Family Ties album art

There are few so unique rappers in the game today like Mykki Blanco. The multi-hyphenate artist is a progenitor of queer rap, yet claims more familiarity with punk and Yoko Ono. They have collaborated with the likes of Kanye West and Charli XCX, while maintaining a slowly-built-up fanbase without a major label. And judging by their newest single and music video this year, “Family Ties,” Blanco proves yet again just how distinctive they are from anyone else in hip-hop, not to mention the entire music industry.

“Family Ties,” like most of Blanco’s songs, pushes the boundaries of what qualifies as hip-hop. Blanco has opened up about how this is the first song they’ve ever sung on and not rapped, yet the genre-bending nature of the track goes even further. There’s trap beats and lilting guitars, plus a saxophone sting that elevates the song to a whole new atmosphere. Blanco’s vocals aren’t perfect like a pop star’s, nor are they supposed to be. The rawness of their voice all the better encapsulates how upset and forlorn they feel about the situation conveyed in the song, about watching someone beloved suffering due to family: “‘Cause I hate to see you solo / I hate to see you all f***ed up / I hate to see you so numb / His family ties tend to suck.” The emotions are achingly personal for Blanco, who states:

“‘Family Ties’ is the first song where I sonically found my voice and I mean that in a very literal way … I wrote this song about the relationship between my ex-boyfriend and his father that has had bouts of mental illness. When the person you love is going through a situation that you can’t alter in any way, or help or be active in trying to correct it not only hurts them but it hurts you. I think the core meaning of this song is compassion in the face of helplessness … [Michael’s] willingness to perform and be a part of this meant the world to me.” 

The song sounds more 90’s alternative than rap — though, even that comparison falls short in describing the unique nature of “Family Ties.” It’s no wonder then that R.E.M. frontman and alt-rock legend Michael Stipe not only joined Blanco for the song’s recording, but also appeared in its music video — delivering some of the most hard-hitting lyrics with, “I’m here to fix everythin’, tried to save everythin’ / Keep it up, don’t ever fall / I don’t wanna break, but I don’t wanna fake / It’s important to me that you know.”

Blanco and Stipe are the two storytellers in the mini-film, which plays out in gorgeous black-and-white. In it, Blanco comforts and confronts their boyfriend after the latter has a row with his father. The scenes shift between the father watching Stipe lay out his truth on a television, while Blanco and their boyfriend walk through an English seaside town, hang out with Blanco’s band in a basement, grow more upset as they discuss what happened earlier with the father — until it’s revealed toward the end that Blanco is holding the presumed lifeless body of their boyfriend on the beach. It’s a gut-punch of an ending for a gut-punch of a song — and a testament to how far Blanco pushes the envelope not only in their music, but also in their subject matter.

“Family Ties” is the first piece of new music since Blanco’s mini-album, Broken Hearts & Beauty Sleep, released last year. There is no concrete news yet as to what project this track might be attached to — hopefully fans, including this listener, won’t have to wait too long to find out. Be sure to check out the music video and and Spotify for Mykki Blanco’s latest hit single, “Family Ties,” below!

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