Raunchy and rapid-fire
Amanda Blank raps with a speed that just comes naturally to her
When Amanda Blank opened for her pal Santigold at the House of Blues back in June, no one knew what to expect. Statuesque with long auburn hair, Blank hadnt released her debut album yet. When she bound on stage, prancing like a 60s go-go dancer in what looked like a short black nightgown, she was giddy, almost awkward, and all megawatt smiles.
Then she opened her mouth, and you could see other mouths agape. Blank rapped like she needed Ritalin, with breakneck speed and proficiency, about all sorts of things you can Google and spare us the embarrassment of repeating in a family newspaper. Like Lil Kim, she talked trash over thumping electronic club beats and mentioned how she had tried to pick up Harvard guys earlier in the day.
Everyone had to have been thinking the same thing that night: Whats that nice girl doing up there rapping dirty (and fast!) like that?
“I know, right?’’ Blank says from her hometown of Philadelphia, keenly aware of the skepticism. “I really don’t know how any of this happened. I just started rapping when I was younger, and that was it. It’s one of the very few things that come to me naturally. I’m not really that good at a lot of things.’’
But she has been especially good at creating a magnetic persona that’s far raunchier and brazen than who she really is, kind of like fellow electro-rapper Peaches, who headlines Monday night’s show with Blank at the Paradise Rock Club.
“I’m crazy all the time, but Amanda Blank is kind of a different person in a lot of ways. It’s the super performer side of myself,’’ she says. “There are a lot of things I wouldn’t do if I wasn’t on stage and there wasn’t music in the background.’’
“Like spit on people or freak out or be quite that naked,’’ she says. “I have a vulgar sense of humor, but I’m not quite as provocative in real life. I’m kind of regular.’’
That’s not the impression Blank, 26, gives on her new album, “I Love You.’’ It is not a straight hip-hop record, and she seems to have her sights on the dance floor as much as the street corner. On “Might Like You Better,’’ you can hear the punch line before she delivers it: She might like you better if you slept together (which, of course, cribs from the Romeo Void hit “Never Say Never’’ from 1982).
Throughout the album, there are echoes of M.I.A. and Santigold, whose “I’m a Lady’’ is prominently sampled on Blank’s “A Love Song.’’ The ballad “Leaving You Behind,’’ featuring Swedish singer Lykke Li, suggests Blank has a real heart beating beneath her black leather. Meanwhile, the pulsing and perky “Make It, Take It’’ is a prime example of Blank’s seamless new-wave mashup of dance pop and rap.
Blank has a theory about how her lyrical dexterity and need for speed evolved. Growing up in the gritty part of Philly’s Germantown neighborhood, Blank has fond memories of playing jump-rope, from first grade till high school, with all the girls on her block.
“The jump-rope songs and chants were really fast, and I think that’s where some of it must have come from,’’ she says. “I was used to singing so quickly, and now I always want to rap fast.’’
As for her introduction to rap, Blank was raised in a large family - six girls, one boy - and remembers getting turned on to Big Daddy Kane through an older sister and later discovered Notorious B.I.G. and Lil’ Kim.
Even though she loved the music, she was aware of the cultural odds against her. The notion of a Caucasian female trying to make it as a credible MC seemed daunting. She has said she doesn’t consider herself a traditional rapper and imagines most rappers feel the same way. Initially, she was her own toughest critic.
“I discouraged myself early on. I liked doing it, but I didn’t want to get up and be that white girl that I hate,’’ she says, referring to Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas.
As early as age 20, Blank started messing around with music, playing covers of PJ Harvey songs before embracing her first love.
“The rapping came first. When I went to write songs, it always came out as a rap verse,’’ she says. “I couldn’t really write singing songs. I didn’t know if I really understood how to write a real song, but I could write a rap song.’’
As part of Philly’s thriving music scene, Blank started to collaborate with Diplo (the DJ and producer who’s worked with M.I.A. and Santigold) and Spank Rock, the indie hip-hop artist who encouraged Blank to pursue her talent beyond the drunken parties where she’d take the mike and rap over whatever the DJ was playing.
After performing with Spank Rock for the first time, she realized she loved the thrill of live performance. She also hasn’t limited herself, playing with the seven-piece rock band Sweatheart and working on a remix of Britney Spears’s hit “Gimme More.’’
One thing has always been constant, though: She never wants to take herself too seriously.
“If Spank Rock hadn’t pursued his music and gotten attention for it, I would have just kept doing everything I had been doing within the walls of my community,’’ she says. “I don’t want to be famous or a superstar. I really love performing, and I think that’s what sealed the deal for me to be doing this. Now I really like it. This is what I want to be doing.’’
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.