Love Thyself: An Interview With New York Rap Queen Junglepussy
Shayna McHayle's perspective is all her own, and you want it.
"I want the music to be truly uplifting. Not just uplifting in the sense that I don't need you, but uplifting in the sense of totally ignoring all fuck boys of the Earth." New York rapper Junglepussy is on the phone with The KIND. She's at a stage where following her thoughts seems to always lead to larger convictions. Just off opening for Le1f on the RIOT BOI US/Canada tour, November's release of her acclaimed first album Pregnant With Success, a lecture to Yale grad students titled "Self Love," and leading up to a performance alongside Dan Deacon at L.A.'s Broad Museum this Thursday (May 12), Junglepussy's ascension commands an ever higher vantage and clearer perspective. "The present is the only tense where you have control over what may happen in your future," she muses, undoubtedly aware of the light radiating from her own current existence.
With bold, witty songs grounded in positive philosophy, and those sumptuously edgy videos, Junglepussy possesses apex prowess. Her empowered allure is marked by an emphasis on individuality—honoring yourself by cutting the shit.
"When I wake up, I avoid my phone first thing. It's important for me to stretch, drink water, de-stress, and be aware of all that is me. I look out the window, and I'll just say, 'Yes. I am an artist. I'm starting the day with the truths that I know.'
"Usually, people will wake up and go on their phones to read thoughts from all other people. Their lies and their delusions. They'll have you feelin' a little strange, and you might not even realize it. That's the most important part of self love to me; constantly reminding yourself to focus on you, not always looking out to see what other people are putting out there, because they're not sharing their truest reflections."
Twenty-four-year-old Shayna McHayle was born to a Trinidadian mother and Jamaican father in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York. She began rapping in high school, skipping class to freestyle with friends over instrumental CDs. "We got caught. The dean said since we liked rapping so much, we had to perform at the talent show. I was like, 'Hell no!' " She laughs. "I was in a rap group called Primp, and the only one who was too shy to perform. I sat in the audience and watched."
"The whole vibe and idea is about just pushing through. Thinking about your past but not using it to hold you back, using it to propel you forward."
It seems unfathomable the artist behind Pregnant with Success was ever a wallflower. Her first full album, a follow up to the wildly popular summer 2014 mixtape Satisfaction Guaranteed, is playfully progressive, favoring humor over hate, floating her bold and at times hilarious professions on sexuality, blackness, and being a woman. Beats were composed by Shy Guy, the buzzed about NYC producer known for working with Joey Bada$$ and Le1f.
"I wanted it to be something I was proud of and would enjoy listening to, the clearest reflection of me at the moment. The whole vibe and idea is about just pushing through. Thinking about your past but not using it to hold you back, using it to propel you forward." McHayle pauses for a moment, then adds: "And, of course, we're all here because our mothers got pregnant."
Asked who conceptualized the release's brilliant USB keychain packaging, she replies, "I actually assembled all those by hand. My fingers were tore up. Every little piece, putting the picture in the key chain, putting the keychain to the USB…but I love doing that. I love sharing my time, shipping it to someone on this Earth who knows I exist and will love it forever."
A month before the album release, Junglepussy was shocked to receive an invitation from Yale to speak to grad students.
"They emailed me. They reached out to me, and I'm like, 'Are you sure you want me there?' It was so magical. That was a blessing. There's nothing else I can call it. It has opened so many doors for me. It was so great to see all these Ivy League students in this room listening to what I have to say. It was a lecture, but I don't think I was teaching them anything, more sharing my perspective, insights, my thought, my mind. It was amazing that they cared what I had to say."
A star of the underground, Junglepussy runs with a group of emerging young artists, ranging from avant-garde obscure to quite famous, like Mykki Blanco, Princess Nokia, Cakes Da Killa, and of course, Le1f.
"I got to open for Le1f. He's been touring Europe and Australia since January. He came back to the U.S. and Canada in March; so we did a bunch of cities. He did something like 31; I did 25. Initially, I was only going to do 15, but I was having so much fun. I didn't know what to expect. I've never been on tour before. And it was so good I got to travel with Le1f, specifically. Not only is he my friend, he's a great artist. It's inspiring."
When it comes to new work, plans are to keep it fluid. "I wrote a lot on tour. I know I talk a lot about relationships and being a woman and all that, but I don't want to complain anymore. I don't want to make music where I'm just reminding myself of all the horrible things that people have done to me. I don't know when the new music's going to come. Whenever the people want it, when it's right."
Junglepussy embodies a powerful new feminism where confidence and sexual expression exist outside the male gaze, a mark often missed by Instagram "feminists" posing naked for likes. She promotes a form of self-acceptance that refuses to settle in mediocrity, inspiring young women warped by the social-media matrix to know their worth, and compromise it for no one. "I know that feeling that I feel when I see a black woman wake up, love herself, and go chase her dreams. That feeling for me is enough. It doesn't matter who's doing it, if they're well-known or not known at all. That's enough for me."