Hearing Erykah Badu sing about satisfying your mind, body and soul in the 90s was a revelation, a reclamation of sexuality in a genre tainted with deeply ingrained sexism. For many young women at the time, this sentiment hit hard, and it’s one Brooklyn-native Junglepussy – aka Shayna McHayle – not only heeded but built upon.
From her 2014 mixtape, Satisfaction Guaranteed, through to 2018’s Jp3, Junglepussy has stood front and centre of a new template for female rappers. Uninhibited and unapologetic, she’s waved a flag for women claiming agency of their sexuality and taking ownership of the male gaze: declaring that she’s on her way up while demanding guys go down.
Whether spitting instructions on how to please a woman or dirty talking her wants and needs, Junglepussy has consistently preached the story of a black woman throwing down society’s taboos, and with that, blazed the trail for other female artists to weaponise misogyny and engage the power of the pussy.
Two voices on the same beat, Erykah and Shayna connect with love and respect.
Erykah Badu: You know when I first reached out to you, do you remember?
Junglepussy: I remember because I was in the back of a dollar van on my way to the train station and I was getting all these text messages from my friends and I’m like, “What is going on? I’m in the back of a dollar van and Erykah Badu has just discovered my work?” [laughs]
EB: That was either 2013 or 14.
J: I remember that day exactly.
EB: The video I was introduced to was Cream Team. It was super graphic, sexy, beautiful and strong and the main line I remember is, “Hustle, hustle that pussy muscle.” For the people that don’t have a pussy or don’t understand what that means, can you explain what hustling a pussy muscle entails?
J: [It’s] using all you have within – the pussy muscle hustle. Literally I would feel like I could form something just by the power of my pussy, I can build something just from my inner strength.
EB: Your feminine fire.
J: Yeah. Me flexing it, using it like, “I can give it to you if I want to but I don’t even have to.” It has power and it has these functions on its own without any other party being involved.
EB: What first took me were the lyrics, they were bold, explicit and taboo. We hadn’t really started embracing the pussy yet, that was the very beginning of that feminine energy, power and movement. It was starting to bubble up. Visually, I saw you in a bathing top and it was just some real hood, raw –
J: Pouring milk on myself…
EB: – grimy… milk on the titties – it was some very grimy stuff. It was like you couldn’t prepare yourself, you just have to see it. Then what you’ve seen can’t be un-seen. It was before Megan Thee Stallion and all of the other artists who are now in front of that culture, y’know? What do they call it? Stripper culture? What do you think about that term?
J: I don’t like that term because when the guys do it they don’t call it – I mean I guess they do say hustler rap – like it’s a guy who’s got hustle and raps about that experience with his music, but I don’t know. I feel like they just don’t even know what to do with all of these different expressions from all of these different kinds of women so they’re like, “Well all of them used to do this so let’s just say it’s that,” but it’s just too dynamic, it’s too complex to even put that on it. Even with Cream Team, people expected me to keep doing that and I was like, “It was just some trial and error, this is not all I have to offer, like damn y’all.” That’s a part of the journey, it’s fine. I’m happy to see the way it all turned out.
EB: Little Shayna, growing up in her home, watching her mother, her father and her friends and everything. Could you tell me when or how you discovered that you were someone who could influence or change the space of a room? Because you can, but did you know that when you were younger?
J: When I was younger, I was super anti-social. My dad’s side of the family, the Jamaican side, a lot of them are up here [in New York], my mother’s side is from Trinidad and we always had a lot of functions, like birthdays, barbecues, and I was always just mad anti-social. A lot of family members are now so shocked, like “Little Shayna, look how she grew up.” I used to be super shy and I’d write a lot, I’d fill notebooks with writings and drawings. I used to enjoy being in my room alone. I liked to be in my own bubble just creating – now kids are so lucky they have all of these things to pull from and just click-click, I yearned for that.
I used to want so many things to exist that I’m happy do now, I used to want this, to write about that, to draw about that, to try and grab that idea. I had no idea that it would ever be something that would influence people at all. I was always like – especially when I put out Cream Team – “Oh my gosh, the black girls not gonna like me,” I literally had that thought.
EB: Can you elaborate on that?
Junglepussy: I was just less self-aware than I am now. I always felt misunderstood and blah, blah, blah, but I didn’t even realise my power back then. You saw it in Cream Team, I didn’t even see it, I was just like, “Oh no-one’s going to like me.” That’s something over the years I’ve learned to stop doing.
“If you think about my music when I came out in 97, my image was very pure, it was powerful, it was woman, it was us, it was pride in ourselves. You gave the mirror reflection of exactly what I was saying and doing”
EB: At the dawn of a movement, I guess you never know who is going to be the leader, and it was you. If you think about my music when I came out in 97, my image was very pure, it was powerful, it was woman, it was us, it was pride in ourselves. You gave the mirror reflection of exactly what I was saying and doing, it was the other side of the game. We really appreciated this, I don’t know if a lot of people told you. When I came out with that head wrap, that’s what they expected me to do forever, it’s such a strong statement. Your statement was so very, very strong, it was almost bigger than you – I felt that too. I had to unravel the headwrap for a minute and just do some other things and I remember facing scrutiny for wanting to continue to grow and change. How do you deal with that? When you feel like something’s expected of you, something that you’ve created.
J: I remember feeling that and I wasn’t hiding, but I was kind of just like, “Man, fuck y’all, y’all don’t know me.” I was being stubborn and I felt uninspired. I eventually continued to make the stuff I really wanted to make but when people try to put me in that box, it really bothers me because I’m like, “I’m not even finished discovering myself, and you aren’t either and you can’t even see that.” It’s like damn, they just love that box but I could have the craziest change in my life that will just turn me into a whole other artist. I feel like we all need that space.
EB: I guess I’m misunderstood a little bit too because of the imagery of my past and all that kind of stuff. People expect me to be a certain way or do a certain thing, I don’t even know exactly what that is, but it involves head wraps, candles, incense…
J: [laughs] I know! Why they do that? I think people just love to want to make sense, like they must figure it all out and once they make sense of it, they put it down.
EB: I have several sides to me, several aliases, and so do you.
J: Oh yeah, the one you told me.
EB: Yeah, so when we met, I told you – it’s New Pussy.
J: New Pussy! [laughs]
EB: In 1997, a friend of mine came to my house when I first came out and told me, “I want to start a label with you.” I was on the phone with him and he asked, “What do you want your label to be?” I said, “New Pussy, of course.”
J: Oh my god.
EB: And when he came to my house he brought a logo with a little kitten with a head wrap on.
J: No [laughs].
EB: It stuck with me. I want to ask you, why Junglepussy? Because for me, New Pussy would be a great moniker because new pussy is always the best pussy.
J: Right [laughs]. I wish I’d thought of New Pussy first, damn. So the jungle really came from a sweater I thrifted. There was a time, and it’s gonna sound loopy but there was a leopard print shortage. I graduated high school at sixteen, right, that was in 2008 and when I was starting to go to FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology] I wanted to wear – I loved leopard print because I was looking back to the 80s, the punk rock stuff.
“If you take it and try use it against me, that’s not the point, this name is like ultimate liberation.”
All the girls had furry leopard coats or leopard pants and I couldn’t find it, it was maybe too expensive. So I would go all the way to Long Island because they had the cheapest thrift at the time. I would take the Long Island railroad and go out there and get like garbage bags full of clothes for mad cheap. One day I found this leopard sweater and got mad leopard stuff, I was hyped. Like stores weren’t selling it, it wasn’t in the regular retailers… So I was like, “OK, if it’s animal prints I’m liking, it seems to be jungle-animals…” I just said Junglepussy as a two-second video on Facebook, I was like, “This sweater is jungle pussy“– and that was it.
EB: Your spirit came from within you.
J: Yeah, it just came over me. I always say that I believe it’s my universe-given name. I didn’t even know what people would think it meant, I didn’t know any of that and in the beginning all kinds of people were like, “You need to change that name, you’re not going to go far with it.” Back then I didn’t give a fuck about going far, I just wanted to see what was going to happen. It was like a litmus test.
EB: Seeing what you could create.
J: The way someone would react to me showed me more about them. It’s more than the name. If you take it and try use it against me, that’s not the point, this name is like ultimate liberation.
EB: It was the illest. It was shocking, it was needed, it was necessary, it was almost like a portal. You definitely poked a hole in the portal and all the other pussy flowed through and we sure do appreciate that.
J: Oh man.
EB: When I think about names I think about numbers and symbols and signs and things. Because a name is very important. A lot of the time, the vibration of a name is what brings the attention of the audience or listener. I think it was genius for you to come up with such a controversial, shocking moniker. Let me ask you about numbers, one of my hobbies is astrology, numerology, card science, I love to study them. According to this card science, your card is the four of hearts and the title of your card is ‘The Marriage and Family card.’
EB: According to this, family comes first. Nothing before that. Everything you do, all opinions you value come from family and home. You have this innate desire to help others. People who land on four of hearts, you have the most satisfaction and luck in life when you help others. How do you find this reading?
J: Accurate. My family is everything to me. Last holiday specifically, that’s been enforced more than ever. Of course holidays and family have always been a thing, but that one was so important. I believe we’re all here to serve in some way, to make life better for someone. I want to do that in healthy doses. That’s all I want to do, use my gifts to help people.
EB: Let’s talk about love. That’s a big deal in your card, too. It’s so funny that marriage is the first word of your card. What are your ideals about marriage in 2020?
J: I feel like marriage is a dated concept. I’m sad to say that, I mean it works for some people but for my age range and my profession, it seems like such a fantasy and I don’t like that. That’s not really how I want to feel about it but…
“I didn’t know that love would be like this, just through all the music and movies, I really am mad that I allowed that to be my perception”
EB: That’s what you’ve gathered so far.
J: Yeah that’s what I’ve gathered over the years, I’m like, “OK, I guess it doesn’t work.” It just seems like there are other ways to work around a partnership other than calling it ‘marriage.’ Literally last week I was asking my homegirl, one of her cousins makes tapestries and I asked for one saying ‘The last of the true lovers.’ I didn’t know that love would be like this, just through all the music and movies, I really am mad that I allowed that to be my perception of what to expect.
EB: Tell me this: as Junglepussy how hard is it to get a date?
J: [laughs] I wish I had like a frickin’ witty ass line to say back to that. It’s so hard because you know the name already – it’s more about the person and how they want to be perceived, it’s not really about me. If you really take the time to try and look past the name and see me, you will see a very warm, welcoming person. But if you just stick on whatever you think it means and whatever you think your friends are gonna think, you’re gonna be hesitant to date Junglepussy.
That’s fine because I don’t want somebody who’s gonna act like I’m some Loch Ness Monster or something. I’ve come to terms with the sacrifice, like years ago I would just like cry and pray like, “Oh my gosh.” I didn’t realise the repercussions of sharing this message of not taking shit or whatever. I’m not even making music for guys per se, but they’re still listening and offended and they’re holding this whole experience that I’m using so women feel liberated, safe and strong – they’re using that against me. But then I was like, “You know what, universe, if this is my purpose, if I have to sacrifice going on dates to have this experience of being super independent and inspiring people to do the same, OK.”
That’s my purpose, whatever, I’ve come to terms with that. I can’t say that dating is the only way for me to get – well dating is not love – but you know, seeing it that way has never been that fulfilling for me. I should have been in my dating prime but instead I was like curvin’ niggas just because I was like, “Eww.” There wasn’t anybody worth it anyways. I was like, “Am I doing this to myself? I’m rapping it around the world, the universe is thinking that I don’t want nobody, damn.” But then I started to change the music, change the way I was speaking about the experience and I’m like, “OK, yeah before I was venting, but now I don’t feel sorry for myself.”
EB: I dig that. How old were you when you started your period?
J: I was eleven. I remember being at the computer in the living room and I think I was playing Sims or something and I was like, “Did I just pee myself?” Then I looked down and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I got my period.”
EB: I was at school in seventh grade. I assumed you started early because you’re tall.
J: I was in eighth grade because I started high school at twelve.
EB: Right, so you developed hormonally quickly? I’m asking you this specifically because when I started my period I hid it for two years.
J: How old were you in seventh grade?
EB: I was about thirteen. I would roll up tissue and sneak out – I was so embarrassed by it. I’m from the South and it just wasn’t a free or open conversation, it was kind of taboo, a sneak-hide kind of thing. It was almost like hiding from being a woman, or like being ashamed to be a woman and being able to reproduce. It wasn’t a celebration at all. I think it was mainly the environment of where I was from and how men saw women and how women adapted to that. When I became a mother, my daughters knew how the organs work and why they work that way and why their hormones change and what’s actually happening to the uterus and all that. So I guess we are really making improvements on our parent’s design. It was a scary thing for me. Have you been able to manage or learn your cycles? Have you come to the understanding of, “OK, my oestrogen level has raised so this period is seven days of this, seven days of ovulation…” Have you begun to really research yourself to figure out why you behave the way you do at certain times?
J: Before they started having the apps with the calendars, my mother always made me keep a calendar with the days it starts and ends, to keep track and be prepared. Now that I’m older I know, I’ll be like, “OK Shayna, you know what’s cookin’ up, you know what’s coming,” and I’m so grateful to be that in-tune.
“It was almost like hiding from being a woman, or like being ashamed to be a woman and being able to reproduce. It wasn’t a celebration at all.”
To have my mum kind of condition me to be that way, aside from period stuff she was always like, “Listen to your body when you eat certain things.” Even when I first started performing she would always say, “Make sure to listen to your body when you perform, if you eat this thing two hours before, think how it makes you feel.” But now I want to quiet it down sometimes.
J: I just want to let the body be sometimes – I’m always trying to like, doctor it.
EB: Speaking of quieting it down, I started working on music in 1994 and I remember at that time I was heavy on healing and health and repairing and restoring, not just my own self but our communities. It was my passion and where I gave my time and energy. Everything I wrote, everything I wore, everything I started, I wanted to be vibrating on this, what I perceived as a higher, healthier frequency for us. I believed that it started with the centering of the self, like as long as we kinda had ourselves together. What are some things that you do or come across in your travels of self that give you that kind of comfort?
J: It changes, but more frequently it’s when I’m able to just write – not music or anything – just free writing. Growing up, I always wrote about how I felt, I have so many diaries from when I was young. I still own diaries that talk about things that I didn’t even realise I was talking about then. For some reason that still helps me. Also doing my hair myself, washing it, conditioning it, braiding it up –
EB: Those are super therapies.
J: Then last Christmas me and my nephew got Nintendo Switches and now I always play this game Mario Kart 8 – just like little video games, little things that really bring it all the way down, those really help. I also like to listen to sounds. I’ll be on YouTube listening to – I don’t know if you know, they have like, ‘Listen to this sound if you wanna let go of something.’ I like to eliminate as many things, whether that’s through writing – you just need a pen and a paper – or just me and the sound and the colour, or just me and the water and the conditioner, y’know, just things like that.
EB: I appreciate you so much, for listening to yourself, for trusting your pussy, for allowing us to watch you grow publicly.
Feature originally published in HEROINE 12