Hair: Andrita Renee // Makeup: Raisa Flowers
“Honestly, I used to think that I had too much talent, that I could only let one skill shine. Now, I’m learning to share my gifts.”
It takes a few attempts for Junglepussy and I to talk, but when we eventually do, she’s as uplifting and as brimming with confidence as I had hoped…
It’s been three years since the release of Pregnant With Success, the sophomore album that saw Shayna McHale dissect the patriarchy with brash non-sequiturs spat over Shy Guy’s glitchy hip hop production. In the time since, McHale has been working with new producers, experimenting with new sounds and deliveries, and learning to negotiate and tolerate the music industry’s sometimes duplicitous tendencies. Standing resolutely to do things her way despite the bullshit, in the opening track of her new third album JP3 Junglepussy tells it like it is: “Everybody here knows I’m the baddest.”
Where her penchant for tongue-in-cheek bars remains, alongside her unapologetic celebration of female pleasure, JP3 is markedly different from Junglepussy’s previous projects. “I wanted to mix things up a bit and really show my range” she says, explaining why there’s been three years between albums, “JP3 is more chill, more love, more relatable, I want my fans to hear that I’m advocating for them in my music.” Junglepussy has succeeded in making JP3 an expression of her versatility; as the album spans silky R&B, funky rhythms, and trap beats infused with bright piano melodies.
“Don’t let anyone define you. Know your worth. Do not settle. Speak up. Say no. Do your research. Prepare for opportunities…”
As a woman, there’s something about Junglepussy’s music that makes me feel strong, finding comfort and power in her lyrics in spite of their oft explicit or silly nature. So it seems fitting that when I ask McHale how she would describe Junglepussy to someone that’s never heard of her, she says: “A large oxtail with rice and peas, extra gravy and plantains, with a fresh ginger beer on the side.” Junglepussy is Caribbean comfort food washed down with fizz and spice. In the wake of the release of JP3, as Junglepussy continues on her mission to help her listeners in “love, getting their needs met, and empowering themselves”, we talk about sex, painting, and learning to love yourself.
Born into a Trinidadian and Jamaican household, Junglepussy grew up surrounded by music. “It was always lively, a constant dance party” McHale explains, telling me that her formative experiences of music involved a host of different styles from gospel to reggae; calypso to R&B. The New York based rapper admits she never really set out to become a musician, “I never planned it, I just put out a song and people liked it”. The song she refers to is “Cream Team”, a no holds barred, Erykah Badu-endorsed first offering with a visual that featured McHale popping bottles and rapping from the bathtub. After ‘Cream Team’ came ‘Stitches’, and “then I felt I owed them a project”, Junglepussy says of her early fans. “I thank God”, she says, acknowledging her beginnings and where we are now, three Junglepussy projects deep.
Occasionally, McHale will have “one of those magical days”, where new music blossoms in a heartbeat, like the breezy and groove-laced album cut ‘All Of You’, written in one studio session. Otherwise, new material needs to be nurtured, she explains: “I might capture melodies in voice notes, write lyrics down, and then I just have to take the time to flesh those ideas out.” Where Junglepussy used to put a lot of pressure on herself, her creative process is now freer. “I don’t beat myself up over the process anymore” she explains, “it must be flexible.” JP3 features collaborations from Rico Love, Gangsta Boo, QUIÑ and highlight Wiki, whose feature on ‘Ocean Floor’ is an overt ode to oral sex; “All the way down is where I need you most”, Junglepussy purrs, “fill a vacancy in my pink submarine”. Whilst she remains tight-lipped about how these collaborations came to fruition, thinking aloud that sharing the details may strip them of their significance, Junglepussy tells me happily how the features on JP3 came together slowly and organically, and resulted in genuine artistic connection.
Thematically, JP3 shares a space with Kelela’s acclaimed Take Me Apart, and Janelle Monae’s newly released Dirty Computer. These remarkable women are celebrating sexuality in a way which is refreshingly honest, open, and fluid. There is joy to be found in sex without love, and much as men might not think it, women are up for it too. “What’s love got to do with making me cum?” Junglepussy shrugs in ‘I Just Want It’, before she hollers “I just want the head!” on loop. “It’s just to meet a need, a desire, we’re not doing it because it’s a love thing” McHale explains, “free yourself, do you, and be responsible.”
As a young woman who radiates confidence and has no qualms in telling it like it is, and how she likes it, I’m curious to know what advice McHale would give to younger women of colour who are negotiating the transition from girl to woman. “You will make mistakes for sure” she says, “forgive yourself! It’s already known that we are looked upon differently because of our skin colour. Lighter, darker, in between, we all have our crosses to bear. Don’t let anyone define you. Know your worth. Do not settle. Speak up. Say no. Do your research. Prepare for opportunities, and be grateful that the path is already being cleared by those who came before you.”
The Junglepussy mantra is underpinned by self-love and self-fulfilment. What is the key to learning to love yourself unconditionally, I ask? “It’s just that” she exclaims, “the key is learning. It’s a process, easier for some than for others. Take time, be gentle, be patient, be kind to yourself.” On being kind to yourself, I wonder what challenges McHale has come up against, and how she has overcome them. “Self-love is my M.O.” she reiterates, “gaining acceptance from the mainstream media was initially a challenge, but times are changing. The New York Times recently featured me in their Sunday paper.” By choosing to focus on her work, instead of focusing on discourse surrounding her work, Junglepussy believed that they would get the message, and eventually they did: “I come for love, not for fight.”
As we talk about the rest of 2018 and beyond, McHale tells me assertively that she intends to receive everything she deserves, with an aim to help her mother retire early, “so she no longer has to deal with the institutional racism of corporate America”. As we loop back to Junglepussy allowing herself to celebrate all of her talents, she tells me that her tattoos are all replicas of her own paintings and drawings. The artwork for JP3, too, is a Junglepussy original. When I ask her what she’s listening to at the moment, she’s quick to say that she’s listening to Junglepussy. Junglepussy loves Junglepussy. As well as painting, modelling, and writing, McHale has recently finished shooting her first acting role in the Andrew Bujalski directed Support The Girls. “Ya girl got an IMDB now!” she says excitedly. “This year I will be prospering, excelling, and writing more popping music”, she says with a confidence that is increasingly infectious.
“I’m up in Trader Joe’s shopping cart full of health”, McHale sings in ‘Nah’, a cut from her debut 2014 mixtape Satisfaction Guaranteed. Assuming we’ll all now aspire to these voracious levels of assertion, what’s in Junglepussy’s shopping cart full of health? Ginger, turmeric, garlic, coconut oil, chocolate coconut ice cream, Shea butter, ginger beer, fruits, vegetables, and most importantly, spinach.