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The Problem with Mykki Blanco

The Problem with Mykki Blanco


The 21st-century riot grrrl would be better off cleaning up his act and honing his anger toward where it counts: the music

Los Angeles-based rapper Michael Quattlebaum Jr., better known by the pseudonym Mykki Blanco (an 2012 Out100 honoree), ended up hospitalized last week after a bloody fight at The Spectrum in Brooklyn. It's the latest in a slew of tasteless tantrums that do nothing but weaken his agenda as an artist and activist.

But first, a note: Quattlebaum as Blanco is in every right a landmark of hip-hop. The openly queer, gender-bending performance artist has gained the cultural merit unseen by contemporaries like Le1f, Cakes Da Killa, Big Dipper, and Zebra Katz, largely due to his unapologetically punk demeanor, his amassed intrigue as a drag performer, and his impressive knowledge of--and commentary on--race and LGBT issues the world over.

In regards to the latter, he's been arrested in Portugal for "being gay"--an incident that occurred in May 2014 after an officer reportedly called him a "bicha" and he responded with a pointed "fuck off"--and his mid-November show in Moscow was canceled after the club was raided by extremist anti-LGBT activists in masks. Blanco has seen firsthand the evils this world has to offer. He's angry, and justifiably so.
The artist has used this anger to fuel his music, most notably on his recent mixtape, Gay Dog Food, which dropped in late October and features riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna. Less hip-hop and more punk rock, the mixtape was a creative breakthrough for Blanco. Gnarly and visceral, Gay Dog Food is saturated with grit and grime, and Blanco's subversive rhymes are expressed by way of screlting rather than smooth vocal gymnastics. It's also in the Gay Dog Food-era Mykki Blanco that many have bent to referencing him with male pronouns, so despite Out and others' previous coverage of Blanco in the feminine, you'll see this story follows suit.

Gay Dog Food's creative and critical success was matched by a year full of standout cameos in some of the world's most major art circles. Blanco performed at a MoMA-hosted Halloween show for fashion house Hood by Air, for instance, but it was at this performance that Blanco's aforementioned anger got the better of him. Afro-Punk reports that the rapper got in a "heated argument" post-performance with MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach. UPDATE: A MoMA representative contacted Out after this story was published to state that Biesenbach did not attend the Hood By Air performance, "so there was no heated debate whatsoever with Mykki Blanco prior."

It's unclear what that particular exchange was about, but fast-forward to December in Miami, at an afterhours Art Basel party, where Blanco threw his sandwich at Biesenbach, yelling, "He doesn't like black people, he likes black culture." It's a sentiment with which many agree; not only was the MoMA PS1 party happening at the height of street protests following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, of the 25 solo exhibitions that Biesenbach has organized since he began his tenure in 1996, three included black artists, including exhibitions for Henry Taylor, Now Dig This!, and Clifford Owens. But throwing a sandwich? Blanco's antagonistic behavior instigates more eye-rolls than changed minds; sure, he's combative by nature, but he should have taken out his frustrations by marching in the streets. (Editor's Note: Biesenbach was not contacted or interviewed for this story.)

That brings us to his latest riotous note. Early morning on Sunday, December 28, Blanco attacked fellow queer artist of color Jacolby Satterwhite at The Spectrum in Bushwick. By several eyewitness accounts, the attack came when Blanco, unprovoked by Satterwhite, approached the artist, saying, "I am everything, you are nothing," and "You will never be as famous as I am."

Blanco then allegedly threw a speaker, threw a coatrack, spilled drinks, and ultimately trashed a space that many within Brooklyn's queer community consider a safe haven. The scene soon turned into a "bloody fight, dragging all the way to the outdoors" between Blanco and an unnamed friend of Satterwhite's.

Riot grrrl, indeed.


Photo by Santiago Felipe

No matter the exact reasoning behind Blanco's beef with Satterwhite, such unmitigated violence is sophomoric, and it's harmful to innocents around him (not to mention Blanco and his reputation). It may well adhere to the rock star vivacity with which Quattlebaum imbues the Blanco persona, but even a rebel soul should be tamed to public decency, especially if said soul has as significant a message as this one.

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Blanco admitted, "I think I still have so much more to fucking learn. I feel like I still can get so much better in every respect." It's time for him to take these missteps, acknowledge that they're doing him a hell of a lot more trouble than good, and turn a leaf for the better.

Akin to Ebro Darden's advice to controversial rap princess Azealia Banks--who happens to be a Blanco fan--in last month's Hot 97 interview, Blanco would be better off saving this aggression and anger--whether it be toward racial inequality or another's artistic integrity--and transposing it to the music. He must not let his punk persona outshine his message, outshine his music, outshine his talent. Unfortunately, it seems it has of late.

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