Junglepussy: "I'm Supposed to Have This Unique Story of Imperfection"
The forthright Brooklyn rapper talks self-empowerment, 'Pregnant with Success,' and why guys find her scary—and exactly how little she cares.
Shayna McHale, the 24-year-old rapper better known as Junglepussy, saunters into a small coffee shop in Chelsea, New York. Wearing thick square glasses, she slides into a seat and unzips her jacket to reveal a black t-shirt emblazoned with the words "Agriculture Before Pop Culture." In her right hand she holds a bright orange juice—a closer look reveals an Illustrator-made logo "Junglepussy Juice" inked on the plastic cup in thin black script. "Here's some Junglepussy Juice for you," she says, handing it over. "Orange, carrot, pineapple, and ginger." Based on the coolness she's effortlessly dished up 10 seconds into our meeting, I decide I should drink the juice. It's one of those I'll-have-what-she's-having moments.
The Jamaican / Trinidadian Brooklyn native garnered her first serious bout of online buzz back in June 2014 when she released her first complete mixtape, Satisfaction Guaranteed, under the moniker Junglepussy. (Ears were already perked in her direction thanks to Erykah Badu publicly praising one of her early cuts "Cream Team" and we interviewed her the year before.) Just a few weeks ago she shared her first official full-length, Pregnant With Success, a plush10-track collection that asserts the importance of loving yourself. According to the MC's Soundcloud page, the record is an ode to her mother, to all mothers, and "to anyone who's ever waited patiently for something to come into fruition." During our meeting, a few days before the album's release, Junglepussy frequently compares her anticipation to that of an expectant mother days away from her due date. "I really feel like I'm in those final stages: the baby is just kicking and ready to come," she says gently rubbing her belly as if to soothe the gestating project inside of her.
It's a collection that hinges on her distinct unhurried flow as it undulates over subdued beats deployed by Shy Guy, a Texas-born New York City-based producer who's worked with Joey Bada$$ and Le1f. This dynamic channels attention to Junglepussy's clearly enunciated raps that champion her unapologetically black, sexual, and confident character. Her stance is unflinchingly fierce, but her delivery is smooth and warm, and often playful—whether inhabiting the tough girl character on the fiery "Get to Steppin," or riding like Missy over the dark beats of "Get It Right," Junglepussy's main strength lies in her refusal to sacrifice any part of her true self. She embraces her flaws to the fullest, transforming them into strengths. That's her dominant theology: loving yourself stands for embracing what you already have, not what you wish you had. And knowing your worth.
Junglepussy's particularly on point when calling out her haters: On "Nothing For Me" she disses a guy's half-assed attempts to impress her ("You never greased my scalp / You never called me an Uber / You never picked no fruit for a nigga"), while on "Pop For You"—which comes in somewhere between Kelis and Andre 3000—she picks apart "ungrateful motherfuckers / soul suckers," men whose sexual attraction is swayed by color ("compliment her if she light / if she black don't get her hype"). Perhaps one of her most scathing put-downs comes during album closer "Dear Diary," as she scoffs at someone who cares more about internet affirmation than integrity: "Your Wi-Fi ain't workin' / We heard about the things you did to earn that Birkin / How many reblogs was it baby, was it worth it? / Ain't nothing like a couple likes to make you feel worth it." If anything this young rapper's priorities are the other way around. The phrase that appears in small text at the bottom of her customized plastic cups—"Never Thirsty"—applies to so much more than her healthy juices. It's the mantra she lives and breathes. So I sat down with Junglepussy and talked self-love, relationships, and the empowering nature of her lyrics.
Noisey: How do you go about being in a romantic relationship in your real life? I'm curious because you're so confident and independent.
Junglepussy: I haven't been in that many serious relationships. I'm just a very young girl, but the ones that I have been in have been very serious to me and I was in love and things just did not go as they should have. It had to happen this way because I wouldn't have had all these things to express and write about. Right before I put out my first song ever "Cream Team" I'd just gotten out of my most recent relationship—so that was in 2012. Ever since then, ever since I started doing my own music and doing my own thing, I've gotten less and less and less interested. Guys are just intimidated by me or they don't feel man enough around me because my presence is so strong which is just so corny to me. It's just sad. I don't know if it's something I have to get used to. I secretly know that my soulmate is somewhere on this earth and maybe not in New York. I'm very romantic, but nobody else is or a lot of guys are just scared. Their favorite thing to say is "Oh I just think you OK you don't need nobody."
Of course you shouldn't ever need anybody, but you can want somebody.
Nowadays guys just don't want a girl like me, a girl who's outspoken. They want a girl that has something going for her, but they don't want her to be too much in the spotlight. They act like they like me until something amazing happens like Yale, or something, and then they're like, "Oh, who do you think you are?" I'm like, "I don't know, just out here tryna prosper." [This year Junglepussy took part in Yale's Fall Lecture Series. Watch it below.] Growing up when I would see women like Oprah and I saw that they weren't married, I wasn't thinking like, "Oh that's gonna be me, that's how it is being a black woman who strives for her goals, you gonna be single." It's not fair that just because I want to be treated fairly I have to stoop. That's why I'm single now. They're like, "She's not gonna get on her knees for me, she's not gonna kiss my toes." I'm like, "No. You kiss MY toes."
How much of what you're doing do you feel like is for yourself and how much do you see it as empowering other people?
That's funny you ask that because I think about that a lot too. It's weird to explain. Once I started putting music out, people's reactions is what initially made me feel they care or wow they relate, ok I have to keep going. I'm human still so I'll feel things and go through things and I just have these moments when I'm think this is so much bigger than me. When I realized that, I knew everything would be OK once I'm taking myself out of the forefront. I'm not doing this to be a role model per say, but it feels good when you see somebody that's somewhat a reflection of you or a reflection of your feelings. I'm doing it to comfort people who have ever felt like me.
Which is how?
Just people who feel like they've been misrepresented, or underrepresented, or overlooked, or people who have had trouble expressing their feelings. Hopefully the things I've made can help open that up for them and give them an opportunity to see and look inside themselves more clearly. Once I realized it was really about the people, it kind of relaxed me because I'm like I don't have to be a self-centered prick. That's something I have to get used to because sometimes I just want to be that human that's just so human and I can wallow in my sorrows whenever I want to, but now that I know people feel a connection with me it's important to me. The way that life's events have taken a turn I'm not gonna say it's only because of me. I think it's like a way bigger purpose and message. It's important for me to always remember that when things bother me. My mom was like all this crazy stuff happening to you, you're really pregnant! This is how it feels! It's really about the people.
A lot of your lyrics revolve around the idea of taking what you already have and making that your power. Not trying to fake something.
I'll never forget this day. It was probably 6th or 7th grade and I was texting on my Sidekick on the bus home with my home girl and we were just talking. We were like, we have these bodies these are the only bodies we get for life. That was 6th grade. I always reflect on that moment and it just reminds me like this is my only body, everybody is their only body and nobody got to pick their body. Everybody's just who they are, that's just how they grow, just as a flower or a plant grows up. I feel like everybody's perfect. Existence is perfect. To exist means you're here, you just are. There's no use in fighting it. Growing up, I had a big head, big feet, I was tall, wore glasses, I was skinny, everything that awkward I was. Weird things used to happen to me, I would fall down train stairs like my skirt would blow up. I was clumsy and I was like why do I live this life? Why can't I be normal? I used to just always hate and ask why, why, why. And then I'm just like because I'm supposed to have this unique story of imperfection.
Was part of that ever being mad that you're black?
No, and that's the crazy thing. I went to these private schools in Brooklyn with all black students. It wasn't until I went to high school in the city that I met all these different kinds of people, friends that have parents with nice apartments in the neighborhood. It wasn't until then that I felt I'm just a little black girl in this world. Even in high school I was just taking it in. I never felt bad about being black ever, but I just always realized how different it was to be black and that added to me and to my unique story. Nobody would ever understand how I have to tie my hair up before bed, or how I felt today when the guy called the cops on me. It could have gone left just because I am black. It's just certain things that separate the black experience from others.
It seems like you're not as angry as other people are.
I am, I just know how to channel it. And I know that a relaxed mind is a creative and productive mind. When I feel something I could just let it control me, as a Scorpio we just run deep we get so passionate sometimes and it will be so distracting for me to move forward. And that's something I worry about and I hope that the black people who love me I don't want them to feel like I'm not addressing our issues every single one that happens because I do. I'm in it and I take it with me everywhere I go and it resonates with me. I think about it before bed, I'm feeling it. But like I said I don't really like to always express on Twitter because things get misconstrued and my thoughts have more power when they stand alone when I'm not doing it to get a like.