"I need you to make a motherfucking circle," Mykki Blanco said as she dropped down from the stage, osmosing into the crowd of hundreds below. "Make a circle for Mykki. Make a circle for Mykki." She baby-voice pleaded like a kid in an ice cream aisle before switching to a more serious tone. "Make our circle a little bigger. Let's gooooooooooooo go go go go go go go go go go. We need a little more width in here. We need a little more width in here." The crowd obeyed, and she relaxed, letting the moment wash over her. "Gimme all your sweet love," she said before launching into "Haze.Boogie.Life."
This Market Hotel set in Brooklyn felt more intimate than shows past. Gone was the throttling sea of pushy post-grads that flooded her show at the Good Room back in May. In its place rocked a gentler tide pool, down to get wavy without dragging Mykki too far from shore. That trust seemed important to Mykki Blanco, the onstage "drag-rap showgirl" persona of Michael Quattlebaum Jr. Twenty-four hours earlier, Quattlebaum released Mykki, his debut album under the Blanco moniker: a 13-track collection that comprises his most personal work to date. Make no mistake, the Market Hotel show—which opened with DJ sets by UNiQU3 and TYGAPAW—was no "Mykki does MTV: Unplugged." But when she asked for a little more room, they backed up.
In one sense, it's hard to believe that Mykki (out Friday, Sept. 16, on Blanco's label, Dog Food Music Group) is the first and only full-length album to the 30-year-old musician's name. Quattlebaum's output has been impressively steady in the four years since Brenmar collaboration "Wavvy" hit big among Queer Tumblr QTs and VFILES-obsessed club kids, and he has released plenty of EPs (2012's Mykki Blanco & The Mutant Angels, 2013's Betty Rubble: The Initiation) and mixtapes (2012's Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss, 2014's excellent Gay Dog Food) in the years that followed. In another sense—the one that remembers how quickly Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' pandering ode to their straight-ally bonafides soared to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 while vastly superior records by an HIV-positive genderqueer artist like Mykki, not to mention other buzzed-about queer black rappers like Le1f and Cakes da Killa, never left the underground—the near half-decade delay becomes more plausible.
In contrast with the demonic party anthems and riot grrrl-esque calls to collective action that filled earlier releases, Mykki finds the artist turning inwards. She celebrated being "too freaky" for everyone on Gay Dog Food track "New Feelings," but on Mykki songs like "Loner" and "High School Never Ends" Blanco acknowledges the discomfort and self-doubt that comes with feeling "out of my zone." The album later gives way to a diaristic spoken-word confessional on "Interlude 2," where Blanco—or perhaps a character-breaking Quattlebaum—opens up about a desire to be loved and know intimacy that burns "deeper than my desire to act or entertain or become prosperous or famous or successful." There are bangers to be found ("The Plug Won't," "Fendi Band," "For the Cunts"), and not every song that treads vulnerable territory is a downer. Here's a sample from "My Nene," a song about high-passion, low-trust relationship that is intentionally non-gendered:
My baby so sweet, eat you like you was a churro
I've never had a ride or die like you that's always coming through
I've never had a shorty hold me down like you through all my troubles
That's my ace, shorty so bad
Walk into a room, making all these n——s mad
That's my nene
That's my nene
That's my nene
That's my ass
But Mykki seems like less of an onstage persona this time around and more like the person we'd meet backstage if given the chance. Her Market Hotel performance itself felt very much like a peek inside her dressing room as she rehearses in front of her vanity. Between songs, she would remove layers of her white three-piece suit only to fold and twist and wrap them in newly regendered positions around her body. At times, she would fix her eyes on something just over the audience's heads, as if catching her own reflection in a mirror that stood between us.
"A lot of times when someone's releasing their first album, you hear all these clichés about like, 'This record is more personal,' or, 'Oh, I just really took my time with it,'” Blanco told The FADER in an interview published last week. "But actually, it's the truth. This record is more personal."
Whether listeners would follow her down that more personal road remained to be seen, but Mykki was right to trust her fans. A verse into "The Plug Won't" towards the end of her set, something went wrong with her equipment and her sound stopped working. Blanco powered through a cappella, breathing a new meta-narrative into a song:
'Cause the plug don't love me like you
The drugs don't love me like you
The club don't love me right
Life don't treat me right
I'm so mystified
Why do I need love?
The crowd screamed. "You should really be like, 'Mykki you shouldn't have jumped [so much on stage]," Blanco volleyed back with a smile. The music returned less than a minute later. "I'm so happy to be here with you tonight," she said.
Bad at filling out bios seeks same.