By: Hollie McGowan
If you asked Michael Quattlebaum, a.k.a. Mykki Blanco, how they felt about being labelled a “queer hip hop artist” five years ago, you would have been scoffed at. Progressive changes in culture and society need to start somewhere and today Quattlebaum can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“A lot of people now really feel empowered by the term,” acknowledges Quattlebaum. “A lot of people now say, ‘Like any label, it gives me a place. Now I can go to the show.’ One of the unique things that I am most proud of [is how artists like myself and] Big Freedia, Le1f, and Zebra Katz created a fan base and a subgenre of music that people [from] all over the world [can strongly] identify with. So I must accept that while I do find it ridiculous, a lot of people need it and [that’s why] I don’t knock it anymore.”
Accepting the term “queer rap” is only one of the many challenges that Quattlebaum has had to deal with over the years. Coming out to the public as HIV positive was also a major step the artist took in the face of stigma, opening yet another door for those who still live in fear of persecution.
“When you start to have a public platform and people know things about you, the idea of keeping certain things a secret becomes very stressful and shameful,” explains Quattlebaum. “The more people know something personal about you, the more they feel they can connect to you on a deeper level. And where I thought that so many people would publicly shun me, the opposite happened. That whole experience of coming out publicly as being HIV positive completely changed my idea of how people can be. I don’t think I really believed that people could be that compassionate and that good.”
Opening up about their personal struggles continued to give way to more inner transformation and revelation which eventually lead to the long-awaited release of their debut album, Mykki. “When I started working on the album I was like, ‘You know what? I have to start making this album about everything in my life because I’m looking at my career and there’s a lack of intimacy,’” they say. “I wanted the album to be intimate and decided that we weren’t going to do any concepts. I wanted people to know my personality and understand how I really feel, not necessarily how they see me on stage or in a video. So that’s what I sought out to do.”
Showing their true personality is definitely something that automatically comes across in the album. Many of the lyrics and poems cut straight to the point of what really lay at the heart of their deepest desires of genuine love and human connection that anyone can relate to. As far as Quattlebaum is concerned, what else is there to life than being honest to oneself and the rest of the world about who you truly are. “Like, what are you going to do?” they laugh. “This is what I’ve had to do, you just keep making interesting work. One of my goals has always been is to infiltrate the mainstream with cool ideas, but also never be boxed in by just that aesthetic.”
Mykki Blanco performs live at Fortune Sound Club on Tuesday, February 28th. Tickets are available for $17 in advance.
Originally published on BeatRoute Magazine.