Gay Dog Food is a bold statement without a lot of substance, one that isn't even sure of its own meaning.
"You can choose to call me a gay rapper, you can choose to not even call me a rapper if you want to, it doesn't matter."
-- Mykki Blanco
Per the quote above, given in a press statement and expressed across multiple interviews, Mykki Blanco doesn't care if you think of her as a rapper. I don't know if she needs to be particularly worried about anyone pigeonholing her, at least not based on her newest, Gay Dog Food. Billed as an "experimental mixtape", the closest box with the word "rap" on it that one could put it in is post-rap. But as a gnarled web of dissonance with an in-your-face punk aesthetic, Blanco clearly has more in common these days with Jello Biafra than with Jeezy, the former a music culture deconstructionist while the latter sticks to a limited template that aims for the center of that culture.
At its root, Gay Dog Food is a record about identity, and not just gender identity (Mykki Blanco is the Lil Kim-inspired feminine stage persona of Michael Quattlebaum). The album also touches on issues of sexual identity, race, socio-economic strata, and the thin line between childhood and adulthood. It's a big idea packaged in a gritty, noisy exterior that shows a deep love for Death Grips. The issue, though, is one of execution.
Two of Blanco's biggest singles to date both had a firm foot in rap while subtly massaging its limits. "Haze.Boogie.Life" was a dark, malevolent club track, while "She Gutta" started with a swarm of noise and was more about atmospherics than lyrics. Here, Blanco's interests are far more scattershot: gnarled guitar, ambient noise, industrial droning, didactic bleating, and samples lifted from The Craft, The Players Club, even the theme from That's So Raven. But those tendencies get downright lazy, with Blanco borrowing a full ten minutes from the episode of Moesha where the titular character faces discrimination while trying to take part in a debutante ball. Minus opening theme and credits, that's half an episode. Gay Dog Food isn't an hour long, but try telling yourself that halfway through the Moesha sample.
This is fairly indicative of the project as a whole. Gay Dog Food demonstrates a preference for challenging over engaging with its audience. Whereas Blanco's contemporary Le1f executes angular hip-hop with an outsider's perspective, luring listeners in with familiarity while dosing them with new ideas, Blanco goes the other way, making art ostensibly meant to keep its audience out, so what the listener is left with is a noisy collage without a clear message and songs that lack basic structure. And when combined with its rambling, sample-heavy length, the tape just feels unfocused. When one of the best tracks is a minute and a half of Jamie Krasner (aka James K) singing a cappella, it's clear that there's a problem.
Another problem is that some of Blanco's lyrics sound oddly dated. "I'm a country grammar girl, but my name ain't Nelly", she snarls at one point. She later makes a Charlie Sheen reference, and on the Cities Aviv-featuring "Moshin in the Front", Blanco yells ad infinitum, "all my white boys in the pit scream" over a throbbing industrial loop, one backwards cap and dyed-brown beard away from early-2000s Fred Durst. For all the attempts to be forward-thinking, the mixtape doesn't even sound like it's from 2014.
The mixtape does get off to an intriguing start. The vocal-free "Runny Mascara" is the soundtrack to a nightmare that flips into "New Feelings", a warped boast track where Blanco channels Lil B and rambles about "the breath of Moses" and his hopes for mankind, occasionally singing a chorus of "I'm too freaky for niggas, yeah / I'm too freaky for bitches". It's a version of Earl Sweatshirt's "too black for the white kids and too white for the blacks" that sums up Blanco's current artistic headspace. But from there, the tape just fizzles.
In the end, Gay Dog Food sounds like a bold statement without a lot of substance, one that isn't even sure of its own meaning. One might be tempted to heave the chestnut of "big on ambition, poor on execution", but Gay Dog Food actually doesn't feel that ambitious. Blanco could one day hold a place in the outer orbits of rap, alongside Death Grips and the White Mandingos and Tunde Olaniran and basically anyone in the Hellfyre Club, but based on Gay Dog Food, she's got a long way to go.