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modelling, escaping the military and making music with chynna

In the second article in our series on female rappers, we meet West Philly-bred rapper Chynna, who has had a fascinating 19 years on this planet. At eight years old, she was digi-scribbling baby bars into WordPad on her computer. It took her a while to publicly acknowledge her growing craft though. “I didn’t want to come out with wack bars and then get better,” she says. Her debut track was the infectious Selfie, which was a solid musical introduction for a girl who was once military bound only after entering the modeling world. Now she’s making music, we take a few to talk about coming up and where she’s going.

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Is there a strong female rap presence in Philly? Offhand the only other female rappers that come to mind are Eve and Charli Baltimore.
Yeah, there are a lot of female rappers. I think the only problem with Philly is that it’s pretty much like crabs in a bucket when it comes to anything, so they don’t really like working together. I feel like maybe ten years ago, female artists would’ve definitely worked together, just because, and it helps too. I think everyone out there now is just out for themselves. So we’re here, but no one really wants to expand or collaborate with each other. I think that’s a problem. 

What was your process like, of getting to this point?
I don’t know how it happened so quickly, but it was pretty organic. I just met different people in music randomly throughout the past year — whether I was at a shoot or an event or just out. I think I just got lucky in that sense. But I definitely like building relationships with all of those people, and showing them my music. I had ten different things to talk about. I guess I was more relatable in that sense. I think what helps is that I don’t really make it a point that I’m a female rapper. I just come into it as a rapper; the female doesn’t matter. I really don’t think it’s important, because you’re categorising yourself when you do that.

Your style is interesting because you don’t sound East Coast or like you’re rapping from a particular part of the map. Especially on a track like Glen Coco.
It’s weird. I listen to music that’s completely different from what I make on purpose. If you go to my iTunes, my Most Played is probably Gucci [Mane] or Migos or stuff from Atlanta in general. I feel like you shouldn’t actually try to emulate artists you like so much. So I really don’t know where all of this came from, but if I feel like I’m sounding like someone else, I stop. And on Glen Coco, I felt like I was sounding like Migos…so then I stopped [laughs]. My favorite rapper is Cam’ron but I couldn’t sound like him if I tried. 

Have you had your ‘Ah-Ha!’ moment yet in the game where you’re like ‘Oh shit, I forgot. I’m a girl.’
Yeah, a few times. Not in shoots or anything, but with other rappers who are guys. It’ll be like “Oh you can rap and everything”, but then I think they’re the ones who realise I’m a girl. At first, if they meet me and I’m rapping, it’s like "Oh you got skills", but then they get to know me and I might put up photos from a shoot and they’re like "Oh I forgot she’s a girl. Let me try to hit on her now". It’s not immediate anymore; they wait now. I don’t know when guys started doing this. They wanna be in the friend zone at first and then climb out of it. I’d rather you just be up front about it.

Is the female factor in rap still a point of contention? Do you think Nicki Minaj broke that down at all?
Hmmm… it’s still present. It’s not a bad thing. Female artists make themselves out to be activists or feminists, which is not a problem but you’re reminding people that you’re a woman and you want respect for that. I just came in like ‘I rap,’ and there’s already a negative connotation from being a rapper in general.

And you started out as a model…
Yeah, I got signed to Ford when I was 14. 

What’s that like, going to castings at like 14 years old?
It’s a great experience, but I feel like you shouldn’t start doing it until you’re like 16 or 17. I was in the 9th grade, so I would miss a lot of school. In modeling, they don’t give you any notice, like "Oh you need to get up and go". I still had braces on my teeth, but they put me in women’s, I think because of my height. I was the youngest girl there, and I wasn’t getting a lot of shoots. It was too much to be failing school and not getting a lot of shoots. Besides that, they wanted me to lose weight. Are you kidding? I was already too skinny to begin with. They’re nuts.

Did being a model help or hinder your rap career?
I think it helped because it showed me what any kind of industry is like. To be honest, I don’t know which is worse… or more difficult rather. They’re both so connected, rap and fashion. I remember going to shoots, and I’d see the “special board,” which would have musicians on it. A lot of musicians are signed to an agency for random things. But it’s been cool, modeling gives me a little bit more to talk about. You know what? The best part about it is learning about the drug culture. From being in the hood, you get to see the culture from the buyer’s perspective, in music and modeling you get to see it from the consumer’s perspective. I really got to see what coke does to people. 

Did it make you never want to do it?
Oh my god yes, it made me never want to do coke ever.

Is heroin still a thing?
You know what? I don’t even know. Nowadays everyone is open about being on coke. No one is open about a heroin addiction. But coke, they’re like, offering it to you. 

Tell me about almost joining the military.
I graduated in 2012, and I got accepted into a lot of schools, but I couldn’t afford any of them. So then I was like "You know what? I’m gonna go to the military," because my Mum was in the military and my Grandfather, but they would also pay for school. I wanted to fly; I wanted to be a pilot even though my vision isn’t good. Basically, I did the ASVAB, which is like the military SAT and I did really well. I thought I was going to get an Intel job, I went and got the physical, and everything was good up until the weight part. They’re like, "You’re too skinny for your height. I need you to gain twenty pounds in a month". 

So lose weight for modeling, gain weight for the military…
It’s crazy! It was because of basic training, but I can’t gain twenty pounds to save my life. I drank disgusting protein powder, ate fast food, made myself sick. I gained ONE pound. It clearly wasn’t meant for me, so I decided the only thing was music. I still wanna be a pilot though. I may have to get Lasik for that. 

@madeinchynna