How to describe Mykki Blanco? The artist has drawn from rap, punk, riot girl and art history to create work that is thrilling and vital in equal measure. Mykki is Blanco’s long awaited debut album, and is the culmination of years spent at the bleeding edge of underground rap. It’s hard to define the record as any one genre, because whilst Blanco predominantly raps on the record, it has the anger of punk mixtape Gay Dog Food and touches of world-weary soul - a new mode for the artist.

Mykki opens with ‘I’m In A Mood’, possibly the best introduction you could possibly get to Blanco - if you happen to be late to the party. Over phasing synthesisers and a stuttering rhythm section, Blanco blurs the line between the feminine and masculine. At times evoking vulnerability, at others aggression. Jean Deaux provides an otherworldly backing vocal that counterpoints Blanco’s voice perfectly. Jean Deaux takes a more prominent role on the following track, ‘Loner’. It’s possibly the most accessible track of Blanco’s career to date. The up-tempo chimes and steel drum percussion seems to hint at a twist on the dancehall influence that flows through modern pop music, whilst the tempo of the track sees Blanco rapping at a speed we’ve rarely seen before. Despite it being the one song on this record that’s the farthest removed from Blanco’s usual style, at no point does it feel awkward. The lyrics are smart and the interplay with the backing tracking and Deaux’s vocals is sharp.

The production throughout Mykki is superb, with Blanco working alongside producers Jeremiah Meece and Woodkid to create a record that pulls from a multitude of genres, inside and outside of hip-hop. ‘My Nene’ draws from the same oddball vein as ‘Hazeboogie’ and sees Blanco’s vocal performance flipping genders on a dime, with a killer percussive beat through the song’s second half. ‘Fendi Band’, meanwhile, which appears towards the end of the album, is what Blanco calls “a classic Mykki Blanco motif track.” It draws equally from Southern rap as it does hardcore, with a sinister, sub-beat and high pitched stabs that edge the track closer to fetishised horror.

Those two tracks make evident the level of artistic freedom granted to Blanco for this record, an incredible feat given the struggle that has gone into getting this album both recorded and released. Despite rising to prominence in 2012 with tracks like ‘Wavvy’ and ‘Hazeboogie’ and playing shows alongside Björk, Death Grips and Tricky, it’s taken four years to put out a proper full-length debut. An album, known at the time as Michael (Blanco’s birth name), was discussed back in 2014, but mentions of it soon dried up, with Blanco at one point quitting music to pursue investigative journalism.

The turning point came in 2015, when Blanco announced that he was HIV positive. Expecting it to be career suicide at a time when getting a record deal seemed almost impossible, it had the opposite effect. Blanco’s announcement was met with an outpouring of support. As well as this Blanco realised the importance of voices like his speaking up about issue that are often ignored in the mainstream media, or distorted to fit a political agenda. ‘You Don’t Know Me’, the album’s emotional crescendo, directly addresses the fallout from this announcement. “Buzzing on the block I guess you heard the news / I’m moving through the city like a predator burning dudes,” Blanco raps at one point, echoing the kind of tabloid scaremongering that forces people to keep their condition a secret, allowing it to mutate into a personal demon. The backing relies heavily on piano, percussion that recalls industrial machinery and the ambient hum of a city. It’s a deeply affecting mix, with Blanco’s voice and the piano standing out against the more inhuman instrumentation.

Whilst moments like this support the idea that Blanco’s debut is deeply personal record, it’s not without its lighter moments. ‘For the Cunts’ a screwy bubblegum-club track that Blanco describes as something that “could get played on Ru Paul’s Drag Race” is possibly the most straight-up fun track Blanco’s done. Sure the bitchiness of the lyrics and the chorus laughter might not appeal to everyone, but it features an infectious house beat and an instantly memorable chorus hook. Elsewhere ‘Hideaway’, which features a gorgeous vocal from Jeremiah, sees Blanco put out what deserves to be the album’s biggest hit. A subversion of the drug-pushing tropes present in hip-hop, it shows how interesting a writer Blanco is. On top of that, the vocals are paired with beautiful airy synths and satisfying snare hits that give the track a melodic quality that other areas of the album eschew in favour of more experimental production.

It may seem easy to throw around words like “accessible” and “pop” in regards to this debut album, but Mykki does not lack the provocative edge of Blanco’s earlier releases. Sure it doesn’t have the mutant concept of Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss but it’s certainly just as confident subverting gender tropes and confronting very real, painful topics as that early mixtape. Mykki is a well-crafted, incisive debut record that proves to be well worth the wait.