Junglepussy: Feeling Good
While the sounds of dancehall artist Konshens fill a north London photography studio, Junglepussy is getting a wig fitted. Two gently curled strands hang by her face, and she pauses to flash a glowing smile to show much she loves it.
But as the hair stylist sprays and teases the puffy circles of the ponytail into place, the Brooklyn rapper discusses her European tour with far less enthusiasm. “Navigating through these countries has been the hardest thing I ever did in my life,” she says. Weaving through Belgium, Germany, France and beyond, it culminated in a show in Dalston last night. “As a black woman and for my DJ, who’s also a black woman, the racism was on levels I’ve never ever experienced before.
The smile has faded. “In America we’re very vocal about it, but over here it’s disgusting,” she continues. “We got harassed way too much. Just by the locals. We could just be sitting there listening to our headphones and we’re a threat. I’m happy I completed [the tour] ‘cos I didn’t think I could…”
The London leg of Junglepussy’s tour did offer her some much-needed breathing space. She stole the show at Little Simz’s Welcome To Wonderland II festival in Camden’s Roundhouse, an event ‘experience’ that included a lecture by Riz Ahmed and free haircuts alongside a diverse line-up of Simz’s favourite musicians. “That really helped me finish the rest of the tour. I was like, ‘This is what matters, the people, the art, the creation coming together…”
Junglepussy, real name Shayna McHayle, is very much in the business of self-love. The rapper of Trinidadian/Jamaican parents radiates self-confidence, fashioning empowering, bravado-filled rap which squares up to a world of patriarchy and white supremacy. Her cut-throat, unapologetic witticisms have attracted a following that includes Erykah Badu, and provoked tweets like ‘College has made me wise but @JUNGLEPUSSY has made me wiser’. It’s a manifesto that can be summed up by one of her best-loved lyrics; “Pussy muscle hustle”, now a feminist call to arms.
It’s been a minute since the independent artist dropped her last solo project – 2015’s Pregnant With Success – which was preceded by 2014’s Satisfaction Guaranteed. With the #metoo movement, coupled with seismic shifts in global politics, a lot has changed since 2015. But for Junglepussy, the weight isn’t on her shoulders to confront these topics – not directly, anyway – on her new album JP3. “I’ve been feeling everything, really digesting it all,” she says. “But I want to be authentic, and I didn’t want to get people to like me off the struggle. I want to be a representation of joy and excellence”.
From the name of lead single State of the Union, you’d imagine it might tackle the Mango Mussolini currently occupying the White House. Instead, Junglepussy uses her two and a half minutes to send a direct-fire hit to all manner of haters: “You think you poppin’ cause your new chick low maintenance,” it starts off.
“I've been feeling everything, really digesting it all. But I didn't want to get people to like me off the struggle. I want to be a representation of joy and excellence”
The album is her best project yet. Produced by regular collaborator Shy Guy as well as Sporting Life, the album sees silk-sheeted RnB jams (Groovy) sit next to irresistibly funky tracks (All of You) and a slick collab with Three Six Mafia legend Gangsta Boo. Rather than being an archetypal love song, I’m n Love bluntly describes how your boyfriend isn’t answering his phone because she’s “hitting skins” with him, over cute, bouncy production. “Good ass movie but we never caught the end,” she winks. I Just Want It is a sex-positive, unashamed ode to female power in sex: “What’s love got to do with making me come?!” she asks on the track.
“I was tired of complaining about guys,” she explains. “I’m not trying to dedicate my work to their mishaps or the shit they do to annoy me. I love love songs. I wanted to make music that was just about me loving myself, but it seems like I’m loving somebody else.”
The day after we meet, Junglepussy drops second single Showers. As she reaches the chorus: “Shower with my chains on,” a child’s voice chirps in adorably next to hers; her three-year-old nephew, Zachary. “He went to the studio and had the time of his life,” she laughs. “We’ve been playing him the mixed version and he just, like, freaks out when he hears it. He starts running all around the place and gets shy. It’s so cute.”
Zachary even helped his auntie out by painting the single’s artwork in bold primary colours. “When we do the New York show I’ll have to get the kiddie soundproof headphones and bring him out on stage,” she says, before adding: “I’m not gonna pressure him!”
Having been invited to give talks at Ivy League schools Yale and Columbia recently, Junglepussy can now add acting to her ever-expanding CV. She’s starring in upcoming film Support The Girls, which has just had its SXSW premiere. Directed by Andrew Bujalski, she plays single mother Danyelle. “I don’t wanna give it away, but I just stand up against all the fuckery.”
“That experience changed my life,” she continues. “I just wanna see what else is inside of me, ‘cos I never planned to do music. I never planned to act. But yeah, I’m just going with the motions. Just growing. Just learning myself as I go along the way.”
Photography: Alex de Mora
Styling: JeanPaul Paula
Hair Stylist: Nuriye Sönmez using Leonor Greyl
Make Up Artist: Mary-Jane Gotidoc
Junglepussy appears at Melt Festival, 13-15 July, Ferropolis, Germany