The New York rapper on her first big screen film role, the Obamas, and how her high school experience shaped her.

Junglepussy blue boilersuit
Junglepussy blue boilersuit

Shayna McHayle, aka Junglepussy, radiates positivity. Meeting her hours before she went onstage at Primavera Sound was testament to how just 30 minutes in her company is enough to turn around a bad day.

It was a Friday afternoon, and Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes – the main avenue dissecting Barcelona and the second longest street in Spain – was rammed. When I arrive at the hotel, I dash for the lift and go straight up to the roof terrace. I’d been told to look for pink hair, and it only took a second to spot Junglepussy’s coral pink pixie cut. She was at a table next to the pool, laughing with two others.

I introduce myself and apologise profusely, but it’s instantly clear that Shayna McHayle is not the sort of person to get het up over trivialities. As the waiter sets down some food, she exclaims: “That is the fanciest ham and cheese I’ve ever seen! It’s gourmet as fuck. It’s not like no square-ass slices of ham”.

Right now, Junglepussy is in Barcelona on tour. Her next stop will be Jamaica, where she will also get to catch up with family; her dad’s side are Jamaican and her mum, who she has referred to as “the queen of self-love”, is from Trinidad. Just last night she called her mum for advice regarding “industry politics and stuff”.

“She was like, ‘just let all of that go Shayna. You’re there because you’re supposed to be there and that’s all you need to focus on, being you and doing what you came there to do.’ She’s worked in corporate America all her life so this stuff, it’s kind of the same vein. You just have to overlook a lot of stuff, it doesn’t mean that you stand down or don’t speak your mind. But you don’t let stuff like that bother you because your body feels it.”

Junglepussy was born in Brooklyn. Now 27, it’s been a little over a year since she released her third album, JP3. Since then, McHayle also made her big screen acting debut, starring opposite Regina Hall, who she had admired “forever”, in the independent 2018 feature film, Support the Girls.

“She is a legend. She’s in everything since I was a little girl until now. Maintaining that career, that’s super inspiring,” McHayle says of her co-star Hall, who last year became the first black woman to be awarded the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress for the role.

The film portrays the realities of a day in the life of a team of women working at Double Whammies, a fictional Hooters-style bar or “breastaurant” (as they have been known to be called). Its blend of subtle comedy and bitter realism has been a hit with many viewers, including the former president of the United States. In December, Barack Obama included the film on his 2018 year-end list of favourite movies.

“Yes, that blew my mind,” says McHayle. “I was like, errr, Obama, did Michelle watch it with you? I hope she did! They licensed one of my songs in that movie so if he watched the whole movie he heard my song!” she says excitedly. “I hope he shazam’d it. I love them.”

Previous to being offered the part of mum Danyelle, McHayle’s only acting credits were her performances in her own music videos. Yet those performances made such an impact on director Andrew Bujalski, that he wanted McHayle in his next film. Now, it’s clear that she’s been bitten by the acting bug, having spent the last year auditioning for roles and developing her very own channel, JPTV – an outlet where she meshes all the different ways she expresses herself creatively.

Junglepussy orange boilersuit
Junglepussy jacket
Junglepussy orange boilersuit
Junglepussy jacket

Her latest episode is a nine-minute parody of a reality dating show, soundtracked with snippets from three tracks off JP3. McHayle plays all five different characters. Apparently it’s hard to find guys who want to appear in Junglepussy videos. After one guy said it would be bad for his reputation, McHayle decided she would just play the male roles herself. “Guys don’t deserve facetime in my videos. If there’s ever a guy in my video, I will guarantee that you will not see his face. His head will be chopped off. Absolutely. I can’t say there is a guy in my life that looks out and protects me. Like, not even my father. It is what it is.”

McHayle will never compromise who she is “to satisfy people who don’t even know what they want, which is everyone,” she says. “People are so disposable of everything. They’re so greedy.” Later that evening she would perform on stage wearing a t-shirt from her own line of merch, which reads, “Why would I care to be liked by terrible people with bad taste”.

“That’s the line. I don’t care, really. I must be able to sleep peacefully at night. I’m not trying to spend time beating up myself. I’m never trying to get caught up in that rat race of like, ‘I must please you, I must please you’,” she adds.

She credits her high school experience as having been instrumental in shaping her as a creative. McHayle regularly goes back to visit, and only a few weeks ago formed part of the judging panel for the students’ sustainable fashion show. “It’s still home. It’s always home,” she says.

There, she has become an important reference for the students. But she is a reference full stop. Junglepussy’s also given lectures at Ivy League colleges, Columbia and Yale, where she highlighted the value of eating well and that “loving yourself is a full-time job”. Did she have any references growing up? “No, I always searched for my reflection in other people and things. I never really saw it. That’s why I decided to even do music, because I was like, ‘I don’t see anyone like me, I don’t relate to anybody else’.”

Eloise Edgington

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