At first glance, 22 year old transfeminine rapper Michete (who has no particular preference re: pronouns) reads as a novelty act. From the chintzy beats to the low-production value videos to the litany of pop culture references, whether or not Michete means business isn’t entirely clear. But that all gets cleared up toward the end of the lead single “Rap Game Kimmy Gibbler” off her debut EP Cool Tricks. The foul-mouthed Full House allusions begin to cohere into genuine swagger and Michette drops lines like “If I’m a queen, then I guess that you’re a princess/Don on the mic like Ninja Turtle incest.” By the time she raps “real linguists drop bombs and sink ships,” it’s obvious that Michete intends to cause some serious damage. Across Cool Tricks’ brief runtime, she unleashes a torrent of caustic, jeering rage toward vapid fuckboys, jealous straight girls, manipulative closet cases, but, most importantly, toward the violent, queerphobic world she inhabits. To be trans* while being confidently, brazenly crass is a fundamentally subversive act and Michete is a welcome corrective to the static media image of trans* people as walking tragedies. Of course, she takes this all a step further by actually being pretty damn good.
Michete has described his own production aesthetic as “the audio equivalent of a 7 year old drawing w/ crayons” and music writer Andy Emitt has dubbed the style as “qrap”—a portmanteau of “queer,” “crap,” and “rap.” The music is certainly impish in its intentional sloppiness and recalls the lurid, brittle economy of early-aughts electroclash. But beneath the veneer of Michete’s qrappy beats linger lyrics that are as delightfully clever as they are willfully stupid. “Red Rover” features the familiar stomp-stomp-clap of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” as Michete raps about seducing straight boys: “Let me show you who I am/Cause you got me wantin’ you like my name was Uncle Sam…I make you question everything you’ve ever known/Got that knick-knack, patty-wack, give a dog a bone.” Halfway in, the song plunges into a B-movie, horrorcore breakdown before Michete makes the Queen reference explicit with the lines: “That’s nut on your face!/A big disgrace!/Damn right I’mma put you back into your place”—effectively reclaiming Freddie Mercury’s queerness from classic rock’s heteronormative and homophobic narrative.
On “Caps Lock,” he raps with surprising technical facility while casually brushing off the leeches and sycophants who’ll want to use him for his inevitable fame. The song “#fuckboy” opens with the line “Question: tell me how you feel about me/I rap my own lyrics and I make my own beats/I got my own tricks and I do my own stunts/Can’t name another bitch that can do it so cunt” which sums up Michete’s lyrical stance—a sarcastic plea for respect that leads to the inevitable conclusion of her own greatness. Michete courts conflict without really worrying how that conflict might be resolved. And conflict abounds on Cool Tricks, much of it not easily reconcilable.
First of all, there’s the issue of race. Michete is a white rapper demanding to be taken seriously. In a world plagued by countless permutations of Macklemore and Iggy Azalea, issues of appropriation, authenticity, and caricature rear their heads whenever a white person decides to rap. In his piece on Michete for Pitchfork, Andy Emitt wonders “To what degree can other categories of oppression like gender identity and sexuality qualify a (white) rapper as authentic, despite their equal appropriation of fundamental facets of black culture?” A valid question indeed, but I’d argue that while she may not address the issue explicitly, Michete does a decent job of acknowledging her own whiteness—at least obliquely. First of all, worth noting is that Michete doesn’t employ any kind of blacccent in her music—a fact not in itself worthy of praise, but this at least moves her away from the likes of Iggy and Macklemore and closer to someone like Peaches who raps in a way that seems to eschew caricature.
However, there’s no denying that Michete borrows plenty of formal and stylistic tropes from hip-hop; braggadocio abounds and “Rap Game Kimmy Gibbler” makes it plain that Michete sees herself as being a part of the rap world. But as far as subject matter goes, things couldn’t get any whiter—and this is what makes her so damn interesting. Michete employs a small army of pop culture characters (including but not limited to: Patty Mayonnaise, Patrick Star, Choose Goose, Duckee, Seto Kaiba, Tingle [Koo-loo-limpah!], and of course Kimmy Gibbler)—characters that have long represented and reified the soggy status-quo of white suburban America. By recasting those characters as weapons of queer rage, Michete interrogates White America’s heteronormativity and queerphobia at gunpoint.
There are plenty of other issues on Cool Tricks that are not so easily justified; there’s that Hitler joke on “Kimmy Gibbler” and of course Michete’s use of the word “faggot” which is used in such hateful contexts that it borders on toxic (especially on “Closet Case Fags”). But to my ears, these instances sound more like a complex individual wrestling with a turbulent worldview than they do an unthinking system of cultural values weighed down by its own inertia. Moreover, these ethical ambiguities are exactly what make Cool Tricks feel so vital and, to that extent, Michete is a much needed complication to the current dialogue surrounding identity politics. Those whose ideas on such matters amount to little more than moral absolutism will have a difficult time making sense of Michete as his music demands to be grappled with. But at the same time it also demands that you have fun. While much of what I like about Michete lies in his aggressive subversiveness, I can’t help but laugh and smile at every ribald line on Cool Tricks—a record as irreverent as it is thrilling.
Joshua Palmer is a writer, musician, and dilettante-about-town living in San Antonio, Texas. He graduated from Trinity University with a major in Wumbology, a minor in English, and did his Honors Thesis on the effects of listening to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds while crying in bed about stupid boys who don’t even deserve you. He does not have a twitter and apologizes to everyone for this.