Two weeks ago, New York rapper Mykki Blanco thought that her second EP had already dropped. She remembered recording a verse before she left, but for what she can’t recall — maybe Chicago club producer Brenmar, or Adult Swim with San Francisco duo Friendzone, or “GAYNGSTA RAP” emcee Le1f.
Here’s what Blanco, born Michael Quattlebaum, Jr., does know: She’s about to kick off a tour in Glasgow after releasing her first-ever music video a year ago and first mixtape Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss six months prior. Going into Betty Rubble: The Initiation (out now), Blanco felt excited to perform but also somewhat defensive: “I’m making hip hop. I’m making my hip hop.”
Because Mykki Blanco evolved from a teenaged YouTube persona to a rapper bearing post-industrial roots, punk energy and influence from Marilyn Manson, her sheer existence confused label executives: Is she rapping for the long haul? Is she doing hip hop, period? Blanco clarified her music’s intentions and talked the EP’s titular alter-ego, career expectations and a mixtape coming this fall.
What will fans learn of Betty Rubble in your new EP?
On [Cosmic Angel] there’s a track called “Betty Rubble,” also one of the first real songs I wrote. I like the concept of the words “bam bam” and that wordplay for a tough-talking, street smart girl. A lot of people responded because there’s a certain attitude, flavor and lyricism; it’s for people who really like hip hop and a little more substance than a club track. Lyrically I wanted to make smart decisions. I want to let people know that I’m not just going to be a rapper who gives you party tracks or club tracks, but there’s a lot of depth to what I’m going to be doing. When it’s time for me to work on my first album, I want to have a good mix of tracks for people. But for this EP, I decided I was going to abandon that party motif for a moment.
On “The Initiation” you rap in Latin. Why?
If I’m going to call myself the “Illuminati Prince/ss,” what better way to explain that than a rap in what would be the tongue of the Illuminati? I got on Wikipedia and Googled Latin phrases from A to Z, and I just started to cull what I liked and what made sense. If someone actually decodes “The Initiation,” the song strangely has a lot to do with identity and a lot to do with virtuality. A lot of what I see on Twitter — it’s so funny how people always want to assume that, just because something’s dark and melancholy doesn’t mean it’s demonic.
The darkness is in itself an aesthetic. There’s a movie called Bringing Out the Dead, and Nicolas Cage goes to this goth club. There was all of these goth kids, but one of the boys was black. I was a child, freaking out at one of the first times I’d ever seen a person of color in this goth aesthetic. I started to think about what it’d be like to have a goth track playing in the the hood, and that’s when I started to envision The Initiation. We thought that we were making music for Dracula 3000.
You’ve emphasized that Betty Rubble is hip hop — why the emphasis?
I think I had to make a decision of how I wanted to be represented, and I can’t always let critics decide what my music sounds like, for me. I’m making hip hop, I’m making my hip hop. Missy Elliott or Busta Rhymes, or anyone else who I’ve drawn influence from, they’re always people that have their own unique spin to hip hop. Yes, those people had mainstream success and I’ve had underground success, but for me it’s just important to say, “You know what? I’m doing really well.” Everybody who thought that I was going to remain an underdog shut their mouth, because underdogs don’t get the opportunities that I’m getting. This summer I’m opening two shows for Tricky, and then for two shows I’m opening for Björk. I don’t even have an album out yet. Now that I’ve been working my ass off for a long time and starting to reap the benefits of that hard work, I’m not going to let other people define who I am. Actually, I’m winning right now.
Do you see yourself on a major label deal?
I’m excited that Betty Rubble is coming out so soon. Since these new songs are going to come out, now I’ll feel a little more worthy of all these big opportunities. I had a big revelation last week with my manager — up until now, I think I had the underdog syndrome. I don’t think that anyone ever made me feel like an underdog, and I don’t think I’ve ever been treated that way, but to a certain extent — because of everything I was doing, because of homophobia, because it was so unorthodox — I thought people weren’t going to get it. I might not have even realized how successful I’ve actually been doing because of it.
I don’t need to think of myself as some type of underdog; I just want to become more successful. I don’t have to be the next Rihanna. Having the kind of success like Animal Collective or Ariel Pink — that would be awesome because I feel like they’re still somewhat indie, but they’re huge and everyone knows them. They’re not being followed around by the paparazzi. But to be honest with you, I do think that I have the potential to be on a major. I wonder if it would ever happen because of my image, but I know that I keep on getting these big offers and I’ve been working my butt off.
What brought on the revelation? Was it the offers?
I think it was actually something else entirely — everything all at once. Maybe it was being in a foreign place and about to start a new tour. … I’m actually more successful than some of these up-and-coming kids who people are always calling “up-and-coming.” My booking fee has raised more quickly the last nine months than most artists do in two years. You might not be putting me on the cover of XXL, but I’m financially doing better than some of these kids you’re boasting about as the next big thing.
What else can we expect in 2013? Is your debut album in the works?
I have this video for “The Initiation” that’s going to blow people’s socks off. We completed this video about three months ago; it’s the first I’ve done that uses special effects and CGI. It’s next level. I haven’t announced it yet because I don’t have an official [release] date, but I know it’s going to come out either the end of this week or the end of next week.
At the end of the summer I’m going to be working on my next big thing: Ms. Snow White. That’s going to be a very uncensored, raw, heavy. … I’m ready to be the wild girl, a party girl and talk about everything in a really uncensored way. For people who are really into that super savvy, sassy Mykki, [it]’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m going to do things on it that no label would probably let me get on my album, so that’s why it’s really important that I get it out. Ms. Snow White’s going to come out this fall, and in the meantime I’ll be working on my album, which is going to come out in 2014.
Mykki Blanco’s EP Betty Rubble: The Initiation is out now via UNO NYC/Mykki Music.