Philly rapper Chynna wants to be a voice for the underdogs

“China,” declares Donald Trump. “China, China, China, China.” This is how the rapper Chynna kicks off her recent video for “Practice,” with a stitched-together collage of the president chanting her name like a mantra. It’s a hilarious example of how her give-no-fucks approach has solidified her as one of rap’s freshest new faces.

Chynna signed to Ford Models at age 14, she has worked with the likes of DKNY, Gypsy Sport and Sophie Theallet. But the Philadelphian powerhouse was never meant to be yet another face on a billboard. She juggles her modeling career alongside writing raps, directing her own videos, and touring the country.

Now 24, she’s had her share of life lessons, including a struggle with an opioid addiction and the recent loss of her mother. With a promising future in rap ahead of her, she’s taking nothing for granted, and wants to use her position to give a voice to society’s underdogs. “I’ll tell their stories for them and fuse it into my own,” she says, in order to “speak up for people who can’t speak, or don’t have that kind of representation.”

This past September, Chynna dropped her first official EP, Music 2 Die 2, a collection of tracks that the A$AP mob affiliate (she was mentored early in her career by the late A$AP Yams) created to take you through a range of emotions. “Practice”, a heavy-hitting track from the EP, is accompanied by a music video shot in Atlantic City and directed by Chynna herself. Her melodic flow and smooth lyrics mesh together effortlessly; she has a charisma and confidence beyond her years. We caught up with the rapper over the phone during a break in her busy schedule, as she prepares to kick off her first European shows this coming March.

LOUIS FEVOLA: Were you surprised with the reaction you got when you dropped Music 2 Die 2?

CHYNNA: I was surprised with the reaction for sure, because I know that the title could be pretty gruesome, but it got a lot of great responses. “Asia Black Market” seems to be pretty popular; I didn’t really want to release that. It’s always the tracks that I don’t really like that I find everyone gravitates towards. I feel like when I experiment that I’m just not the best, but it did really well, and then I ended up touring the U.S. right after that.

FEVOLA: So you’re recording new music now, how is that going?

CHYNNA: I’m trying to get all of these ideas that I’ve had for a while out, and then I’m going to start working on a full-length album. But I want to release something because I leave for Europe in March, so that’ll probably be a little EP of the backup stuff that comes out.

FEVOLA: Who would you want to collaborate with on your new material?

CHYNNA: The only other rapper that I really do want to work with right now is Young Dolph because I feel like they keep trying to shoot him and kill him, and he’s invincible, thank God. Outside of that, it really isn’t any hip-hop collaborations. I really want to do songs with my favorite emo bands from when I was like 12 or 13. I would love to work with Fall Out Boy or Paramore.

FEVOLA: Is your own music influenced by these artists?

CHYNNA: “Seasonal Depression” definitely reminded me a lot of my My Chemical Romance phase. I don’t want to sound like my influences and I feel like a lot of people make the mistake of trying to emulate the people they’re influenced by, instead of just trying to evoke the same emotion, which I think is a lot easier. I’m not an emo band you know? [laughs] I would love to be one but I’m not, so I just try to make myself and my music have the same feel as their music has made me feel.

FEVOLA: So you started modeling at 14 years old, tell me about that.

CHYNNA: I got signed at 14 to Ford and I was there up until like 17, so it was really just my high school years. I didn’t really get to do that much because I was in school, and I still had braces and all that stuff. I wouldn’t really encourage anyone to model until they’re like 17, because it’s so easy to take advantage of people at 14. Music is actually what has brought me back to modeling because I was able to get DKNY when I was performing at their after party. But my music has brought me back into that whole realm and I definitely like it better as an adult.

FEVOLA: So you’re getting back into modeling?

CHYNNA: Yeah, but I never really completely stopped. I would like to at least walk fashion weeks but I don’t really have time while I’m making my music. So I want to model but it needs to take the backseat.

FEVOLA: How would you say your music and modeling correlate?

CHYNNA: Well fashion has always been stealing from hip-hop culture anyway, but I want to try to mesh them as much as possible without becoming the “model rapper,” that’s corny for me. So I’m trying to find a happy medium. It’s hard to find designers that aren’t just trying to take from culture but that are actually trying to embrace it.

FEVOLA: How did you become associated with A$AP Mob?

CHYNNA: I’ve known all of them now for about five years. Ant, Yams and Illz were the ones I was closest with first, and they taught me a lot of shit as far as the industry goes. They were definitely the first people I really saw mix fashion and music as a unit and take it from streetwear to a high-end level. I’m very thankful to have known and created a friendship with Yams before he passed. He still has so much influence and it’s been three years since he passed, which is amazing.

FEVOLA: What would your ideal record be made up of?

CHYNNA: I’m so not a fan of rapper-singer collaborations, but if I could I would try to do a collaboration with Gucci Mane and Axl Rose. It sounds disgusting saying that out loud, but I would force it to work and I think the video shoot for that would be fire. I write all of my videos, and I have really expensive taste, and I would never want to have a reputation of not paying people for their work. But it takes a long time and videos always cost more than you even plan for it to be.

FEVOLA: What do you draw on for motivation?

CHYNNA: At first I had a fire under my ass because I had gotten clean, but then my mom died an exact year after I got out of rehab, so it put me back in this depressed mood. I wasn’t about to use that as an excuse or let her have passed in vain. She was my reason for doing everything, so now I have to. Whenever I am working and shit it perpetuates and good things just keep on happening. A body in motion stays in motion, I strongly agree with that.

FEVOLA: Is your mom’s passing reflected in your music at all?

CHYNNA: No, not at all. I haven’t mentioned it. It’s an emotion that I haven’t acknowledged yet. I’m like a serial suppressor, if that makes sense. I continuously do not acknowledge my emotions for as long as I can, and then eventually I give myself time to go cry.

FEVOLA: What issues do you want to you use your platform to shed light on?

CHYNNA: The only thing I really feel comfortable with and think I know enough about to be some kind of voice for would be addiction. But I don’t want it to be some “anti-drug” campaign, because that’s not how I feel. I can only preach what I practice and I’m not going to sit here and act like that. They told me I’m not supposed to smoke weed and I was like, “Yeah right.” It’s an epidemic now so I can show people that people that look like me can also be successful and function, and have the same problems as you. When I went away I saw that a lot of people that were in there for the same shit I was didn’t look like me, and even when I became open about it, people didn’t expect for me to have done what I did. So that’s what I would shed light on. Everything else is too vague and sticky.