A protégée of A$AP Mob, the Philly native talks loving, losing, and writing as therapy.
“Law and Order taught me a lot about my rights as a woman, especially when it comes to sexual harassment and how policies need to change,” says Chynna Rogers, entertaining our interview on International Women’s Day. Writing and releasing music for five years, if you’re paying attention you’ll have noticed that, finally, the world seems to be waking up to the Philly-native, with her name on the lips of some of hip-hop’s biggest heavyweights.
And for good reason: the 22-year-old makes rap that feels like it’s from another dimension. In the crystalline cloud that is latest project Music 2 Die 2 for example, Chynna narrates her trip through early-20s ennui and ego complicated by a media ecosystem demanding constant engagement. She is far from the first artist to grapple with this thorny dynamic, but she sets herself apart with disarming sincerity, self-awareness, and a wry sense of humor.
Just as in her achy soul raps, beauty and sadness cozy up close in Chynna’s demeanor. Her story is one of struggle – with love, anguish, and addiction – defined by the death of close family and friends. Managing to become one of the year’s most promising artists amidst personal tragedy has been a remarkable feat, and you can see it and hear it in everything that she does. She is a comforting counsel, exuding the warmth of an old friend while gracious and unafraid to open up with a rare honesty.
Here she fills Mariana Carvalho in on love, loss, and writing as therapy.
You’re from Philly. Do you feel like the city influenced your character?
Philly is such a blue-collar city. Everybody is working hard so you get used to the idea that you have to work for anything you want, and that you also get what you pay for. In that respect, I try to be as good at my job as possible because people are actually paying to see me perform and are buying my music. They’re the reason that I can continue to do this and pay my bills. So Philly taught me that you need to put in what you want to get out of things.
You record in New York and LA too, right?
Yeah, one of my first times recording consistently was actually in London, though. I got to record at Abbey Roads for a few weeks – that was amazing. I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time, but looking back now, it was one of the better parts of my career. New York is geographically so close to Philly that I almost feel like New York is a little brother to me. Now that I’ve been going there consistently for about five years, I really feel like a New Yorker.
Have you ever considered moving there permanently?
I kind of did, but eventually you don’t always wanna have a million people in such close proximity all the time. It just gets a little too big and I need space, I need things to be a little bit cheaper, I need sales tax to not be like 10%… I would rather move to London first.
What draws you to London?
After spending so much time there – I’ve always stayed as long as my passport allows – and having had relationships, friends, my own apartment there, it just feels like home a little. I also feel like it’s a little more diverse than New York. In London you can really see people’s roots, they aren’t trying to assimilate as much as in New York, where I feel like you see a lot of different types of Americans, you know?
It’s an unpopular opinion, but I agree. Has anything surprised you about Europe on this tour?
I can’t front, I definitely thought I was going to experience more racism in certain countries where I know there’s probably like five black people there. I was really nervous that nobody was gonna speak English or that they would purposefully give me a hard time for being American, but they were actually all really friendly and understanding of the fact we’re going through a really hard time right now! They know I don’t represent “that guy”…
America is going through such a hard time. On top of that, you’ve been through some hardship in your personal life, too. Do you consider music to be therapy?
It’s more like a journal than therapy. I don’t deal with things right away, I never have, and with music it allows me to look at shit in retrospect and say how I feel because I have to get my words together first. I don’t like when people go through things with me. I need to deal, and then come back and tell you what happened. Music allows me to do that. Because by the time everyone hears it, it’s been six months so I can actually answer questions. I wish that I did feel like that though, because maybe I’d put music out more often and wouldn’t be such a perfectionist; it always has to be better than the last thing I did.
How do you maintain balance between being honest and open, while keeping certain things private?
I wish there was a method to my madness, but there isn’t. At first, I thought I was going to be able to make music without shedding a tear or showing real emotion, because that’s just not me. Sometimes I go to the studio pissed, and you can hear that. When I’m high, you can hear it. I have like no control over it! I’m starting to accept and actually like it now, but I didn’t like it at all before. I’m starting to accept I can’t put on a façade all the time – the music has to be as raw and honest as possible or I’ll be disappointed in myself down the line.
How did you come up with the title for Music 2 Die 2?
I had been sitting on that title for two years because one of my favourite directors, Hitchcock, made an album that was called Music To Be Murdered By. A lot of people don’t listen to classical music but I really appreciated it. The dialogue in-between is what I really like, the feelings it gave me. So I just put my own twist on that title. Around the time it dropped, the world had kind of changed and so I think a lot of people took a different meaning from it. But art is up for interpretation, so I’m not mad. For me, it’s just trying to honour one of my inspirations without copying.
And what message were you trying to put out with the project?
I have this fear that if I die (like in a car accident or something), I really don’t want a song I hate to be playing in the back. Like I don’t want that the last song I hear to be Jason Derulo or something, I would be so pissed. So I was like, here are some tunes that might not be so bad to listen to. I don’t look at death as a morbid thing because it’s gonna happen to all of us, so I wanted to show people that as well.
Have you always looked at death that way or was it shaped elsewhere?
I’m not sure. I’ve always noticed that people aren’t fully understood and that people don’t try to understand you until you’re gone and you can’t explain yourself. But at the same time, I might be desensitized to all of that since it’s always been a part of my life. I just think it’s kind of naïve to think that you and all your friends are gonna die at the same time. It’s like, no one really prepares you for it, to be honest.
What are the main differences between Ninety and Music 2 Die 2? A lot happened in your life between the release of those two projects…
I was three months clean at that point when Ninety dropped and just wanted to get all of that out there. Music 2 Die 2 is about all that I learned when I was returning to society and kind of just re-involving myself in my culture and in my industry. Drugs can make you very reclusive. So it was me coming out with some new, not as dark, not as evil music and showing the world what I was experimenting with musically. Obviously as artists we like to experiment, but I don’t like it when artists put out a body of work that’s completely different from their previous work. I wanted to ease everyone into this experimental shit.
Were you worried at all about how your music might sound, without the drugs?
That was one of my biggest fears. I was like, “If my music sucks, then that means I need the drugs to be creative, and that’s trash to me”. One of my favourite writers, Rod Serling, said, “If you need drugs to be a good writer, you’re not a good writer”. I call myself a writer above all else. I mean artist is cool, rapper is cool, but I love writing, it’s really the only outlet I have because I can’t sing and I can’t paint. I wanted to be an author first, but I don’t have the attention span to write books. So I figured I could put a whole story in a song! And it’s kind of the same thing. Words are really the only pallet I have.
I feel like our whole generation has a problem with attention spans; we have too many distractions and notifications popping up.
We’re receiving information constantly. Today I sat down and read a newspaper and it felt so great not to be scrolling on Twitter. Like I know most of the news in there is probably bullshit and I need to go to Twitter for the truth, but I still really enjoyed just reading a physical newspaper for a change.
You’re on tour, working on new music, generally managing your life… How do you make sure you’re taking care of your mental health?
To be honest, I don’t, I just suppress things. It’s not a conscious effort, it’s just that I always have something else to do, I always push it to later. I think I have to put time aside to sit there and reflect on things, you know? It usually happens on flights. Silence is so loud… If I don’t have the adaptor for my headphones, I end up just sitting there crying. But my mother knows I don’t show feelings, so it’s all good.
Tell me about your tattoos.
My favourite tattoo is probably my hand, my mandala. I like tattoos because they’re permanent body art. I usually forget to put on jewellery and rings, so this way I’m always decorated. I guess the yin-yang on the inside of my fingers will mean the most to me when I get married because the ring will cover one half of it.
Finally, what’s next after tour?
I’m just gathering inspiration for my debut album. I feel like I haven’t been in Europe for so long, it’s been two years since I’ve been here, but I just needed to kind of be reminded because America is such a bubble, and New York is an even smaller bubble, and LA is even crazier – LA is its own planet. I think living on the coast or in a big city really isn’t an accurate view of the whole world, so I think it’s refreshing to see what everyone else does and listens to and eats.