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Stay Close to Music sees Mykki Blanco celebrate queer narratives with unflinching vulnerability

Poignant power on Mykki Blanco's newest release, plus songs by RAYE, Doechii, Tei Shi and Naomi Lareine.

21 Oct 2022

In the decade that they have been releasing poignantly perplexing and liberating hip hop, Mykki Blanco has proved to be a singular force. Rather than a stratospheric rise, Mykki’s trajectory has instead been a slow-burning hubbub that began with 2012’s ‘Wavvy’, since gradually  earning adoration despite maintaining their underdog status. It’s a bittersweet sentiment that they have made peace with; they have presented themselves exactly as they are since the very beginning and have waited for the world to catch up. On their new album Stay Close to Music, Mykki’s commitment to such authenticity is delivered with more openness than ever before.

“When I was a new artist in 2012, the world was a very different place,” said Mykki in a recent interview, highlighting the transphobia and homophobia they experienced as an openly queer artist at the time. “I literally had to kick and scream to be heard, fought to be legitimised, while my music, the messages in my music videos, the never before seen themes, aesthetics, and juxtapositions were labelled too taboo for the mainstream.” Audiences and the hetereonormative industry were not ready for Mykki’s authentic tales of being both Black and queer in an internet age.

At times, Mykki wonders if they could have achieved fame earlier if they had navigated their music differently. In a recent interview with DIY, they note how fellow queer hip-hop players Frank Ocean and Lil Nas X weren’t open when they had their first hit tracks: “Sometimes I wonder, ‘Wow I should have been way more strategic’, but there’s no way if I wasn’t true to myself in the beginning that I would be a pioneer. It was never part of the cards for me, I was going to be myself no matter what.” 

“This album represents the beginning of the second half of my career”

Mykki Blance

Stay Close to Music reinforces this authenticity through the directness of its lyrics. “Your feminism is not my feminism, unless it includes all kinds of women,” sings trans R&B star Ah-Mer-Ah-Su while collaborating on track ‘Your Feminism is Not My Feminism’, joining Mykki in a powerful statement about societal transphobia. On ‘Steps’ Mykki reflects on problematic relations; “I shoulda never dated white men / Fetishize a win, tokenism, light skin”.

Teaming up with a diverse host of collaborators from ANOHNI, Saul Williams and MNEK, to newcomers like cellist Kelsey Lu and veterans including R.E.M’s Michael Stipe and Sigur Rós’ Jónsi, the shoegaze and dream pop-inspired sound is woven with an otherworldly air amidst its diaristic croons and rap. “I helped create the culture that we currently live in, I don’t need to be modest about the truth, I’ve been told to ‘stay in my place’ for most of my entire 10-year career,” Mykki says. “This album represents the beginning of the second half of my career.”

Mykki Blanco – ‘Carry On’ feat. Jónsi 

Mykki Blanco’s collaboration with Sigur Rós singer Jónsi is one of the more surprising highlights on new album Stay Close to Music, showing Mykki at their most vulnerable and honest. “Black and gay /I wonder if they’ll ever claim us /HIV, I got HIV, can I still be famous? /Will they wait ’til I’m dead to give me credit?” says Mykki of the thoughts that incessantly run through their head, still hoping for the reconciliation of acceptance. Skittish beats imbue the track with unrest beneath Jónsi’s singular voice, the atmospheric production adding whimsy to Mykki’s poignant words. 

RAYE – ‘Escapism’ feat. 070 Shake

RAYE’s journey has been one to behold over the past year. From publicly calling out her record label and leaving her contract to become an independent artist, to showing a whole new side to her sound, her comeback single ‘Black Mascara’ saw the London hit-maker relishing in her creativity. Switching the dance sound she had become known for for a moodier, R&B tone, the new single ‘Escapism’ marks a continuation of RAYE’s new era. Teaming up with experimental talent 070 Shake, the track has RAYE rapping and crooning over dramatic soundscapes, describing the atmosphere as: “something to accompany this feeling, to get lost to, and maybe you might find some healing inside of it, like I did.”

Doechii – ‘Stressed’

It’s been a matter of months since she released EP she/ her /black bitch, but Doechii has wasted no time following up on the goods with new single ‘Stressed’. Flipping up her often abrasive and eccentric sound for something altogether more earnest, the track embodies a murkier tone and dials down the tempo with understated beats and sludgy production. “I must be lost in my regrets /I must be down, I must be stressed,” she raps, taking the lid off her emotions. “I’ve got like thirteen years of age /That I ain’t still got off my chest”. An anxiety anthem for the masses, the track sees the Floridian rapper muse on the aspirational good life and the consequences of not putting in the work to unpack emotional baggage. 

Tei Shi – ‘Bad Premonition’

Throughout her career Tei Shi has journeyed on a winding road, at times struggling to see her direction forward. On new single ‘Bad Premonition’ the Colombian-Canadian artist muses on the element of chance that is required to achieve success in the music industry, and the likelihood that it may never transpire despite incessant graft. Set to minimal synths and understated production, the track carries a flavour of heaviness within its slow R&B melodies. “When I wrote the song, I was in the process of realising and coming to terms with the fact that I’d hit the same dead end I’d hit many times before,” she explained. “It’s about this feeling of oncoming disaster, where you see where you’re headed and that it’s not good, but there’s nothing you can do about it – so you kind of resign yourself to a fate you know.”

Naomi Lareine – ‘Just Met’

Naomi Lareine has been making a name for herself in her native Switzerland, but her latest single sees her music anchored in British roots. Taking influence from the colourful and bouncy rhythms of UK garage interwoven with rich dance production, her new single ‘Just Met’ is the perfect introduction to her sound and captures the early days of new romance and the heady rush of anticipation that comes with it. It’s the perfect antidote to the working week, and the soundtrack to a sticky night in the club.