There’s a block on West 35th Street in Manhattan where Junglepussy goes when she must acquire a new look. One morning in mid-May, on the occasion of the release of her third album, Jp3, the New York rapper is at True Indian Hair to pick out hair for the music videos she’s about to shoot. “I only remember things by my weaves,” she says, describing the night she met Gangsta Boo of Three 6 Mafia, who appears on the album and whom she met at a fashion week party. She was wearing a blonde bob at the time.
Junglepussy, born Shayna McHayle to parents from Trinidad and Jamaica, is as funny, loud, and charming in person as you might expect after listening to her music. On a walk from the hair shop to a nearby park, Junglepussy she stops to chat with a stranger and pose for a photo underneath a perfect pocket of sunlight. She’s highly observant and generous with her surveillance, noting aloud that some birds might be shitting from the trees behind us and that she swears she saw the same person walk by the park four times throughout our conversation. At one point, she pauses, squints, and points at a man passing by who resembles the rapper 2 Chainz, and yells “Tity Boi!” in the hope that she might be right. “You know niggas love imposters,” she remarks when we both realize the man lacks 2 Chainz’s long locs.
She describes her first two projects — 2014’s Satisfaction Guaranteed and 2015’s Pregnant with Success — as experiments with her craft and declarations of her irritations. Jp3 symbolizes an evolution from that. “I really felt like I was growing at a rapid pace. I felt the growing pains, I felt inertia, all of that,” she says of the past few years. Jp3 has a wider scope, both lyrically and sonically. She’s still spitting her truths with the sarcasm and brazenness she’s know for, but on Jp3 there is more of Shayna — her wants, needs, and desires are more clear and confidently delivered than ever. The album leaked the day before its release, but rather than let that upset her, Junglepussy is excited: “Big artists get their music leaked, so I'm a big artist now, bitches.”
In the past, Junglepussy was very extroverted, very out there, very confident. She’s a little softer on this album. Is that more of Shayna coming through?
I probably put more of me in it. Before, I think I was putting just my complaints, my anger, my aggression. But now I'm giving the love, giving the confidence, I'm giving the knowing what I want. I'm so grateful for the way that people are observing the growth, because when I tell y'all I've been growing... My toenails been growing, my edges been growing, everything has been growing except my butt. No, my butt been growing too, fellas. Everything has been growing. Deadass. Even my butt is getting bigger, so holla at me. All growth out here.
What were you doing on a personal level in between your albums?
I shot a movie in Texas with Regina Hall, Lea DeLaria from Orange is the New Black, Haley Richardson... a bunch of seasoned actors, and I'm just like the rapper on set. It changed my life. That experience was so cool because I'm used to performing my own lyrics and just being in my head, and this was an opportunity to share another perspective that I, too, related with. I have friends that have been in the character's shoes.
I feel like it was healthy for me to be able to tap into that side of myself, because in my music videos I love to get all theatrical. I didn't realize that I could translate that into just doing plain acting. I don't have to live in my music videos forever. It really was my last music video — “Spicy 103 FM” from Pregnant with Success, where I played me, my boyfriend, and a radio host — [that] I was like, "I can act." I didn't put it on the internet or nothing. I just said it out loud around my friends and good people.
Fast-forward months later, this director's emailing me like, “Can you read this script please?” I figure he's not serious. And he's like, No I really want you to be in it. I was on vacation last Easter. My nephew [Zachary], his birthday is in the spring, so we always go away. We were in Jamaica. My family from Trinidad met us in Jamaica. It was a big link. And, I had to leave early to go do the movie.
How old is your nephew?
He's four now. He is so lit. He's on the project. He loves the music. Of course I'm not playing him songs like “I Just Want It.” I played him all the songs that I know are gonna go world-wide, global, pop chart top hitters. So he just started immediately singing “Showers.” I took a video of him and I sent it to Shy Guy, and he was like, “Oh my gosh. You have to bring him to the studio to record.” And I asked Zachary and he was like, “Yes.”
It was cool to be able to collaborate with my nephew. He did the artwork for “Showers.” I used to paint a lot, but as I did the music, I didn't know how the two could co-exist. I'm grateful that I'm able to combine the two [now], something I've always wanted to do, and I'm glad that he got an opportunity. He loves to paint.
Growing up, my mother didn't just buy a bunch of stupid papers. She would let me draw on stuff, you know, the little cardboard thing that comes out of pantyhose. In church, the bulletins, I would take them home and draw on them. That was always fun for me, drawing on stuff... I like recycling. I been green.
I don't know if I would be as free to express if it wasn't for [my mother] just allowing me [to]. She just didn't even judge. She would just [say], “You wanna be creative, be creative. You wanna dye your hair 'cause that's a form of your expression? Do it. I know that this is not defining you.” No matter what I did, she always remembered who I am despite it. Even when I first started doing Junglepussy, only for a second she thought I was stripping, and just a smidge.
What did she say?
It was a text message. I will never forget. I had a show at Westway, and Westway shows would be so fucking late. She was like, “What is this stuff? Are you dancing, are you stripping now?”
She texted another long text: “I was just thinking. There's nothing wrong with this name. The two words separately, there's nothing wrong with it. Hold your head up high. Don't ever let anybody ever try to make you feel like you're less than. There's nothing wrong with this Shayna, trust me.” Once she told me that, I was like, “Oh, it's on.”
But even so, I still struggled. The way everybody was reacting to [me] kinda made me go introvert. That's another reason why people probably thought I wasn't doing shit because I'm just like, “I'm just gonna work on me privately. Celebrate my successes in silence. Whatever, you guys [will] see it when it's time.”
[My mother] would hate when people would ask me what I do. I would just shy away or say something weird. She's like, “No. You need to own Junglepussy. If this is what you gonna do, own it and don't ever water it down. What is there to be ashamed of? That's how you block your blessings. Commit to it, Shayna.”
You used to always say it's hard work to love yourself. Is there a moment in your life when you were like, “I'm gonna flip that switch and love myself”?
I didn't even know self-love was a thing until I started doing music. Growing up, that's just my mother and the way she raised my sisters and I. It was just to take care of yourself. No matter what, even if we didn't have a lot, we made it look like we was lit, and that just stayed with me as I got older. My mother really is the queen of self-love. She has displayed so many examples of that. Even just the way she just was able to provide for my sister and I when she divorced my dad. She held it down. We did not go hungry. She excelled at work, she excelled with just broadening her wings as a woman who came here from Trinidad when she was 20-something.
She rose up above it despite whoever was trying to make her feel like she was the bad one for leaving, but why should she stay somewhere where she's being not treated how she deserves to be treated? I've always seen her want better for herself, want better for her friends, her family, and I am the product of that. I always think like, Mom, but really, what if you would have just stayed in Trinidad? I get chills. I'm like, This is meant to be. Even my father. I'm like, What if they just didn't come to America? I would have been another bitch. I secretly feel like, if they were still together, I would be a nurse. It's not that that's a bad thing, I just really feel like that's where I would have been. I would have been loving it too. I would have had mad vacations lined up. Yes, I would be the nurse with the pedicure with the rhinestones on her toes.
“These years have been about taking a step when I don’t see a staircase.” —Junglepussy
Why did you call the album JP3? Was there an intentional decision not to do something more symbolic?
I had this whole vision, girl. JP3 was not a thing until this year.
I had this whole thing. It was this whole vision, this whole name, the theme, everything was perfect. The artwork, ready to go, strong. And then I started to film visuals for it, and something happened that was very heartbreaking. I worked with this woman who just ran away with my money.
It's just the most bizarre situation. I thought in our little utopian, progressive realm of the internet, all of the creators I know, we wanna work and get stuff done. We don't wanna take money from somebody and not make this shit happen. Especially me, I'm an independent artist, no sugar daddy bitch. I am straight independent, so all this stuff I put in is from my shows, it's from my streams, and it's like, You just took that from me like it was granddaddy, some old money. Like no, that's some new, millennial, direct deposit type money, bitch. It really broke my heart.
I'm so sorry.
It really broke my heart because I do sometimes get wrapped [up] in this. I wanna work with women, I wanna do this, and then it's like, sometimes you just still have to be cautious of people, in general, no matter what. After that, I was like, “Oh, that shit is dead.”
But it was a great lesson and luckily I was able to survive. It happened around my birthday. I'm like, What I'm gonna do for my birthday now, bitch, trying to take all my money. But it's alright because God blessed me with so much after that, and that's what it's been about. These years have been about taking a step when I don't see a staircase... Continuing to just move forward, even if it doesn't seem like all my ducks are in a row.
Is it all the same music, though?
No. At that point I had recorded so much, but I thought I knew the ones that I wanted to do. I was just like, Alright, now I have to surrender to the process. I surrendered and I'm doing what I have to do. I know that what I'm doing [and what] I'm not doing it for. Yes, my family deserves to live a better life, but it's way bigger than me. I would have never thought I would be inspiring people all across the world. I would have never thought I could headline my own European tour. Even today, this very day the album is out, people's reactions are just like... I know I'm gonna cry at the end of the day.
Learning all these things, I just continued to move through life, and just remind myself: I'm awesome, I'm talented, I'm a great writer, I'm a great inspiration. I love to be inspired by others. I am so inspired by the people who like my music, because literally if it was not for them, I would not do it. I did my first song ever as a trial. Everything has been a test. First song: test. “Stitches,” second song: test. First mixtape: test. That was just a test to see if I could even do it, to see if people would even resonate with it, and they do, and I'm like, “Well, y'all are the reason why I'm able to survive. Y'all are the reason why I could continue to create.”
The name JP3 of course [was] my genius mother. She's a director at a hospital for special surgery. She works so hard. When I call her and she gives me the hold music, and I'm hearing jazz and shit, I'm like, Oh, it's real. One day I called her — a day when [my manager] is like, Shayna, you have to come up with a title. We need it today. I don't know what to do, so I call my mom. She's like, Alright. Let's brainstorm. She said two, three wack ones, and then the fourth one was JP3. I was like, Damn, Mom you just gave me the fire title in between your busy ass day in corporate America.
Which of the songs, if any, would you say is closest to your personal experience?
Well, it's so crazy. All of them are real experiences, but for some reason, now they're like, really real. I don't know. It's not about the same guy or person, but it applies to a new person in my life, and I'm like, “But wait, you wasn't here when I wrote this.”
My music always does that to me, and that's why I love it. It's growing with me. Even when I put it out in the world, whatever happens, I still always resonate with it. I'm grateful for that, because I don't know what I would do if I was singing and rapping shit that I didn't feel or was about nothing. All of them are so near and dear to me, but “Showers,” of course, because my nephew is on it. I don't know how I'm gonna be able to perform that without getting emotional. That song really gets me, because when he gets older, I feel like he's gonna really appreciate these little introductions to art.
I have never loved anyone, anything like how I love him. 'Cause he was born in the midst of Junglepussy, and I was not expecting to love somebody so much. This is true, unconditional love. I remember I would just watch him and he just wouldn't talk, and now he's singing on my freaking album.
There's a line on “Showers” when you say, "Scars on my body, cutting like decorations." What does that mean to you?
That's one of my favorite lines. That was hashtag deep. It was just about the bittersweetness of life. The idea of love, the feeling of love, the passing feeling of love. The scars on my body. Nobody has ever seen this probably but when I was younger, my ankle fell off.
How did that happen?
My dad, when we was living in Brooklyn, was always building stuff. He was a great handyman. I would always spend my summers in Trinidad and when I would come back, I'm hype to see all my neighborhood friends. So I came back and my dad was building this porch. I didn't know it wasn't done. I ran across it, all this shit was on it, and this piece of metal just went in my foot, and it was just hanging. I'm probably like seven or eight, and my mother is just freaking out. I had to relearn to walk. Therapy, all this stuff.
But it's about my scars — not only that scar but other scars. Scars on your heart, just memories and moments that are painful to think [about] or touch. It's like this bittersweet, ice-warm combination of feelings.
How do you know when something in your head, or that you recorded into a voice note, is ready to turn into a song?
Depending on the looks on everyone's faces... I'm like, Really? I always think about that, too. I'm like, Shayna, how do you know if it's lit? And I think that literally it’s just... if I like it. I'm like, How do you even know? Album is about to come out. How do you know it's popping? I love it. But how do you know it's lit? 'Cause I liked it and that's all that matters.