Shayna McHale, AKA Junglepussy, does whatever the fuck she wants – and she manages to do it on her own terms. We meet in Williamsburg and sit at a table in her friend’s studio with incense burning between us. Mid-conversation the health-conscious 23-year-old opens a bag of sliced pineapple. “I don’t know how to scheme,” she says before taking a bite. “A lot of people know how to strategise, plan shit out and plot on people. I’m so bad at that because everything I do is so organic.”
Junglepussy doesn’t have a manager, and doesn’t plan on getting one any time soon – not that it seems to matter. She makes her money from touring and doing live performances around the city, where her name alone creates controversy. Right now she’s working on a follow up to her explosive full-length debut, Satisfaction Guaranteed, and taking things one step a time. “I don’t how I’m gonna cross over, but I know that it’s gonna be bigger than it is now,” she promises me through the wafting incense smoke.
Who is Junglepussy?
Junglepussy is an all-natural girl from Brooklyn. The name seems a little strange, but if you really were to sit and take three minutes to think about it, you’ll realise that the name is so innocent.
Why is it so innocent?
New York City is known as the concrete jungle. So when people ask me about my name. I say I’m from New York, and I’m a girl, so I have a pussy. And I’m in the concrete jungle, but it’s still a jungle for me because I’m still too tropical for America.
Where would you go if not New York?
Hmm‚ I like it here. But, oh my gosh, even on the walk over here there’s so many new beautiful spots and housing. I see New York is never gonna be what it once was. I’m sad about it, but I’m not gonna be bitter and stuck in the past. I’m gonna keep moving forward. Fuck it. Everybody is moving us out of our neighbourhoods. I have family in Trinidad and Jamaica, so I could always go there. But I would really like to go to Montreal. That’s where I really want to have a house and a cabin in the woods. I love it over there. I feel like I could really get the peace I need up there.
You’re born and raised in Brooklyn?
Yes, East New York. Still off the L train, but just past Broadway Junction. All my family, friends, cousins, aunts, [and] my father still live there. Everybody is there. Grandparents from Jamaica, they’re still [in East New York].
I read somewhere you never told your dad you’re a rapper.
Oh yeah. I didn’t.
You still haven’t?
No. He doesn’t know, but his cousins, nieces, and nephews on his side all follow me on Instagram. And they all see what’s happening. So, I feel like they definitely know. I feel like he knows, but he doesn’t want to say anything until I say something. I know they’re all like, “You see what Shayna is doing? You see your daughter?” But on the other hand, my mother knows everything. Like the other day, I had this show and I wanted to wear this dress so bad, and I thought I looked so cute like, “I’m about to perform. I’m about to be free in this nice flowy dress.” She was like, “Ew. Are you going to a picnic? You better go put on a Junglepussy outfit.” She’s really good with that, I’m blessed to have a mother who’s supportive and gets it. It’s not like my mom is this wild woman or wild cougar. She is a business woman. She worked in corporate America all my life. So she’s very prim and proper and conservative. She only uses natural-coloured nail polish and natural-coloured lipstick. So for her to like me still after being myself is so cool.
You’re really – I don’t want to say ‘religious’, but spiritual? Conscious? Aware? Is that from your parents?
I grew up in church. My mother was actually an elder in church, so we always used to have to go to church. As we got older, our faith grew more outside the church on our own. Growing up, I definitely prayed over all my meals, prayed before we left the house. My mother’s house, the kitchen is filled with quotes framed. Even in the bathroom, you’ll find books about living good and eating right. I guess I was brainwashed without realising it. I just saw there were better ways of life, and we don’t have to suffer as long as I keep reading these things and educating myself. Then I could be happy. I was okay with embracing your spirituality without being so hellbent on the commandments. Just being in tune with yourself and in tune with the people you surround yourself with.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I do consider myself a feminist because I’m all for women advancing and letting the world know we’re the ones that you need. So, I’ll definitely take that title.
I ask because your lyrics tell women to respect themselves.
Yes, because before I started making my own music, I was sad. I was looking for music. I graduated high school at 16 years old, so I went straight to college. I was still feeling a little confused. I didn’t know what was going on in the world, and how to be a young black woman in New York. I would go to music. I remember growing up, music would have these messages, things that could make me feel better about myself or just open my mind and make me think. I was sad, I was like, “Where’s the bitches telling me how to live right? Where’s the women telling me how to keep my man?” There was no one out there telling me that. So [I was] like, “Okay, Shayna. Suck it up and learn on your own.” I started learning more about myself, and I just felt like it’s best to share that message.
Are people starting to recognise you out?
Yeah, It’s weird. Even out on Bedford [Street, in Brooklyn] it happens a lot, too. Because people be lingering. I mean, it’s not really a bad thing, but sometimes people get awkward, and it makes me feel awkward. Whenever I see people like my stuff, I’m amazed by them. Because for you to like my stuff, that’s just everything. I would not be anybody if nobody was listening or interested.
Can you still take the train?
I do, but oh my god. My Uber bill is ridiculous for this month. I need a sponsor or a monthly Metro card. I’m gonna just have to buy a ski-mask.
Before, I used to ride the train if it was late, and I just didn’t want to be bothered. One time I was on the J train with Dai Burger, and she’s like “Oh, do you want to listen to music?” So, we’re sharing the iPod and all of a sudden we hear [my track] ‘Stitches’ playing on the train. We thought it was coming from the ear phones, so we took them out – and it was this guy showing this girl the video. [The girl] was like, “I don’t know how far she thinks she’s gonna go with that name.” And I’m like, “Y’all see me, or nah?” I couldn’t tell if they were trying to be loud to make me hear, but it was cool to see somebody’s reaction to me if they didn’t know. The guy was like, “I like her,” but the bitch was straight up hating. I was like, “Girl, you’re really just gonna sit here and hate when all this music is for you?” It was cool.
Are you working on the next thing?
I am. I’m working on my next video. I’m working on the next project.
What’s the next video?
It’s for ‘Me’. ‘Cream Team’ and ‘Stitches’ were videos of me having a creative perspective on situations that we all go through. This is my vision, and ‘Me’ will be the formal introduction. After that, I can do anything because everybody will already know what’s going on.
Is that your favourite song that you have out?
Yes, I love that song because it’s the last song I wrote and recorded for the project. All the other songs I had recorded before I met [producer] Shy Guy. I had done them in Harlem with my friend Jamel, and he was always great. We had fun recording just freestyle mad shit. It was just all over the place. So when I brought it to Shy Guy, he had me finesse everything. I really needed something to let the people know. I was like, “I’ll do a song that perfectly describes me.” I really wanted a song that I can listen to when I’m happy or sad. I feel like all the other songs on the project, except for ‘Kick It’‚ are like “Grr,” and I just wanted a reflective song. I was on YouTube this week, and I saw that Erykah Badu has a song called ‘Me’ and she talks about being free and not having a weave. I hope she doesn’t think I was copying her because I just saw it this week, but it’s so good.
If you could work with anybody, would it be her?
Yes. She doesn’t even have to want to work with me. I’m like, “Can we just fucking chill in a park for 30 minutes?” That’s all I want. I don’t even want much from these people. But I would love to work with her, that would be a dream. And Jill Scott – that would be a dream, too. Or if she just let me take a nap on her titties. That would be a better option. [Laughs].
How’d you meet Shy Guy?
He’s an angel. We met in the winter, but it wasn’t until the summer that we started working. We did one song together, and it was cool, but it just started getting better and better. I was at the studio last week, and the new shit is unfair. I’m like, “Why do you have to be so talented? Like, this is too much for the world.”
He’s really amazing to work with because he really lets me be myself and respects what I have to say. He doesn’t want me to not share my perspective, even though producers have their own vision and ear. What I really love is we give each other our own space. If he has a vision for the production, I’m gonna respect it. If I have a vision lyrically, he’s gonna respect it.
Who do you think gravitates towards your music the most?
I thought it was just one [group]. I thought it was just scholarly women. Then I realised it’s everybody – guys, girls, any type of sexuality. It’s such a smorgasbord of people. That’s why I never want to box anybody out or be stank or be rude because I know this is bigger than me.
Who’s the craziest or coolest person you’ve met so far?
I don’t meet that many celebrities because I’m awkward around them. I’m not even that close to celebrities, I don’t put myself in places where they be at. I met Cam’ron … and he was like, “Nice to meet you, Jungle.” He didn’t even want to say ‘pussy’.
There are so many other females in New York trying to make it as rappers, too. What’s it like being a part of that scene?
I’m not familiar with the scene because I really be minding my business. But there is an abundance of rappers, singers, [and] strippers in New York. I’m fine with it because as I look back, there were so many artists – Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, Brandy, Monica, Lil’ Kim, Da Brat, Eve, Lil’ Mo. There were so many, and they were themselves, they were successful and they’re still living their lives. I feel like that’s been done before, this is just the next set of people coming [up], and everybody can do their own thing.
How do you want to improve in the future?
Every day I ask God to help me be a better entertainer, a better lyricist, a better sister, a better daughter, a better friend, a better lover. Those are the things I pray for all the time. Because not only do I want to get better at what I’m doing, but I want to be a better person too. That was what was important to me. When I decided to get into music I was like, “Shayna, you know you can’t go in on no frou-frou shit because people are going to see right through that. You’re going to have to be yourself unconditionally and unapologetically. You have to give these people all of you because that’s all you have in abundance.” And I was like, “All right, Shayna. You’re gonna do this.”
Words by Dwayne Yates
Photos by Olivia Seally