Mykki Blanco Mykki

[!K7; 2016]

Styles: hip-hop, memoir, chamber pop, house
Others: Frank Ocean, Danny Brown, André 3000

Hip-hop loves a good künstlerroman. Some of the genre’s greatest narratives have been fueled by the temporal disjunction between past hardship and present success. On her debut album, Mykki Blanco takes up the rapper-as-memoirist mantle, placing herself within a lineage of storytellers and weirdos, whose origin stories (real or imagined) are intrinsic to their art. It’s a deeply personal album, wracked with loneliness, wistfulness, and desire; a reckoning of times spent getting fucked up, losing track of oneself and those you love. It’s also an ebullient album, melodically generous and texturally experimental, with left-field production that touches on house, techno, and trap, courtesy of Woodkid and Jeremiah Meece. Mykki moves through it all, voice front and center, flitting between past and present, determined to accept her mistakes and create a brighter future: a portrait of the rapper as a young woman.

The album starts on the front foot, with first track “I’m In A Mood” gliding into view, introducing the listener to Mykki’s minimal, vaporous sound — a balance of spacious synth textures and Mykki’s sonorous vocals, undergirded by bass-y, skeletal beats. Lyrically, Mykki operates in a space between rueful self-reflection and wounded pride, letting us know that this is an album for her, declaring: “I’m in a mood tonight/ Sitting in my room, can’t fuck with you tonight.” This self-reflective mode, as concerned with the come-up as the come-down, continues on “High School Never Ends.” Here, Mykki sets up an uncomfortable relationship between drugs and pain, navigating the wounds of moribund relationships and her attempts to escape their psychic scarring. Over queasy backing, she self-medicates (“Take some xans to come down/ Now I’m feeling dead”), gets in too deep at a party, and goes up on the roof to work out why the guy she’s seeing is cheating on her. The beat climbs the stairs with her, propelled upward by lush backing vocals and strings, arrhythmic drums rolling alongside, before a piano breaks in, as Mykki pleads: “Why don’t you just believe me?/ Why don’t you just delete me?” It’s a disarming moment, augmented by the grain of Mykki’s voice, the ornate, quasi-chamber-pop backing, and a Faulknerian sense of the past as that which continually haunts the present.

An interlude draws Mykki out of her rut, and she introduces some levity on tracks, like the more club-ready “My Nene” and “The Plug Won’t.” The former sees Mykki rapping in a higher register, switching her flow and tone every few bars, drawing comparisons to Danny Brown at his most frenetic; the latter is a trunk-rattler, all hydraulic hisses and bass pulses, gilded with house-y synths as it approaches the chorus. Both tracks address themselves to some love-object, a presence that constantly flickers in and out of reach, provoking infatuation and frustration in equal measure. On “The Plug Won’t,” Mykki feels her way toward this object, trying to draw it toward her (“The drugs don’t love me like you”) before pivoting inward and meditating on the state of her desire itself (“Why do I need love?”). By looking inward, Mykki elevates her desire, positioning it as the driving force of this album, its map and territory. She uses her desire to guide herself, realizing on “Interlude 2” that before she can gain the love of others, she must come to love herself first. The song ends on a note of certainty, with Mykki employing her desire as a lens to make sense of her past and to plot a course into her future, one in which “intimacy will find [her].”

This skein of self-love carries us through the rest of the album, through metallic-percussion-confessions (“I wasted too many years being wasted” on “You Don’t Know Me”) and wonky-house turn-ups (“For the Cunts”), the latter combining the effervescence of Shamir’s “On the Regular” with bass-heavy melodies out of Logos’ Alien Shapes. Finally, we’re deposited at “Rock n Roll Dough,” where Mykki’s past (“I used to rave hard/ I used to pop pills”) becomes an intrinsic part of her determination to carry on (“Turn up every night where my life go?/ Brain cell fried but I’m tight doe”). Mykki began the album by appealing for solitude on “I’m In A Mood.” She ends it on a note of acceptance, having used these 13 songs to meditate on her past faults, her desires, and her position as an artist.

It’s a hazy journey, encompassing loss, disconnection, and disappointment, buoyed up by hard-hitting production and Mykki’s unrelenting desire for pleasure and connection. As Mykki raps, her desire is made palpable, transcending past and present, rearticulating past pain as a necessary part of present acceptance and future growth. Harnessing her desire transforms Mykki, so that she becomes like Stephen Dedalus, ready “to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience,” to once again forge new desires, new names, and new stories.

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