Mykki Blanco has been at the center of conversations surrounding hip-hop and queerness since 2012, but two years ago, the gender non-conforming rapper announced a hiatus from music to pursue investigative journalism. Fortunately for fans, Blanco still dropped three projects after the announcement: The industrial, punk-inflected Mykki Blanco and the Mutant Angels; the experimental compilation C-ORE, which featured tracks by Yves Tumor and Psychoegyptian; and the self-titled 2016 album Mykki, a psychedelic patchwork of tracks with a pop-trap backbone.
But Blanco has kept busy with other creative endeavors: His new mini-documentary series on i-D, Out of This World, shines a light on queer communities around the world, with a debut episode about Johannesburg, South Africa. He's also finally unveiling a short film in which he starred in 2015, No Leash, which was commissioned by the high-end streetwear brand Hood By Air and directed by Cody Critcheloe of the band SSION.
Hood By Air had previously halted the film; Blanco says it was shelved for two years because of funding issues. But tonight, Oct. 19, No Leash -- screened previously only twice, in New York and London -- makes its West Coast debut at Starline Social Club, followed by a performance by Blanco with support from Berkeley electro-pop singer Ah Mer Ah Su and performance artist Davia Spain. (The show is a bit of a homecoming for Blanco, who is originally from San Mateo.)
"The film was unfinished for two years and went into, kind of like, a vault," Blanco tells KQED Arts in a phone interview. "It resurfaced this year and we were like, 'We have to put this out!'"
Using music from Blanco's acclaimed 2014 album Gay Dog Food, the film follows Blanco through a surreal fictional world full of strange characters, excessive corporate branding, and references to pop culture icons like Courtney Love. Blanco sums it up as a "a series of dreamlike vignettes."
"It places me as this feral wildchild making my way through this banal, really mundane, kind of tweaky Americana," he explains. "It's so much to do with branding and the commodification of pop culture and even queer culture."
Though Blanco was living stateside when he filmed No Leash, the film is particularly resonant to him now that he's living in Portugal. When we spoke on the phone, he was in Los Angeles for a week to record with a friend's band, dealing with a case of reverse culture shock. He didn't mince words about the current political moment in America.
"I’m always just really surprised -- kind of like everyone -- about what America has descended into right now," he says. "But America is going through exactly what it deserves as a country. Generationally and people who are in power, this is what happens when people become complicit, when people think that certain things in society can't affect them. When other people are marginalized and you turn a blind eye, everyone can become oppressed."
After the screening, Blanco will fly to Norway for his artist residency at Hordaland Kunstsenter, where he's working on his first play. "It's about a gay man and his female best friend who take acid, and the woman accidentally becomes pregnant, and then they basically get abducted into this polygamous cult with this other man and his wife."
Blanco is as prolific as he is multi-faceted — and his work never ceases to challenge and surprise.
'No Leash' screens Thursday, Oct. 19, at Starline Social Club. Tickets and info here.