Skip to main content

The Return of Amanda Blank

The influential genre-busting rapper-singer is readying her first studio album since 2009. To make it, she had to confront some old wounds.

Amanda Blank always thought there was something magical about her old bedroom. Located on the third floor of a narrow rowhouse in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood, it was her mother’s art studio first, then her older sister Katey’s bedroom, and finally, when she was a teen, hers. She transformed it into a time capsule of 1990s cool: The walls were covered with torn-out magazine pages and posters of PJ Harvey, Lil’ Kim, Björk — artists who taught her that truly feeling all your feelings was its own kind of power. She spent a lot of time there thinking about what a career in music would look like. At her first concert, a No Doubt/Weezer show in 1997, she had watched with awe as Gwen Stefani climbed the rafters and did pushups onstage. Later, Katey introduced her to indie acts like Mazzy Star and Cibo Matto, whose enigmatic frontwomen felt like a glimpse of the future. “I remember thinking, ‘I can be in a band too,’” Blank says today. “I always did know I was going to do this — I just didn’t think this was going to be the vehicle.”

“This” turned out to be a wildly different kind of music career: that of a tongue-twisting, foulmouthed rapper who, some executives will tell you, belongs on the Mount Rushmore of female MCs; a songwriter who would influence some of the biggest producers working in music today; an artist whose time in the spotlight was brief but whose fandom is as cultish as any superstar’s. You probably didn’t know her. But if you did, she was everything.

More than 15 years ago, Blank emerged from a community of artists whose collisions of cultures and styles have since reverberated across pop music. There was Diplo, the soon-to-be-star DJ-producer whose Hollertronix parties in Philly with DJ Lowbudget became a hotbed of emerging talent; his early collaborator M.I.A., whose patchwork of glitchy beats and global sounds made her an icon; Naeem Juwan, the raunchy provocateur who helped elevate Baltimore club music as Spank Rock; and Santigold, whose punk-band background powered her own fusion of new wave, reggae and electronic music.

They rose to fame during a very particular moment in pop history. Post-iTunes and pre-streaming, recorded-music profits were in a steep decline, while the growth of social media had ripped open a superhighway between the underground and a hungry mainstream. It wasn’t strange, at a time when Myspace was launching entire careers, for one of Blank’s earliest recordings to be an official remix of Britney Spears’ “Gimme More.” “It was really messy, first-wave-internet stuff – you saw it later with Odd Future and also with Skrillex, this phenomenon of people creating a scene,” says former Spank Rock producer Alex Epton (previously known as XXXChange). “It embodied this youth-culture moment of what the kids are into.”

Blank, whose real name is Amanda McGrath (her stage name is a nod to Amy Sedaris’ hot-mess protagonist from Strangers With Candy), was not the scene’s biggest star. Yet her snarling, motormouth raps stood out amid a wave of indie women rappers, from bloghouse darling Uffie to Chicago party-starter Kid Sister. Before he co-founded Major Lazer and worked with Beyoncé, British producer Dave “Switch” Taylor says Blank’s music, and the scene she was a part of, motivated him to come to the United States: “I was like, ‘I’m going to go and find her.’” Benny Blanco, who would go on to craft smash singles for Kesha and Katy Perry, credits Blank as one of the first people in the industry to embrace him. “She definitely influenced me,” he says. “When I was making all my first pop records, it was the things I was taught from being in the studio with her and Naeem and Santigold.” Even the notoriously prickly Azealia Banks once tweeted that Blank “s–ts on every female rappers’ live show.”

Blank’s debut album on Downtown Records, 2009’s I Love You, hit all the notes of an epic night out — the pregame, the seedy afterparty, the sunrise comedown. One minute she’d be channeling Le Tigre (the punky “Make It Take It”), the next doing a gender-flipped take on LL Cool J (“A Love Song”) before diving into electronic production evoking today’s hyperpop. It was an album, she often said at the time, for “girls and gay boys.” Yet the way Blank rejected the rapper-singer binary (along with her unflinching lyrics about sex) made her anathema to some critics, and the album was not a wild success: It sold 4,000 copies its first week in the U.S. and to date has earned 29,000 equivalent album units, according to MRC Data. “I [thought] it was really going to get a lot more attention, and it was really frustrating when it didn’t,” says Switch, who worked on many of its tracks. “To combine all those lanes was a little confusing, and I think that’s why it didn’t really connect.”

Her creative instincts, however, were spot-on. “She’s just always doing something that may seem insane in the moment, and then years later, you’re like, ‘Damn, she was right,’” says Blanco. In the years following, the industry tried to capitalize on both rappers flirting with pop music and pop stars flirting with rap, with varying degrees of success and/or corniness. Today, Blank’s chameleonic talents have endeared her to a whole cohort of pop shape-shifters embracing genre fluidity. “It just hit every box for me,” says singer-songwriter Shamir, who cites Blank’s musical “fearlessness” as a major influence. I Love You, he points out, would have been tailor-made for the streaming era; every song could land on a different playlist. “She’s just a great songwriter first and foremost, no matter what production has been put behind it.”

But following the album’s release, Blank did something unusual: She publicly retreated from the music industry almost entirely. Her quaint social media presence — she and Juwan share a joint Twitter account, @SpankandBlank — and the fact that she has not released a solo album in over a decade have given her a semimythical reputation in some circles. A few years ago, a major-label A&R friend called to tell Blank that her name had come up in a meeting about possible collaborators for a project, only for the meeting’s attendees to decide that Blank was impossible to get ahold of. When we meet in November at a hip Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles, Blank, 38, still finds it funny.

“I’m not, like, Thom Yorke!” she says with a laugh so raspy it could trigger an ASMR response. With her long black hair and a monochromatic outfit the color of Barney the dinosaur — a friend once said her personal style resembled a “stripper in beauty school” — she is hard to miss. “I do still make music, but I also know a lot of people are like, ‘Where the hell is she?’ No, I’m here! I exist, actually!”

The truth is, she explains, her absence didn’t just happen out of nowhere. There were the battles with her label, the egos and competition that warped her peer group, the misogynistic message board comments she can still recite from memory — all of which rocked her sense of place in the industry so much that, on multiple occasions, Blank mentions she was surprised I wanted to interview her at all. (At one point, she says she wondered if this was partly just an excuse to meet her boyfriend, Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders.)

But after nearly a decade of treating music more as a hobby than a career, the magic of her teenage bedroom pulled her back. In early 2018, Blank found herself in a deep depression following some tumult in her love life. She retreated to Philadelphia, where Katey and her husband, Steven Haslam, had taken over her childhood home years before. Haslam, a musician who had co-written a song on Blank’s first album, suggested they play guitar to cheer her up. “It was the first time I felt light,” Blank says, “like I could forget feeling like my life was falling apart.”

So, he told her to come back the next day, and the day after that — whatever it took to get her feeling like her old self again. In no time at all, they started writing songs like “Put Me Out” and “Love You Again,” raw, nostalgic tunes that told the story of a love that burned hot and ended badly. They started working from Blank’s old bedroom, which had become, over the years, “the one weird room in the house where you just put all the s–t you didn’t know what to do with,” Blank says. But a few months before Blank started writing those songs, she and her sister had cleaned out the room and realized, behind the towers of boxes, that the walls were exactly as she had left them. Inspiration flowed as her heroes looked on: Between February and June of 2018, she wrote and recorded what would become The Ruiner, her first studio album since 2009, which she plans to release independently in early 2022 through her own label, Baby Bitch Music.

With flashes of Strokes-esque garage rock, howling vocals and covers of Julie Ruin and PJ Harvey, The Ruiner marks a major evolution. Blank isn’t worried about whether old fans will come along for the ride. “I got to make the record I always wanted to make,” she says. But putting it out also means opening herself up to the world in a way she hasn’t in years.

Amanda Blank
Amanda Blank Thom Lessner

It all started with Amanda Blank’s verse on Spank Rock’s “Bump,” 93 seconds of boasts and barbs that escalate with the urgency of an 18-wheeler rolling downhill with cut breaks. It is the Nicki Minaj “Monster” verse of white rappers, in that it’s the kind of verse that could pour rocket fuel on any career, and because knowing all the words was a particular badge of honor for some millennials at the turn of the decade. Blanco bluntly describes it as Blank “f–king your ears with no condom on.”

Juwan, who now records as Naeem, put her up to it. They met roughly 20 years ago in Philadelphia, when he was a shy Baltimore transplant studying at Drexel University and Blank was working odd jobs. She had been kicked out of high school three times (“Grades, fighting, truancy,” she deadpans) then out of beauty school “because I would go to my friend’s house around the corner and smoke weed on my lunch break,” she says the day after our first meetup, standing in the foyer of the sleek home she shares with Helders; Juwan is sitting at the kitchen counter. The two would see each other at all the same dance parties and eventually became inseparable. “We have all these similarities, but who we are physically in these bodies is like a yin yang,” Juwan says in a near-mumble.

Blank wrote her “‘Bump” verse in her teenage bedroom, during a brief stay between apartments in her early 20s. Since she was in high school, Blank and her girlfriends had written little raps to perform for friends and at parties, never with the intention of becoming actual rappers. But Juwan thought she had something, and her inexperience is part of what makes “Bump” great. Because she didn’t know how to properly structure a song, her original verse went on for almost three minutes — she rapped the final stretches in breathless double-time because that was the only way to fit it all. When Juwan asked her to do the song live, she was terrified.

“It’s funny, because Naeem is an amazing performer,” she says, turning to him. “And you being so confident and being in your element helped me.”

“I really did feel like I had a secret weapon, like, I can’t f–king wait till Amanda comes out,” he replies. “I knew I was performing with a unicorn.”

Onstage, they were an enthralling sight. Their chemistry was palpable, if hard to place: Was it sexual or platonic? Blank had an almost feral presence: A little hunched over, her knees swinging wildly, she often moved her arms as if she were casting spells with the microphone. It led to some strange first impressions. “I met Naeem first and was blown away by what he was, and then Amanda shows up looking like this total hipster with these vintage animal-print pants and bodysuits,” Santigold says. “They said she was a rapper, and I was like, Really?”

But after watching Blank perform, she was sold. Unlike some of the white female rappers that came up after her, Blank never really dealt with the same degree of credibility issues. The conversation about cultural appropriation was quieter back then, but she and Juwan both say the only criticism she got about being a white rapper came from other white people. Having grown up in historically Black Germantown, Blank says she was wary of sounding like she was using a “Blaccent,” even as producers sometimes encouraged her to do so. Perhaps that’s why, at the height of the Iggy Azalea Thinkpiece Industrial Complex, it wasn’t hard to find comments, tweets and blog posts proposing Blank as a more palatable alternative. “I don’t think she was trying to take on the predefined box of what a female rapper was,” says Santigold, who also grew up in Philadelphia. “I don’t think she was trying to be anything other than what she was — and I don’t think it was hard to believe, because it was so weird anyway.”

As Blank became a fixture of Juwan’s live show, the two developed a word-of-mouth buzz; some fans would come to Spank Rock sets just on the chance that Blank would make an appearance. The DJ and songwriter Alex Chapman, known for his work with Kim Petras, recalls “specifically going to Lollapalooza” in 2008 for that reason. “Spank Rock had a huge stage presence — you couldn’t ask for a cooler artist if you made him in a lab — and the way she was able to go toe-to-toe with him was super exciting,” he says.

The industry took note, too. After a Los Angeles gig with Spank Rock in 2006, she met renowned hip-hop manager Corey Smyth, who manages Vince Staples and has worked with Talib Kweli, Mos Def, De La Soul, Dave Chappelle and others. He would manage her for the next few years. When I ask Smyth today how he would describe Blank’s rapping ability, his answer is immediate. “Better than most dudes,” he says. “There are few that can do it like that. Jean Grae is up there. Lauryn’s up there. Rah Digga. There are few that can really sit at the table, and you’re not like, ‘She’s good for a girl.’ Amanda’s the s–t. She’ll eat you up, no question.”

Amanda Blank
Amanda Blank performing at The Electric Factory in Philadelphia in 2009. Roger Kisby/GI

Becoming Amanda Blank the Rapper was not always something she felt she could control. In 2007, she signed to Downtown Records, led by co-founder Josh Deutsch, and Downtown Music Publishing for, Blank says, a six-figure advance. For Blank, whose rent at the time was $150 a month for a room in a shared house, it felt like she stumbled into a career. Others in her peer group, including Juwan and Santigold, also joined the roster. “I thought they were a cool indie label who was going to let me be who I am,” she says.

Downtown, at the time fresh off its success with Gnarls Barkley, had high hopes for Blank. In a 2009 Billboard article, Deutsch described how the label would push her to top 40 after building buzz on music blogs and with TV synchs. Such ambition made sense at the time: M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” had catapulted her to crossover stardom the year before, after it was featured in the Pineapple Express movie trailer. And while Blank’s creative instincts can be rebellious to the point of seeming contrarian — she once wrote a verse for a Steve Aoki song made up of dozens of G.G. Allin song references — she wasn’t opposed, in theory. If the label wanted a pop star, she had a whole vision for a Gwen-Stefani-in-Miami album, inspired by the booty bass and freestyle music she heard growing up.

Yet Blank describes the making of I Love You as a creative struggle with the label. “They changed their mind all the time — ‘Be a rapper.’ ‘Do pop songs,’” she recalls. “They were like, ‘Can you give us 10 versions of ‘Bump’? Can you do a ‘Galang,’ a ‘Creator’?” she adds, referencing other breakout songs by M.I.A. and Santigold. Battles over the track list and her image ensued. She and others interviewed for this story remember Downtown rejecting her original album cover, in which she appeared upset with arty makeup on her face, because it wasn’t flattering enough. Blank also recalls Downtown “begging” her to remove photos on her Myspace page of Sweatheart, a Philly rock band she performed in that was known for wearing ridiculous costumes onstage.

“I felt completely bullied into making that album the way that it was,” she says. “I know I wasn’t the only artist [on Downtown] to have a difficult time making their record and feeling pushed to do something bigger, to work with these bigger producers. I was like, ‘You guys want me to be Lady Gaga, but you don’t want to give me a Lady Gaga budget!’” (Deutsch declined to comment.)

It wasn’t just the label pushing her in different directions. The “boys club” of DJ-producers in her orbit, she says, also had strong opinions about what kind of artist she should be and often pitted her against her female peers. (Though they are now dear friends, she and Downtown labelmate Kid Sister “didn’t speak for years,” Blank says. “Everyone was in our ears: ‘She’s copying you, she’s stealing your hit, she took your idea, she’s dressing like you.’”) The spotlight on the scene — which made stars of not just artists but also behind-the-scenes creatives — meant that friends who once collaborated organically suddenly found their relationships uncomfortably professionalized and the competition among them heightened. “Too much collaboration can lead to an unbalanced group of egos,” Switch says. “Once people start realizing this is going to go somewhere, everyone starts getting even more grabby.”

Blank recalls one particularly uncomfortable day in the studio near the end of recording. She was there with a group that included Juwan, Switch and Epton, and she and Epton got into a disagreement. “He totally talked down to me in front of everybody, and it was embarrassing — a lot of comparing me to Santi, who’s not a rapper,” she says. “I probably went to the bathroom and cried because I felt small and stupid.” She takes a deep breath. “I was exhausted. These people had given me hundreds of thousands of dollars to make this album. They’re now telling me they don’t like what I want to make, to make this [instead]. I was trying to please everybody and did not know how to speak up for myself. I did the opposite of this personality being portrayed — a take-no-s–t type of bitch — and just completely cowered and kowtowed to all the people I thought I had to.”

To Juwan, it felt like people around Blank were trying to mold an artist who didn’t need molding. “It’s not like they were working with some young pop star who has a great voice but doesn’t have any imagination,” he says. (Blank and Epton eventually moved on and continued to work together; he has no recollection of that day but allows that “just because I don’t remember doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” noting that the final stages of making any album are often pressure-cooker environments. “I’m sorry I made her feel bad, but I need to tell her that — I gotta call her now.”)

The reviews of I Love You echoed some of the feedback she received, docking Blank for the ways she did not follow a more established archetype. A 2.0 Pitchfork review declared her “Lady Gaga minus the tunes, ambition or sense of purpose,” called her a puppet for male producers and generally seemed offended by her existence: “A line must be drawn in the sand, and thrusting her crotch in the air obliviously on the wrong side of the divide is Amanda Blank.” Even less hostile reviews took issue with Blank’s refusal to pick a lane, like a 5-out-of-10 Spin review that presented sexed-up party-girl jams and more emotional material as an either-or proposition. Some critics seemed to have no context at all, writing about the song “Make-Up” as if it were a Blank original, not, as it was, a cover of Prince’s girl-group protégées Vanity 6.

“God forbid you have any range whatsoever,” Blank says. “It’s interesting, because now it would be so widely accepted.”

“People get applauded for doing everything [musically],” Juwan responds. “Look at — what’s the girl? Doja Cat? Nobody blinks.”

“She has three songs on the radio right now and they all sound wildly different!” Blank blurts out. “I think she’s great.”

Blank toured the album extensively, opening for acts including Peaches, Matt and Kim, Santigold and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. By 2010, she had come off the road and started work on new music after Downtown upstreamed her to Interscope, which expressed interest in rereleasing the album with a few extra tracks. She went to L.A. for a month to make “a radio hit,” Blank says with an eye roll, but mostly she and Switch “just smoked a ton of weed and drank a ton” and made a bunch of songs with Swedish-American singer Mapei. Instead of feeling like a lifeline, she thought it was a lost cause. “I’m sure I get in my own way in a variety of ways,” she says, “but I definitely tried. I just knew I was never going to be what they wanted, and I was right.”

The Interscope opportunity fizzled. And when Downtown Records dropped her later that year, she wasn’t surprised either — she recouped her advance, she says, but she certainly wasn’t making Gnarls Barkley money. Still, it stung. “To be dropped from a situation when you weren’t given the opportunity to really do you, you don’t really know how to figure that out,” Smyth says. “It’s like, ‘Let me just get away from it,’ because they will make you question yourself. I’m sure Amanda questioned herself.”

Blank recalls a headlining show at New York’s Santos Party House in early 2010. She didn’t normally perform “Leaving You Behind” — a wounded ballad with Lykke Li she remembers fighting to get on the album — but there was a group of young women in the front row who kept calling for it; when Blank honored the request, they sang along with tears in their eyes.

“I really struggled with, ‘What kind of music do I do next, because that’s the thing that feels good to me, but I don’t think people want to hear this from me,’” she says. “I know those girls wanted to hear something from me. But you go into a session and producers are like, ‘Do your Missy Elliott thing, do your Nicki thing.’ I just didn’t have a gauge on people’s interest in me.” Maybe, she thought, “nobody wants to hear another album from me.”

Amanda Blank
Amanda Blank Thom Lessner

There were other factors that contributed to Blank’s semihiatus. Around the time she released I Love You, she started working with longtime Coldplay manager Dave Holmes but was later dropped during a reorganization of the roster, leaving her a bit rudderless. A lot happened in Blank’s personal life over the next few years, too. A few close friends died, and she lost two cousins, an aunt and an uncle within a year. She was living in Los Angeles but spending a lot of time in Philly, regrouping with her family and the same crew of friends she’s had since kindergarten. “My sister’s always like, ‘What’d you do for 10 years? You were a professional best friend,’” says Blank.

She thought about going back to school. She made visual art and helped out some of her comedian friends with their shows and projects. Paying her bills wasn’t really an issue. Downtown’s publishing division had a robust licensing strategy that sought to place her music in as many advertisements and screen projects as possible. As album sales became a less viable source of income in the digital era, the indie world became much more open-minded about brand partnerships. Meanwhile, the rise of music blogs and platforms like iTunes put a new premium on music discovery. “Brands [realized] it doesn’t have to be a hit — your customers will like that you turned them on to something new,” says Gabe McDonough, executive producer at music supervision and composition firm Music and Strategy.

The artistic range that confounded so many in the industry, it turned out, made Blank a music supervisor’s dream. “We were getting a lot of requests from people just centering her: ‘What’s Amanda up to?’” says Jedd Katrancha, executive vp at Downtown Music Services, who worked with her publishing catalog until last year, when Concord acquired a number of Downtown copyrights. (Downtown’s label and publishing business were split in 2013.) “Amanda was one of those people everybody wanted to meet. Everybody wanted to see Amanda live, everybody wanted to be Amanda’s friend.”

Blank can still rattle off the synch highlights. She soundtracked a big McDonald’s spot (“I lived off that f–king McDonald’s commercial for two years”), and she had a song in a Baileys ad, which she liked because it would sometimes air during Real Housewives commercial breaks (“All my friends would be like, ‘Bitch, I just saw your commercial!’”). Her song “Make It Take It” was also featured in the 2012 documentary Katy Perry: Part of Me, which she says she also lived off for about a year. (Perry and Blank later ran into each other at a Grammy party: “She grabbed me like, ‘I love you!’ I was like, ‘Thanks, I love you too!’ ‘No — you’re in my movie!’ I’m like, ‘I know!’”)

Blank never stopped making music. She still collaborated with Juwan and did occasional shows. Smyth asked her to ghostwrite for a few “big names,” he says, while Switch brought her along to writing camps for Rihanna and Beyoncé and worked with her on song ideas for No Doubt and Missy Elliott. The pathway from indie favorite to behind-the-scenes pop player is well trod among Blank’s peer group, but like many artists adjusting to the competitive world of hitmaking, she found the process awkward: “I was like, ‘Yeah, I would take 2% on a Beyoncé song!’ And then you get there, and there are 10 different writers and producers in different rooms.” Writing for young pop artists was like pulling teeth. “They’re dead behind the eyes,” she says. “I finally said to my producer friends who were bringing me in, ‘Don’t even call me in for it.’”

The amount of unreleased music Blank describes could be the stuff of music-blog legend. There are songs with Kid Sister, Santigold and Juwan. When she was working on new tracks for Interscope, she hit the studio with producers including Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and No I.D. (Jay-Z, Kanye West). She has enough solo material, she says, for “a mixtape, an EP, an album.”

None of it ever comes out because, well, Blank isn’t sure. “As much as I love it,” she says, “I think I had just gotten so far away from my love for it.” She’s always down to make music with her friends — it’s what comes after, all the things you must do to get people to hear it and get paid for it, that started feeling more soul-sucking than worth it. At first, this seems mind-boggling: Couldn’t she just chuck songs out on SoundCloud or streaming platforms? But for Blank, simply doing the work of making art had become its own endgame. If it wasn’t going to be fun, what was the point?

Back in her teenage bedroom, Blank noticed an urgency around The Ruiner she hadn’t felt before. Yes, it was an album album, with a real story and sonic throughline, but it also felt like hers — her words, her directions, her production ideas. As the material came together, Blank and Haslam assembled a band to flesh out the material. She also brought in producers Sam Green and Grave Goods, who worked on Juwan’s 2020 album, Startisha, to add some polish.

“It was the first time I felt completely in the driver’s seat,” she says, her voice cracking. She chokes up while talking about her collaborators. “They never talked down to me. They’re much better musicians than me and never made me feel like I didn’t deserve a spot with them. They treated me with so much respect that I never got in the room before.”

Tears are now streaming down her cheeks. “The actual act of making music was something where I sometimes felt, ‘You’re just lucky to be here,’” she continues. “‘You’re the side piece to Naeem — he’s the real artist.’”

Shaking that off took time, age and a lot of therapy. “Of course there’s the part of me that gives a f–k, it’s just now the other part of me that doesn’t eclipses that,” she says. She knows it’s a privilege to step back and coast off royalties for years, but dealing with the losses she went through, especially at a time when she felt so unmoored, put a lot of things in perspective. “The older you get, the more you really realize what you value,” she says. “I want people to think I’m fun and hot and cool and make good music, sure. But there’s no f–king currency there.”

At this point, The Ruiner has been finished for a few years. Reintroducing herself to the world, especially during a pandemic, has been a slow process. Early on she sent the album to Smyth, who told her he loved it but that he wasn’t the right person to help her with a rock record. She took a few meetings with other male managers, but they seemed hung up on the fact that she wasn’t making the kind of music she used to. “They couldn’t adjust the lens they saw me through,” she says. (Blank hasn’t ruled out making another rap project — lately, she says, the idea has been more appealing.) Juwan suggested she meet with Polsia Ryder, who has held top roles at several independent labels and remembered Blank from her early days. “She inspires me with how very clear and confident she is,” Ryder says, “especially on how women are or should be treated in music.”

All that’s left now, Blank says, is to just finish the artwork, pick a release date and commit to it. Making those kinds of decisions is, for her, harder than it may sound — a remnant, she says, of her first time making a record, when it felt like so many people were questioning her choices. But an internal compass guides her now. A few nights ago, when Juwan was hanging out at the house, they revisited a song they made a few years ago called “Beeper Boyz.” It’s hard to find on the internet, but she can still remember the electricity in the room when she’d finish a take of her verse. “When I nail it,” she says, “I know I nail it.”

That’s how she feels about The Ruiner. It’s the album she needed to pull her out of a dark place, and she’d like to think it can help someone out there who’s feeling like their life is falling apart, too. Everything else is just a bonus. The walls of her old bedroom have since come down — few time capsules truly last forever — but what Blank rediscovered there remains. Back in December, she posted a thank-you note on Instagram to everyone who had supported her new single, “Love You Again,” accompanied by a photo of herself, bathed in blue and purple light, looking right at the camera. “The selfie is to remind all of you that even when I’m singing out sad love songs I am the baddest of all bad bitches and so are you,” she wrote. “Don’t forget it.”