i-D meets drag rapper Mykki Blanco in Brooklyn to talk about her first full album and her fabulous wig collection.
Mykki Blanco didn’t set out to be a serious rapper; she was Michael Quattlebaum Jr’s performance art persona, and the rapping was almost incidental. But not anymore. At Brooklyn’s Afropunk Festival this summer, Mykki was muscular in flow: a tight, toned stage presence with honed lyrics that cut through the crowd’s consciousness. After a gruelling eight-month tour, she’s a hip-hop head honcho, a lean, mean, wig-wearing machine. “Honestly, who would not want to grow and get better?” she says about perfecting her rap delivery.
Mykki’s early agitprop appearance may have given the impression that she was all about punk and politics, but she’s happy to admit that dragging up is also about looking beautiful and having a ball: “Don’t make me a role model just yet. Don’t put me in this political sphere, because to be honest, I haven’t been here long enough. Let me be young and let me have fun, and when I’ve had 20 years’ worth of work, we can talk about it.”
Last autumn she released the Miss Snow White mixtape, which showcased “that poetic, artsy, but clubby, fun party side to Mykki Blanco” as opposed to the “dark mistress, seductive” vibe of the last EP. This year her first full album is coming out. “It’s going to be called Michael. I’m shooting for the moon. There will be some legendary names who have reached out to me. My album is going to be a cultural statement for 2014. I guarantee that.”
So when did you first buy a wig?
I first bought a wig in 2006 when I was 18 and did messy punk drag. As Mykki Blanco, the first time I owned a good wig was in 2011. I started with synthetic wigs – my first hair style was a thick brown wig with bangs. I’ve always pretty much worn my hair in natural tones and I would only wear bangs because I have a big forehead. I took a break from those wigs and started doing weaves. When I first started I was getting really bad weaves in Harlem, then my stylist friend sent me to this wonderful woman, Clynn Hercules, who has a salon in Flatbush in Brooklyn.
“Don’t make me a role model just yet. Don’t put me in this political sphere, because to be honest, I haven’t been here long enough. Let me be young and let me have fun, and when I’ve had 20 years’ worth of work, we can talk about it.”
What’s the difference between a wig and a weave?
A weave should be hair that is sewn in to your natural hair. That is a good weave. A bad weave is anything that involves glue. That needs to be outlawed, because it takes out your hair follicles. A weave is on a track, so individually you have to sew it in track by track. With a wig, you’re putting on a full-on piece and sewing that piece into your hair. Now you have a full head of hair! Bam! And you can [take] it out just like that and it doesn’t damage anything. All the celebrities now wear wigs. The lace front is so popular, because you can braid all of your hair down and have the entire lace front wig sewn into your hair.
You had chopped-up, shitty wigs when you were being more punk, so what look are you going for now?
Whenever I’m in a feminine look, the point is to look beautiful. I’m in a different place in my life – I’ve done that other look.
Talk us through your wigs.
There’s my Biba wig – my big, curly, 60s, 70s, natural hippie girl hair. I wear that one the most, because that’s most reflective of my personality. If I was born female, I feel like I would have that hair. The hair stylist Martin Harper sold me a wig before my big European tour. It’s very coarse, very close to what permed African-American hair would look like. That one is really good because it can have anythingdone to it. It can withstand any heat, it can be straightened, it can be crimped, it can be curled and be full. It’s real hair. It’s almost what they would call weft hair. And when I was in Paris this year, I bought three human hair lace front wigs in a really nice shop called Top Chic, off Boulevard Saint Denis near the black and African hair shops in Paris. One of them is silky and lighter brown. It’s my longest one and is really good to whip around.
Are there any wigs you won’t do?
I don’t do Tumblr hair! I always do natural colours. And I had a shoot where a photographer wanted to take a photo of me in just a hair net. I got so upset that I nearly walked off set. He wanted to use the shoot to get a photo for his own portfolio, but it’s like, “No, you’re not getting your Nan Goldin moment, this [is a] cheap shot that’s been done before.”
Do you feel like a different person in different wigs?
Different aspects come out. Like I say, she [the curly wig] is a hippie chick. Then the lighter brown one is my brunette Belle de Jour, my glamour puss. Very bombshell. With the curly one, when I have that sewn into my hair, I don’t feel the need to wear a lot of make-up. I can be interchangeably pretty and androgynously male. When I have a more straightened style, I feel the need to wear make-up every day, and definitely cross dress every day, because it’s a full look.
"My favourite thing to do is to have a full-on wig and to have no make-up and to be dressed like a boy, but wearing pink."
Do you attract different types of men according to your different wigs?
Definitely. When you’re in full make-up and full drag, you attract a certain kind of guy. When you’re looking androgynous, and you’re a boy, but you have girl hair, you attract a certain kind of guy. It’s like the Kinsey scale. My favourite thing to do is to have a full-on wig and to have no make-up and to be dressed like a boy, but wearing pink.
Whose wigs do you love?
I love Naomi Campbell’s wigs. I love Beyoncé’s wigs. I love Rihanna’s wigs.
It’s funny that it’s never fully acknowledged that these women are always wearing wigs.
To black women it’s fully acknowledged! It’s not talked about in the popular media, but black women know those are all wigs. And honestly, they’re more wigs than weaves, because a weave is harsher on your head. Women in the fashion industry in the 80s, their hairlines suffered because of the repeated use of glue and weaves, so the young pop stars and entertainers are definitely doing wigs. And to be honest, the wig industry has become so good that you can wear a wig that looks like a half weave.
What do you love about Rihanna’s wigs?
They’re flawless. Rihanna will go from a very visible weave-wig look. She recently went to Barbados and she chose a really short curly wig that looked very natural, so everyone thought that was her natural hair. My friend was like, “That’s a wig. That’s a short, curly style.” We were like, “No, that’s her hair.” Then we were like, “Wait, you’re right.” Because ten days later she had a new weave with her own real hair showing, and you could see the difference. I love that Rihanna’s wigs are so good. Beyoncé’s are always really good too. She’s had a consistent hairstyle for so long.
I love Naomi’s. She always has the highest quality. She has been at the forefront of innovations in the hair industry and what black women can do with their hair. Naomi and Tyra [Banks] come from a time when being a supermodel [meant] they were shooting every day, and had to switch their hair like that, with sew-in and glue-in weaves and wigs. They also come from a time when a lot of people in that industry did not know how to do black hair. Naomi and Tyra are hair icons.