Likened to a “Baby Beyonce”, Tinashe has all the makings of a future luminary.
Ombre fox fur cropped jacket by MARC JACOBS, painted challis button down shirt by SHAUN SAMSON, pastel sunglasses by CHLOE.
“It’s just about people getting to know who I am as an artist, as a young woman working in the music industry,” offers 21-year-old Tinashe Kachingwe when I ask her about the themes on her new album, Aquarius. Like butter wouldn’t melt. But I’ve listened to her major label debut. It extols the virtues of everything from multiple orgasms to getting so high you start seeing things. And that’s the joy of Tinashe. She teams feathery lightness with hefty hints at the shadowy subtexts of a young female mind. The video for her ratchet club-smash single, “2 On”, opens with her posing for selfies and practising dance routines with her girls, and eventually descends into the dark corners of an “anything could happen” sweaty warehouse club.
Tinashe has been working in the industry for years — she starred opposite Tom Hanks in Polar Express and Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men. She spent a good chunk of her teenage years in bubblegum pop five-piece, The Stunners, dodging Beliebers as the slick-topped pop brat’s support act. But when the group disbanded, Tinashe took her earnings, built a home studio and holed up making self-released mixtapes. She’d done her time and learnt the ropes, now she was ready to carve her own space.
“I’m a perfectionist about everything,” she explains. “Every step of the way I’m micro-managing every decision.” And she’s not exaggerating: for her own releases she wrote and produced the tracks, directed the music videos and designed the cover art. The three mixtapes, In Case We Die, Reverie and Black Water, showcased a clear vision. They offered up a sound that doffed its baby pink baker to the likes of Aaliyah and Janet Jackson, while establishing the young artist as a key player in the alt-R&B scene. And they resulted in a recording contract with heavy-hitters RCA Records. It was Tinashe’s attention to detail that helped her to achieve a transition from bedroom-producer to major label debutante while holding on for dear life to the essence of her sound. Aquarius takes her independent learnings and applies them to a hefty budget and big team approach.
A perusal of the production credits on the LPis a clue as to where Tinashe’s mind was at when she made the record. She’s recruited the big guns — DJ Mustard was on beat duties for the requisite chart-topper and stage-setter, “2 On”; Stargate assists on the bubbling and club-ready “All Hands On Deck”; and Mike Will Made It announces his presence right from the off on “Thug Cry”. But elsewhere she gives a new breed of production mavericks room to make their mark. Dev Hynes blows the end of “Bet” wide open with a characteristically indulgent guitar solo. On “Indigo Child”, one of the ambitious interludes that pepper Aquarius, Evian Christ (Yeezy-discovery and Ellesmere Port lad-done-good) slashes through silky vocals with his steely sonic knife.
Ombre fox fur cropped jacket by MARC JACOBS, painted challis button down shirt by SHAUN SAMSON, white cotton boxers by SHAUN SAMSON, lavender silk and metal floral shoes by archive ALEXANDER MCQUEEN and pastel sunglasses by CHLOE.
Anomalies are Tinashe’s thing. The first single she bought was Britney’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time” and the first concert she went to was the Christina Aguilera Back to Basics tour. But when I ask about dream collaborations she reels off a leftfield wish list featuring SBTRKT, Little Dragon and Emily Haines. With her JaQuel Knight dance moves and exemplary weave she’s every bit the pop princess. But she knows her stuff, and that might be her secret weapon.
Plus, she has a master plan — and to make it happen she’s gonna need her girls. She may embrace her status as RnB auteur, but she’s also very aware that there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’. “I hope to inspire young women to be involved in the creation of music,” she explains. “Because throughout the two years that I’ve been working on this album I haven’t seen any female producers or worked with any female engineers. It’s just an extremely male-dominated business and I think that’s unfortunate, and it doesn’t really make sense to me because we’re highly capable of doing all of those roles.”
Tinashe has all of the trappings of a role model in the making. I point out to her that a recent concert review likened her to a “Baby Beyoncé”. She is happy but remains completely unruffled by this daunting comparison. “I think that there’s no limit to my potential and that I can do as much as I want to do,”she breezes. We chat on the day that the Lorde-curated The Hunger Games soundtrack is announced. Lorde has explained in no uncertain terms that only her “true heroes” made the final cut. Tinashe sits on the tracklisting alongside the likes of Grace Jones, Q-Tip and The Chemical Brothers. And she sits there surprisingly comfortably.
Tinashe thinks big. Whatever she wants, she wants a lot of it and she wants it now. “2 On”,she explains, is “basically being turned up. Bringing a little bit too much of whatever — too excited, too drunk, too hype.” But don’t be fooled, this is not just her mantra for the club. It’s there the next day when she awakes with her eyes firmly on the prize. Her path seems to be set to stadium stardom and for Tinashe it’s less a matter of “if” than of “when”. “I look forward to the future and seeing how it all pans out. Because that’s the one thing that I know I can’t control — when everything is going to happen”.
Words: Clare Considine.
Fashion: Shaun Samson.
Photography: Ryan Young.