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Chynna: mob mentality

With her steamy beats and playful side-eye rhymes, Chynna has a natural flair for flow. As she gets ready to launch her solo debut, the Philly-born rapper and model lets loose on racism, acid trips and life as an A$AP mob-ster

Taken from the Summer 2015 issue of Dazed:

Mentored by A$AP Rocky’s squad, female Mob-ster Chynna insists that she has the wily wits of Pocahontas. Since being scouted by late founder A$AP Yams, the Philly-born rapper and model has served up playful side-eye rhymes on posse cuts and twisted solo tracks like “Selfie” and “Glen Coco”, also walking as a model for DKNY and VFiles this season. Now hard at work with Hudson Mohawke and Rustie for her debut album, the 20-year-old tomboy aims to send a powerful message to women everywhere: be a boss, be strong and empower yourself through equality. Success is her kind of sexy.

How did growing up in Philly inspire you to succeed as a rapper?

Chynna: I have seven siblings, and my affirmation for my music comes from all of them. But it was really my homies in Philly that helped me. We’d all kick it in a basement that was also a studio and get ‘can’t-go-home-my-mom-will-kill-me’ high. I would just watch them rap – back then, I never participated when they made music. One day, after we’d graduated, I finally hopped in and couldn’t hop out.

Did you always want to rap?

Chynna: Actually, I wanted to be an A&R first. I was approached by (A$AP) Yams to be his understudy. It was prolly five years ago, when A$AP Mob did a Philly stop on tour. He was one of the first people I spoke to in music, ever. Eventually I had a complete change of mind and opted to rap with the crew, not stay behind the scenes. People had been pressing my line to take rapping seriously, so I did. I realised then that it was obviously what I was meant to do.

The lyrics of your track, ‘Free Crack’, are pretty intense. Are they autobiographical?

Chynna: I’ve been there – my bro handed me crack as a graduation present. I admit, he was trippin’ for handing me that, but that was life for a lot of people. I gave it to someone better suited to deal with it. Life in Philly wasn’t tough, but it was stressful. There was a lot of sickness and a few deaths. At one point I tried to join the military but was told I was underweight, and I got questioned about my tattoos. Like, I have a Buddha on my left shoulder. I need him there, because I’m a Buddhist, and they asked about that. So I chalked it and tried for college, then there was a blizzard on the days I was supposed to register.

Who are you inspired by?

Chynna: Gucci Mane, Meshell Ndegeocello, Bobby Caldwell, Portishead, Britney Spears – and besides that, it’s just my homies who also create music. Pocahontas is the home girl, though, because I love nature. The other Disney princesses were stuck in some kind of trouble and had to be saved, but Pocahontas was a strong, powerful woman who didn’t need a prince. That’s why I reference her in my songs.

You make a point not to focus on your sexuality in your verses. Why is that?

Chynna: My mind doesn’t really go in that direction. I mostly generate my ideas from my life, and up until recently I had no love life. I’m usually on totally opposite subjects – violence, tragedies, disasters. As for women in the media, (sexualisation) sucks if artists are forced to agree to shit because they think it might improve their career. But as for the women who are confident and sexually open? Right on! You’re my Samantha Jones.

“My bro handed me crack as a graduation present. I admit, he was trippin’ for handing me that, but that was life for a lot of people” – Chynna

Lyrically, what would you say fuels the majority of your material?

Chynna: I have so many references to movies like Alice in Wonderland, or random TV shows. I know that no one will understand all my references to (70s Britcom) Are You Being Served? but my aunt used to watch it when I was growing up in Philly! That, and Keeping Up Appearances.

You have a track named after Mean Girls ringleader Glen Coco, and another track with Cloud Atrium called ‘Bitch’. Are you competitive with other girls?

Chynna: It’s not about bitchiness to me. Just because you do the same thing, doesn’t mean you have to be competitive. Female artists can all be so different from each other. If I had a girl band? I’d need Missy, Katie Got Bandz, Lil Debbie and Kehlani. You got to have a good balance of people from opposite sides of the spectrum.

The videos of your performance with the A$AP guys at SXSW seemed crazy. Was it as insane as it looked?

Chynna: It was cool. Everyone was putting on good show. But when l come to a music festival, the last thing l think about is my own show. l anticipate other people’s performances. I wanted to see Skepta but the show didn’t happen and l missed the Dipset reunion.

What were you doing instead?

Chynna: l was on acid. So l couldn’t find my way.

You were recently in London with Hudson Mohawke working on your album. Did you get turnt out together?

Chynna: We didn’t get the chance to go out, I had to go straight to another studio afterwards! I didn’t even know who HudMo was before I met him, I had to Google him. He’s so aggressive and dominating in the studio. We had to go through, like, 50 or 60 beats before I found something I was comfortable with because I’m a lot more toned down than him. It was a challenge, but I did a verse, like just a loose run-through, and we ended up keeping it. It had a ratchet beat on it. I’ve been working with Rustie, too. He and I are just firing emails back and forth. The music I made in London definitely sounds like I was there. I can’t wait for that stuff to come out.

You’ve been modelling from about the age of 14. How do you feel about the predominately white casting of women on the runway?

Chynna: I do see shows where there isn’t one face that isn’t white on the runway. I’m not saying that only black people suffer discrimination – people of any other colour are affected, too. It’s fucked up, but I am seeing a lot more women of other races (in shows), and a lot more diversity in campaigns.

A$AP Yams’ death was connected to drugs. How do you keep yourself grounded when surrounded by craziness?

Chynna: Yams’ death was a real perspective giver. It was heartbreaking. He and I had just been rapping about the future, chilling and watching some random shit on TV. I don’t understand why life pulls people away at the exact wrong time. You just got to remember that shit like that can happen. Sometimes I forget you can get too turnt out. You think you can handle it, but it’s not good all the time.

Hair David von Cannon at Streeters; Make-up Ayami Nishimura using M.A.C Pro; Styling assistant Rosa Callejas

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