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Entertainment Music & Nightlife Midnight Sun

Mykki Blanco aims for the masses

Last Thursday afternoon, Michael Quattlebaum Jr. waited to board a flight from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Raleigh, N.C., where the 27-year-old would spend Christmas with his mother.

It was a familiar feeling, as Quattlebaum found himself sitting in airports many times this year. But those trips were different: Quattlebaum, a gay man, spent 2013 touring the world, from Singapore to Germany to Texas' South by Southwest Festival, under the female rap alias Mykki Blanco. On Saturday, he will add Baltimore to the list when Mykki headlines the Ottobar.

Along with the May release of a strong EP titled "Betty Rubble: The Initiation," Quattlebaum says it was his growing reputation as "a really strong performer" that allowed him to tour internationally for the first time this year.

"That was something that really mattered to me when I first stared because, especially in hip-hop, people have a reputation for being lazy performers," Quattlebaum said, identifying his captivating presence on stage as an asset. "Because I'm not on a major label, I have to use every piece of leverage I can to make sure people know who I am and at least have the chance to know my music, whether they like it or not."

In the past two years — bolstered by touring, striking music videos, a 2012 mixtape called "Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss" and the "Betty Rubble" EP — Quattlebaum has become a vital voice as a hip-hop outlier. Although he's self-aware enough to realize some view him as "this kind of oddball thing," Quattlebaum does not see his sexuality or the Mykki persona as obstacles to gaining acceptance from the rap world.

"The hip-hop community is still super sensitive and touch-and-go about inclusiveness with the gay-rap thing," Quattlebaum said on the phone from LaGuardia. "But it hasn't really been a thing that has prevented me from any opportunities."

The most effective way to earn respect from hip-hop fans is to display undeniable skills, and it becomes clear, after hearing Mykki Blanco songs such as "Angggry Byrdz" and "Feeling Special," why his artist page has garnered more than 30,000 "Likes" on Facebook.

On "Betty Rubble," Quattlebaum reached new heights as a rapper, delivering shape-shifting flows with a dramatic flair that is absent from the phone conversation. His verses, colorful and mostly unprintable here, often send listeners in surprising directions, whether based on flow or content. Many times it's both. On "Feeling Special," the hook instructs to "follow me down that rabbit hole," and it is hard not to oblige.

After two years of writing and performing raps, Quattlebaum says lyrics and cadences come easier to him now. That would be a relief to some artists, but to Quattlebaum, it just means he has no excuse for weak music.

"I definitely say to myself when I'm writing now, 'Step it up, step it up, step it up,'" he said. "You can feel it. You can know when something is more cleverly said or how it can just be said way cooler or if you've used too many words. I'm learning that even though I may have stories to tell, at the end of the day, your music should be an easy listen."

The EP — which was named after "The Flintstones" character because, according to Quattlebaum, she's "a tough-talking girl from the street" — precedes Mykki Blanco's debut album, "Michael." Fans of the EP will be glad to know "Michael," due sometime next year, will mine similar territory, he said.

What is that exactly? Mainly, he replied, "what rave music is and trying to make hip-hop in that vein."

Next year is important for Quattlebaum, and he's already strategizing the lead-up to the album. The first step comes this week, he said, in the form of "Booty Bamboo," a single produced by "Michael" executive producer Brenmar. Then, Quattlebaum will spend the first three months of the year recording in Chicago, Los Angeles and the place Mykki Blanco first bloomed, New York. He was light on specific details, but Quattlebaum made it clear he aims to capture a much wider audience with "Michael."

"I hate giving mainstream fame so much credibility but I just want to be as successful as I can be," Quattlebaum said. "Reaching more people — the masses — is a goal of mine."

If you go

Mykki Blanco performs Saturday at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St. in Charles Village. Boychild, T.E.A.M.S., Mighty Mark, TT the Artist and DJ Larry B. will also perform. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. Call 410-662-0069 or go to theottobar.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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