Premiere: Feel The Power Of Junglepussy
“Real life kicks in once the tweeting stops,” Junglepussy raps on “Dear Diary.” But her Twitter is really, really good. It’s got health tips and opinions on current events and hot and hilarious pictures in equal measure. And jokes. Always jokes. “I ENJOY STRETCHING, EXERCISING, & DOING THINGS SERENA WILLIAMS WOULD,” she tweeted on New Years Day. I felt more connected to her the other night, when JP wrote, “ELBOW DEEP IN A BAG OF POPCORN BUT I COULD BE QUICKSAND THIS OTHER HAND IS ALL I GOT.” It’s nice to know that Junglepussy, who lives clean and raps about fruits and veggies, can also get lost in the Newman’s Own.
Born Shayna McHale to Trinidadian/Jamaican parents in East New York, Brooklyn, the 24-year-old has been making music since high school. “I had a rap group with my friends,” she told us at her Milk photo shoot. “We would cut class, and freestyle in the chemistry lab. But one day we got caught by the Dean, and he said that we had to perform at the talent show. And I was not, not going to do that. I was so shy. But all my friends came to school dressed up and excited, and they performed in the talent show. Life went on, and I just didn’t think that I would be here, but now I am. I’m still friends with all of my friends from the rap group, but I’m the only one making music–the one that was afraid to go to the talent show.”
She certainly doesn’t seem shy anymore. Junglepussy spent a day at Milk joyfully dancing around the studio, sipping her beloved ginger tea. She’s magnetic, and her first official full-length album, Pregnant With Success, exudes confidence, and is brash and funny and sharp. That confidence, while essential to pretty much every MC, can still be transgressive in mainstream hip-hop; the genre, like most of the music industry, is still filled with misogyny. “I deal with the sexist music industry by just being Junglepussy, because that right there is a slap in their faces,” she said. “The fact that I’m smart and have something important to say is the next smack in the face, and that’s enough. They’re gonna get it.”
Junglepussy, along with the album title Pregnant With Success, are obviously, proudly, female-centric names. When the album was first released, McHale wrote a statement on Soundcloud, saying that it was “an ode to my mother, to all mothers.” Her mother has loomed large in her life. “She taught me how to navigate this white man’s world as a black woman, and that has been the most prized possession that she’s given me, all my life,” said JP. “She’s also filled me with encouragement over Junglepussy, and that’s awesome. Not everybody’s mother could handle their daughter being Junglepussy.” Her mother seems excited about her daughter’s career, texting a friend of McHale’s during our shoot that “JP looks poppin!”
This kind of support comes in handy, especially when working in a notoriously tough industry. “I feel underestimated a lot as a woman in hip-hop, and as a woman in general,” she said. “Junglepussy—the name rubs some people the wrong way, but it rubs me the right way. I don’t care. I know that that name alone, with the shock value, could turn some people off. But they’re missing out, because I’m having fun.”
Maybe there is shock value in the name. But as Junglepussy herself pointed out, people don’t seem to have a problem with the word “pussy” in a musical act’s name, as long as that act is white. It’s the “Jungle” that seems to be the problem. As she previously told Vulture, “I can’t be Junglepussy and black, but I just push through, especially when my mother says she doesn’t have a problem with it.” McHale doesn’t care about those that don’t get it, though. “Junglepussy is basically my universe-given name. It came to me one day when I had just accumulated a lot of animal prints, and I felt so jungle-y, and then I also felt so feminine. So I just took Junglepussy and I put it together, as an innocent thing.”
“Hopefully the shift comes where we get back to love and romance. I’m not trying to be complaining forever.”
Between the name and her strong, sex-positive lyrics, Junglepussy can intimidate men. One of Pregnant With Success’s most talked-about tracks, “Pop for You,” has McHale dissing lame, “ungrateful motherfuckers,” while praising a man who was thoughtful enough to bring the jungle to the zoo. I spoke with Junglepussy again while she was in Toronto visiting family (“I love it out here. I want to be Canadian”) and asked if it was a real date.
“I have gone to the zoo for a date. It was fun! I love the zoo. I love being outside. I love animals. I like being at the zoo, being able to still see their beauty but keep my distance. I feel like that’s true love. True love is respect, and giving a space to be. Because the sun has all day to be bright and shine, and then you give the moon time at night to do the same. It’s not like the sun and the moon are out competing. It’s about giving space and respect.”
Junglepussy has talked a lot about love and disappointing relationships in the past. “Now it’s starting to change a lot,” she said. “Now the universe has started to shift my perspective so that I can, hopefully, in the future, show the growth in how I went from bad relationships to building better ones. I do feel like a lot of guys are intimidated, but I did notice this month that some guys started being nice to me.”
“I don’t want guys to be douchebags forever,” she said. “I want better people; I want to be a better person, I want everybody to want to be a better person. So with my music, it’s tough love, it’s reflective, it’s eye-opening. And hopefully the shift comes where we get back to love and romance. I’m not trying to be complaining forever.”
McHale seems more focused on healthier pursuits, i.e. actual physical health. Junglepussy makes her own juice, appropriately called “Junglepussy Juice,” that incorporates carrots, oranges, ginger, and pineapples. “I love ginger everything,” she said. “I wish my fingers were ginger.”
“Healthy living makes me feel better physically, spiritually, emotionally. When I eat things that come from the Earth, I just feel so much more alive. When I eat things that are manmade, things I don’t know how to pronounce, I feel very tired and angry, and I have a bad attitude. Whenever I eat good, healthy food, I feel good.”
Junglepussy even lectured at Columbia, on December 9th, about her diet and lifestyle. This was her second appearance at an Ivy League school. The first was in September, at Yale’s Lecture Series. Called “Self Love. Bodacious Rap,” the talk incorporated feminism, her rap career, and all manner of general questions. There was a large audience.
“[Yale] was unreal,” she said. “Even now when I talk about it, I have to remind myself that I was at Yale. Just being invited as Junglepussy, and not even Shayna McHale, was such a statement on the power of where I’m going. I just want to make sure that I’m always sharing my thoughts and my message and my power with people, and nothing less than that.” As she said at the lecture, “It’s a full-time job, loving yourself.”
Check out Pregnant with Success, released November 17th, available for purchase on iTunes.
Photography: Christine Hahn