“You wanna do this here, or get a drink?” asks Chynna, 23, scanning a crowded Brooklyn photo studio and shrugging off a couture trench coat. The West Philadelphia–bred, New York–based rapper ducks into a changing area and reemerges, seconds later, in sweats and Nike Air Max slip-ons. She declines an offer from the makeup artist to wipe her face clean. She’s going to a drag show later.
It’s reductive to dwell on a female artist’s appearance, but it would be negligent not to mention the obstacle course of slack-jawed men Chynna must circumnavigate on her way to the bar. Sipping a double-shot of whiskey, she recounts being scouted at 14 at Six Flags, and her eventual decision to move modeling to the back burner. “I’d rather be known for my brains,” she says, “because eventually I won’t look like this, and I had nothing to do with looking like this.”
Her musical references are eclectic and cinematic—2014’s “Glen Coco,” with its rapid-fire lyrics over a sparse, ominous trap beat, nods to Mean Girls (2004), and this past September’s Music 2 Die 2 EP was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Music to Be Murdered By. She attributes her range to her mother’s affinity for everything “from house music to Melissa Etheridge,” and to her friends at her magnet middle school. “It was 2007, peak emo, but being black and living in the hood, that part of me could only exist on MySpace, because I was not about to walk down the street in a Hot Topic outfit,” she says with a laugh. Aside from trying to evoke the emotions she felt upon first hearing Paramore’s “Decode,” Chynna’s main intention is to make music that will appeal to all genders. “It’s like, (a) I am bisexual, and (b) I want my male fans to feel comfortable reciting it, too,” she says.
A frequent comment on Chynna’s videos is that she’s “slept on,” and despite a steady output of singles, EPs, and mixtapes, she does seem to be stuck on “emerging” mode. The 2015 death of her mentor, A$AP Yams, was a setback. A subsequent spiral into opiate addiction didn’t help. Her mother’s death last May threatened to throw her off the wagon, but she held strong. This spring marks two years off hard drugs, and she’s ready to get vulnerable in the studio for her full-length debut. “I’m not going to sit here and say I decided to quit on my own—other people in my life decided for me. But I was ready,” she says, tucking a braid behind her ear. “I still have a lot more to say.”