At first sight she seems self-conscious and childishly jolly while she pleasurably places a strawberry between her lips. She chews in a hasty manner. She looks up. Her eyes are shy, even sad yet sure of her own expression. Her whole appearance seems authentic, however looking at the details leaves questions.
23 years old Chynna, rapper and model from Philly, was discovered and supported by a model agency at the age of 14. To concentrate on her music, she put modeling on hold and now lives in NYC as part of the hip hop collective A$AP Mob – probably the most influential of our time. With TISSUE Chynna talks about the value of writing, her inspiration and the pernicious traps of drug addiction.
INTERVIEW: JULE KLENERT
PHOTOGRAPHY: TIM BRUENING
ILLUSTRATION: BARBARA LÜDDE
TISSUE: Chynna, you are the first lady of the A$AP Mob. What does it feel like to get so much support?
CHYNNA: Who gave me this name? (laughing) I hate that first lady word. I think the internet kind of gave me that name. The guys from the A$AP Mob are really good friends of mine and they taught me a lot about the industry, especially thinking about how young I was at the beginning, I was really grateful to have that kind of support, to have people looking out for me who already have been through it.
So, how did it all begin?
The internet mainly, I mean I was already a fan and then I kind of met them organically like outside one at a time, kind of and I just liked finding out that there were more than one or two people. That was kind of how New York was, at that time. People still went outside, you know naturally did things and that was really it. And from there I developed friendships.
What does working with the A$AP Mob mean to you? And what makes it possible for you?
It just means a lot to be able to do stuff with your friends and also watch them take off and do their own thing.
Kind of like your family?
Yeah just watching people that you support and want to succeed, like being able to watch them do it, that’s always a good feeling.
I can imagine that sometimes it’s hard to get heard in a male-dominated rap scene. What’s your experience so far?
Well, I‘m a girl, that’s all I have ever known, I really can’t change that, so I kind of just have to deal with it. I mean most careers are male dominated. We just started working like 60 years ago, so we kind of had to infiltrate everyone’s space, I think as long as you still do the job which is expected from you then people will have to respect that.
You were born and raised in Philadelphia. Now you live in New York. Did you move to New York because of music?
Mainly yes, as it’s not far from Philadelphia, it’s only an hour by train, so I didn’t feel like I had to make some big step. I can always go visit but I think it’s necessary if you’re starting a career in music to either be in New York or LA.
“NOTHING WOULD EVER REALLY STOP ME COMPLETELY”
In 2016, you were in the throes of an opiate addiction. How did drug addiction affect your music?
It made it a little darker for a while, but music is just such a big part of me, nothing would ever really stop me completely, you know. It just taught me a little more about myself and gave me different material to write about.
Has your music changed since you got clean?
I’m talking about different things, as different things are happening to me. I’d say I got better, it kind of gave me some time to really practice and perfect what I do.
What is the aesthetic and mood of your music inspired by?
I think I listen to the same songs over and over again. I kind of just need some of my favorite tracks in my life but that could be anything, you know, for example old rock music, like Radiohead – yeah I really love Radiohead. But I also love all my rap, all my trap.
“WRITING MUSIC HAS ALWAYS REALLY HELPED ME WITH DEPRESSION”
Who is your favorite trap artist?
Definitely Gucci, but they all equally mean as much to me, so I guess that’s what my music is starting to sound like. I don’t want to sound like those people but I think I see their influence in me like the title of an album or in some of the artwork.
Last year, your mother died. Does your music help you deal with your loss?
Yeah, writing has always kind of helped me because I don’t like to speak. It takes too much effort. Writing music has always really helped me with depression.
Do you think art can be a form of expression or a form of processing?
I think it’s the best way. I learned how to express myself through music, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be as balanced. I only express certain emotions openly, which are usually the angrier ones. You have to have an outlet for things, you know, you don’t need that kind of energy all the time. It’s a good form of expression.
You’re not only a rapper, you’re also a model. I think these are two very different things. Rapping means using your language to express yourself, modeling means using your looks, your body. What is your opinion on that?
I mean I do love modeling, it’s an art form in itself but I don’t really get much out of having a job based on what I look like as I won’t look like that forever and then my career would be kind of over, so I’m grateful that I have making music. It doesn’t matter what you look like, because you paint the pictures with your thoughts or your voice and not with your appearance.