time. Sometimes people will talk about me in this way as if I’ve had a career for like 20 or 25 years. The acceleration point of what happened in society really coincided with a lot of the twists and turns of my own trajectory. So you know when a lot of people find out that this album that’s coming out is only going to be my second album or my third album will just be next year, it’s going to be interesting. I’ve been the first of many different things. I think that it’s going to be really cool to be the first to have existed and laid the blueprints for a lot of the younger artists that are kind of having a lot of mainstream success right now but then be able to also experience that myself.

WITH THE NEW RECORD, I said to myself, ‘I never want to sample again.’ So much of hip-hop and so much of the electronic music that I have made before is very sample-heavy, and I really really thought to myself, ‘I want to make music that’s wholly mine. I want to make music that I feel has longevity and that doesn’t just sit within the zeitgeist of a moment.’ I really started to work in a new way, you know, working with session players and working with live instruments, and really building the songs through a different process of recording and kind of coming to a sound that was entirely our own. Beginning to work that way and then kind of figuring out a rhythm and certain little formulas, I feel like this is wholly my own music, wholly my own sound. It’s been such a fun process. I feel like in my career, looking back, I had a string of really great singles and I had really great mixtapes, really strong concepts. It’s a lot of ideas rooted in really pushing the boundaries of queer aesthetic and performance aesthetics and all of that stuff. I think that this next album that’s coming out this summer, and the one after that, and the one after that, I think I’m entering probably what’s going to be the period of some of my best music.

WHEN MY CAREER BEGAN in 2012, almost everything about who I was then, the politics of my identity, was taboo. And so to see that kind of shift actually happen in a decade, it makes me completely hopeful. We have a long way to go with how people treat people who are HIV positive. There’s still a lot of stigma. [Ed: Blanco revealed they were HIV positive in 2015.]

But I just recently saw this performance with Lil Nas X. I forget the context, but I mean, he is the queer pop some people were talking about for the last, like, 15 years, that came to fruition. When I see things like that, it’s like, ‘Okay, yeah. We’ve done the work. We’ve made the blueprints. We’re pushing things forward.’ And so yeah, now it’s kind of time to continue to push things beyond the binary and to be able to make space for gender-nonconforming people to occupy that kind of spotlight, too. But I think we’ll get there.

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