“DaughterNatureFunkyGenius” — one word — is how rapper and musician Junglepussy describes her bold style. In tune with her surroundings and the climate of the east coast, the New York native, born Shayna McHayle, considers her edgy fashion sense in part a reflection of having to adapt to changing seasons. And like the seasons, McHayle is reliable. Brooklyn, her childhood stomping grounds, is still her home base. She still shops in Long Island, as she did as a child (she hasn’t forgotten that “poppin’” denim two-piece she bought at the 21st Century in Long Island some time ago) and she still works with same hairstylist who styled her first press and curl years ago.
But McHayle isn’t afraid to try new things: she went to the Fashion Institute of Technology on and off after graduating high school at 16 years old. She eventually decided to focus squarely on music and took the name Junglepussy, releasing her song “Cream Team” in 2013 on a whim (boasting Erykah Badu as a fan), which lead to her first mixtape Satisfaction Guaranteed in 2014 and her 2016 mixtape Pregnant With Success.
The 25-year-old, who is currently prepping for her upcoming performance at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, took a moment to talk to Billboard about why there are no fashion mistakes, her original rapper persona, and why heartbreak isn’t fueling her next project.
When did you start doing music?
In high school, my rap name was Shay Hammer. I was in a group called Primp with four or five other people, and we would cut class to freestyle and make videos. My friend would put the videos together as a recap — we were Love & Hip Hop before it was a thing. One day, we got caught cutting class by the dean and he made us participate in the school talent show [as punishment]. I was like, “I’m not doing it,” so I really sat in the crowd and watched my friends perform like a loser. I would’ve never thought I’d end up being the one doing music. It really just started with friendship and doing it for the love of [music]. When I reflect on my younger years, I feel more connected with myself which really helps with creating the new music. It was just so raw.
When did you get serious about your music?
I ended up doing one song, “Cream Team,” in 2012. People really liked it. Erykah Badu tweeted it, so I was like, “I guess I’ve got to keep going.” There’s been a lot of unbelievable blessings – things I hoped for later in my career that came early.
What was it like creating your new music video for Somebody?
I style myself and my hairdresser from childhood does my hair. She created a bunch of wigs for me. I wanted the video to be another representation of a black women being limitless and switching her hair and outfit up as much she wants to, living freely in nature, loving herself and attracting good vibes. I wanted this video to look like I’ve signed to a label and have someone investing thousands of dollars into me — and that’s what it looks like and it was all me. I’m really proud of it.
How’s the new project coming along?
Last year, I kept saying I don’t want every album to be me complaining about what some guy did to me, and I don’t want whoever’s listening to dwell on the negative things so much. They’ve already got that [from me] for two projects. I’m always going to talk about love, and life, and experience, but the lens has shifted in my new project. It’s music for women who remind themselves they deserve love. We have a lot of love we could give to ourselves. I fell in love with that message because no one’s really reminding us to love ourselves.
How does your music influence your fashion?
My style changes with my music. Sometimes I like to dress up when I’m recording, even though it’s just me and the engineer. [My outfit] sets the tone. It’s what I hope you see in your head when you hear the song.
Who’s your biggest fashion inspiration?
I would say me in high school. I was wearing a uniform until high school, so once I got there, I was figuring myself out and it was really expressive and organic.
What’s the biggest fashion blunder you’ve committed?
None! There’s no such thing. Who said what fashion has to be? I’m not even going to be hard on myself because there’s no rules to this thing.
What’s your favorite item in your closet?
Whatever’s pink. Pink makes me so happy. I still love my animal prints that really make me feel like Junglepussy, but pink just does it for me.
What’s one trend that you’re into right now?
Everyone being themselves and realizing they have a voice and they can use it. I feel this heartbeat in the world and people are really just getting more and more woke by the day. People are loving themselves and fighting for their existence, even though it’s a full-time job. That’s a poppin’ trend that should stay and evolve and grow.
What about a trend you’re not into?
Appropriation of black culture. It’s tired. When will it end?
What’s coming up for you fashion-wise?
I walked in a DKNY show [in 2015] and I want to walk in more shows every season. I definitely don’t want to be in the back. I want to be a visual representation to show other black girls who want to do so many things that they can. I can do music, I can call myself Junglepussy, I can walk a runway.
Check out Junglepussy’s music video for her song “Somebody” below.