Junglepussy has but a freshman record and a few singles under her belt, but the fierce-as-fuck personality with a message about taking no shit and focusing on your health has already earned her a dedicated army of followers online. The Brooklyn-born West Indian rapper is a fashion student-turned-retail employee, -turned-YouTube comedian, -turned-MC, -turned-lifestyle guru, -turned-DKNY model. And she’s only just beginning.
Earlier this month, Junglepussy (real name Shayna McHayle) put out a video for “Nah,” a chilled-out track from her debut album, Satisfaction Guaranteed, on which she spits about staying hydrated, shopping at Trader Joe’s, getting head, and Kevin Costner. We just had to talk to her.
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Tell me a bit about yourself.
I grew up in East New York, Brooklyn. Trinidadian and Jamaican parents, so I’m real familiar with the Caribbean lifestyle. I feel too tropical for America sometimes, because I just like to be barefoot, eating fruit and fish.
So I lived in Brooklyn, but it was fine because I went to high school in the city. When I was a teenager I was exposed to a lot of different stuff in Brooklyn, because back in those days Brooklyn wasn’t as gentrified as it is now. The city was really like “Ohhh, so many colors. Pretty!” I really saw that you could be from New York and have a lot of different cultures, so that kind of just exposed me.
I graduated high school at 16 and went to FIT straight after that. I was doing merchandising. I was like, “Oh, I wanna be, like, a stylist. I wanna be a designer. I wanna do all that.” So then I would go, like, “Oh, no, this is not what I wanna do!”
After two years I started doing retail. I worked at a bunch of little places all around the city, and after three years I realized, “This is not OK.” When you work retail, you just have this stupid money and just hang out with your friends and just, like, spend money when you hang out. It’s a stupid lifestyle. I would pray a lot, like, “Please just lead me to the right thing to do in life.” I don’t know, everything came together.
I did have a little following on the internet, ’cause I did have the name Junglepussy, but I never made music. I always had YouTube videos and always did stupid shit being funny and people knew me for being funny like that. But people just wanted me to do the music. It’s a strange story, but people really was like, “Hey, could you do music?” I’m, “Why? How?” And it just came together.
So had you tried it before? Before your viewers requested it?
I did. In high school all my home girls and boys, we had a group and we would freestyle with instrumentals and cut classes. But it was never — it was serious, but it was high school.
But then, after that point — I don’t know, it just really followed me. It really stalked me, the music. And I was like, “All right, let me try one song.” So I put out my first single, which was “Cream Team.” I put that out about two years ago and people loved it. Then I put out another single and people loved it. And then this summer I put out my debut project.
People were loving the singles and were going just off the singles. Like, I had no mixtapes, no nothing. People were just, like, loving it. I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” I’d be a fool to not continue, so I put out the project. People loved it. I just put out a video for the project a few weeks ago; people loved it. So, I’m like, “I don’t know, man, this is going in the right direction.” I’m really blessed to even have people appreciate it and hear my perspective on things.
That’s pretty awesome that you fell into what you want to do like that. You just kind of evolved into it. So you mentioned your parents are from the West Indies, and obviously that comes through a lot in your work. What was it like growing up with that culture, and how does it affect you now?
Well, growing up with that culture was — well, I guess I just thought that that’s how everybody was. All my friends were West Indian too. We all had parents from the Caribbean, and I just thought that that’s how it was. That everybody just ate what their parents made, you know?
I don’t know, I was just in my own world. My father loves music. He loves Bob Marley. My mother’s Trini, so she would play all the Soca and it was just the best blend ever. I was so in this West Indian lifestyle. I hadn’t had an American breakfast. Like, I had pancakes for the first time senior prom night. That was my first time having pancakes. I’ll always just eat West Indian food. I eat saltfish, bananas. That’s what I was used to. So like I said, going to school in the city really opened up my mind. I got to have pancakes on prom night.
Having West Indian parents is cool, ’cause West Indian people eat good. So it goes good with the lifestyle I’m trying to lead. It’s all about clean eating. We like eating vegetables. We even like eating meat, ’cause you gotta get your protein and stuff. But we like to eat a lot of vegetables and fish, and a lot of remedies and herbal stuff, so I’m blessed to be Trinidadian and Jamaican.
You talk a lot about the healthy lifestyle — for example, that line from “Nah”: “I seen you eating Mickey D’s, knew you didn’t love yourself / I’m up in Trader Joe’s, shopping cart full of health.” I’ve noticed that a lot of your fans online consider you a lifestyle guru. Did you expect that?
I did not expect that at all. I just wanted to promote healthier options. I’m not trying to brainwash people and shame people to eat certain things, but I just want people to be conscious of the things that they are putting in their body and know that you need to put things in your body to give you life and not kill you. So I wasn’t expecting the guru thing. That’s a lot, because I’m still learning, too. I’m only 22.
That must be so bizarre.
I’m turning 23. My birthday is on Halloween.
That’s a pretty great birthday to have. Happy early birthday. So of course I Googled you before this. I looked you up on Twitter, and checked the tags and everything on Tumblr, and there are just so many people worshipping you, it’s crazy.
Tumblr is just — oh, my God. I have a secret Tumblr. I had a Tumblr back in the day, but it’s not updated. I went on there the other day when the video dropped just to see, and I was like, “Oh, my God,” they have everything archived for me. I don’t have to say anything. I was like, that’s love. I mean, I was shocked.
Why do you think they relate to you so much?
Honestly, I don’t even — it’s not even me. I feel like it’s the things I say that spark something in them. I didn’t plan like, “I want to make these people want to be like me.” I truly just said that if I’m gonna do music, I can only give people what I have in abundance. I can’t do some fake shit. I’m gonna only be able to give them myself. That’s all I have. Everyday. That’s all I have in abundance. That’s all I can give them. I’m like, all right, let me be myself and see what happens. So I feel like by me being myself I was able to send a message to other people to be themselves too and not feel like they have to be a certain way to be cool and accepted. Not to be corny.
So you try to inspire them to be themselves.
But they inspire me. When I actually see them I’m like, “Wow,” I feel like they’re more poppin’ than me. If I wasn’t me would I be like, “Who is this girl?” But then when I see them really loving and enjoying it, I feel like they give it all the life. It is just so beautiful to see.
Even just people who eat healthy alone. Even if they don’t listen to the music. Just eating better or deleting some stupid boy’s number from your phone ’cause he treat you like shit. Those small things is what is really beautiful to me. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.
One of my favorite lines of yours is “It’s a full-time job fucking loving yourself.” What are the things that you do to love yourself and take care of yourself?
Well, right now I’m actually doing my hair. I’m in the mirror greasing my scalp up. I just conditioned it all day. Today was a day to just feel it. You don’t have to every day, or be high-maintenance, but you have to make sure that you give yourself a nice exfoliation with some brown sugar. You can treat yourself with things that are not even expensive, and that’s love.
I feel like people think that love is this complex thing and loving yourself is so hard. I feel loving yourself is just treating yourself the way you want to be treated. So if nobody wants to do that for you, you shouldn’t expect them to or depend on anybody to. You should treat yourself how you want to be treated.
I personally love massages and spa treatments and all that stuff, so that’s what I do for myself. I give myself facials. I light a candle and incense. I, like, give myself the things that I want. And if life comes along and gives me something that’s not that, I’m just gonna be like, “Can you move? Cause I’m too busy loving myself.” You can’t entertain anybody who is not willing to meet you at your level.
I totally agree. I’m sitting here with a candle lit myself.
Me tooooo! You know.
You gotta do it. So let’s talk about the video for “Nah,” which you put out earlier this month. You said everyone was responding positively to it. Tell me about the process to make that video.
That video was so fun to make. I made the video before the project was even done. It was in April. It was just something I did ’cause I felt like I wanted to show the world who I am. I feel like my other work was me just being creative and showing different faces, but I really wanted to make sure that the next set of visuals that I put out really captured something more deep about me and, like, how I feel about the world.
So with Usual Suspects NYC, who directed the video, and actually did all of my other videos too, we just like really embraced what I really wanted to show and what I really love. People were saying that the beach scene was feminist and I’m this goddess, Oshun. They were just throwing all these things out there that I didn’t even intentionally plan for the video.
We were just like, “Hey, I wanna bless girls by the water. I wanna get my hand dirty. I wanna do the things that I wanna do and show the world.” And it came out just crazy, like, I don’t know. It was a real labor of love and it just manifested into something crazy. I did not think people were gonna like it like they did.
I really wanted to wait till the right time to put it out, ’cause I wanted to put it out in the summer after the project dropped in June, but then it was the whole Mike Brown situation and I was really emotional and I felt like the people who I really wanted to pay attention to this video, they were real emotional and I didn’t want to be on the internet like, “Hey, everybody, look at me! Listen to my new single. Watch my new video.”
It was just a draining time for everybody and I want people to be cool and calm when they watch the video. So I was just waiting, waiting for everybody. Then I was like, “You know what? After Labor Day, people should be able to chill and be able to reflect on that time in their life.” So I put it out and it just really went crazy. I’m glad I waited till the right time. I feel like if I’d put it out any other time it just wouldn’t have been the same impact.
Yeah, it’s definitely a lighthearted and feel-good kind of vibe on there. But at the same time I think you do make some statements. It starts out with you sitting on a white girl like a piece of furniture. Was that an intentional callback to the racist magazine spread that lit up the internet earlier this year?
That girl that I’m sitting on is my friend. People think that I don’t know her. We’re really close, actually, and that’s how we felt about that. We saw the picture when that editorial came out and we were like, “What the hell? Like, what?” We were down to just flip it and see what would happen, but I did not think that — I thought people were gonna be really mad at me. I’m just doing what I saw, so they can’t be mad at me.
So when you bless the girls at the beginning, there was no meaning behind that?
There wasn’t supposed to be any cultism or anything. Definitely not. All my supporters know that I don’t want them to idolize me and I don’t want any of that. I just wanted a beautiful ceremony of girls and it was like coconut water. It was actually real coconut water. It wasn’t like anything weird.
These girls, they are so beautiful. They’re so cool. They’re like, “Hit me up,” and there’s three of them. So I’m like, “This is perfect.” The beach scene was more so the message of coming together and just learning and advancing and, like, cleansing yourself by the water. And wearing bright colors and just being free and emancipating yourself.
So would you call yourself a feminist? How do you feel about supporters of yours finding meaning about intersectional feminism in your music and art? It seems to be a big part of the discussion about you.
It’s so crazy to hear that I’m even a part of that. That I’m being labeled. I knew the labels were coming, but I didn’t know I was a part of heavy discussions. It’s just going back to being who you are, and I feel like I’m just such a woman, like, I can’t help it. And I’m not gonna help it. I’m just gonna keep on being a woman and sharing the things that we go through. And it’s just weird to hear that people call me a feminist, like, I don’t know. All the labels are just so weird. People are gonna keep calling me whatever they want. I’m gonna keep supporting women.
In my opinion, it’s definitely not a bad label. So what’s up next for you? I know you’re doing a whole bunch of shows in New York right now.
Yep. People gotta wait and see. I got a lot of stuff cooking. A lot of functions that I’m planning. Not like concerts and that sort of thing, but more like cooking performance things and all-girl events that I’m planning. It’s gonna be a fun winter.
What does a cooking performance entail?
You gotta see. It’s incorporated with Taste the Jungle, my healthier food choices account. It’s gonna be fun. It’s coming, it’s cookin’ up. I want to hire a photographer to shoot all of the delicious meals I’m eating. And I want to feed them, feed people and make them taste it.
Well, I think that your supporters would definitely be into that. So, just to wrap things up: What kind of music do you listen to when you’re home alone?
I listen to beach waves and birds. I have this app that I love and you can just make your own natural sounds and that’s my favorite thing to listen to. I’m so bad with all the new music. Like, I only hear it when I’m in a cab. When I’m home I’m just like, I want silence or ambient sound. And jazz, I really love. Relaxing stuff like that.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 22, 2014