Mykki Blanco – Stay Close To Music
“I should have never dated white men,” Mykki Blanco says with a pang of regret through the droning string loops of Steps. It’s one of the many confessional moments that stud their latest album, Stay Close To Music with jewels of intimate, honest emotionality. Later on Carry On, an even more urgent musing arises, “Black and gay, I wonder if they’ll ever claim us, HIV, I got HIV can I still be famous?” This question in particular feels essential to the performance of Blanco. As an unapologetic Black, queer-trans femme, Blanco has always been inherently boundary pushing in the cis-hetero (and often bigoted) landscape of American hip-hop. Rather than attempting assimilation, Blanco’s intrigue comes in how they have embraced otherness as a central facet of their music, subverting the codes of hip-hop as much in style and sound as they do in lived experience. They’ve always felt important, because the lens of Blanco is one often not afforded much visibility or agency. They’ve always understood this. When they ask, “can I still be famous?” there’s genuine concern there. In a world built to keep people like Blanco out, there’s a need to keep your guard up once you’re let in. The simultaneous fear and exaltation of queer existence is something that Blanco has mastered translating into sound. By all accounts, Stay Close To Music is a very queer record. Blanco pulls from a range of often disparate genres and styles, some almost entirely unassociated with hip-hop. They draw from the structure and hooks of pop, and call upon a roster of guest-artists so stacked, that on some tracks Blanco themself is barely there.
The result is a unique and challenging record, one that is as loud as it is quiet. Stay Close To Music finds itself in contrast. On French Lessons, ANOHNI provides a gorgeous hook to a sunny, breezy retro-swing love song. One track later, Blanco sends us down the rabbit hole with gurning emocore vocals from Slug Christ on Ketamine, a loopy and off-kilter track designed to emulate the experience of a K-hole. On the excellent Your Love Is A Gift, Blanco rides backseat to the powerful alt-rock contralto of Diana Gordon and rich timbre of Sam Buck. It’s easily one of the album’s most earnest and endearing moments. Meanwhile on Lucky, Blanco flirts with hype rap and trap beats but subverts the braggadocios masculinity of the style with lines like “satin panties on my penis, counting money, acting fiendish.” There’s an immense sense of growth in the way that Blanco tackles their influences on the album. Their iconoclastic approach often results in sophisticated instances of genrefluidity. But for all its musical promiscuity, Stay Close To The Music is a fairly direct record when it comes to agenda. Blanco is foremost a protest poet, and their lyrics often sound off like statements of intent. The messaging of Your Feminism Is Not My Feminism may be didactic, but its power lies in the blatancy of its anti-TERF statement. Stay Close To Music speaks toward where Blanco is heading, as always on a path entirely of their own, and it’s truly exciting. The trajectory of their act is astonishing. What began as a character in a video art project now promises to lead Blanco to places that recall rap activists like Moor Mother, and while the music evolves, Blanco’s message remains as intact and powerful as ever. Rightfully, on Carry On, they closes Stay Close To Music with a manifesto, “I got to fight for every little queer, every kid alone with fear, every kid that’s dressing up and dressing out just being them.”
Watch the music video for Carry On from Stay Close To Music below.
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