Chynna is, understandably, freaking the fuck out. On the brink of the big 25, the musician is deep in a quarter life crisis and, as she settles into a nondescript midtown Manhattan locale, she can’t help but chew over a question all 20-somethings ask themselves in the face of a slide into the dirty 30s: “Am I proud of myself at 25?”
Right now, she’s not so sure. “You know your potential and what you know you could’ve accomplished in a day when you decided to be a scumbag that day. I’ve had too many of those days,” she laments, now under the full weight of her self-imposed pressure. Finally, she relents. “I’m just trying to just make sure I’m satisfied by next month.”
That should be an easy task, given her track record for blazing her own path. In (almost) a quarter of a century, West Philadelphia native Chynna Rogers has lived a full life. At 14, she hopped off a rollercoaster at New Jersey’s Six Flags Great Adventure and found herself scouted into the modeling world via a contract with the prestigious Ford modeling agency. A year later, at 15, she befriended the late rapper A$AP Yams after asking to be his intern. It was this friendship that would lead her to move to New York, start up her own music career, and begin performing with A$AP Mob. As electrifying as that early stage in her career was, she was also still feeling like a child to the music scene. “I was a little more naïve, less humble, and still ready to wile out.”
But that period of her life is largely behind her, replaced by a phlegmatic sense of calm. By her own admission, she’s “a reformed wiler, a recovering wiler, a recovering rager.” She’s more realistic, stable, and, above all, she’s present. “I’m involved. I’m interested in politics again, and I’m making a point to reach out to my friends and see them, and just do adult-y kind of things, and that’s relatively new to for me.” As a fellow 20-something attempting to do the whole “adulting” thing, hearing Chynna talk about moving towards into a more serious, stable life is a welcome admission. That said, there’s one big, blue, salty thing setting apart her method for staying humble from most other people: a fear of the ocean.
“The only other thing that really makes me feel super present is my biggest fear, which is the ocean. I feel the same way about space as I do with the ocean. It’s this really overwhelming feeling that reminds you that you’re not shit. I start thinking about the Titanic or something. I mean, I can swim. That’s the other thing, I know how to handle these things, I’d just rather not, which is how I am with everything. Feelings, I know what they are, I just rather not handle them. The ocean, I know how to swim, [but] I’d rather not go. It definitely forces you to think about yourself and your relation to everything else.”
There’s a linguistic irony in Chynna’s dread of the deep, blue sea (or even just New York’s East River). Throughout her career, from the runway to the recording studio, she’s gone against the flow. It’s this unwillingness to bend to the status quo that has led her through life and now, it’s landed her in the well-shaded sights of Arnette. The sunglasses label, born under the Orange County, California sun in 1992 and affixed to skate, ski, and surf culture ever since, has been on a creative resurgence this year, coalescing in a “Flow Upstream” campaign highlighting music’s next class of young creatives.
After sending Post Malone into the desert earlier this year fit with their new Signature Streetstyle Collection and an eco-friendly Sustainable Collection, Arnette crossed the country and touched down in New York City to give Chynna some shaded solace from the chaos. A quick scan of the ‘gram shows she’s no stranger to slipping on shades. For her, they’re little shields from the world. “You don’t need to see my feelings. I feel totally different when I put my glasses on. I’m also one of those people who wear sunglasses indoors, I’m that guy. It’s a protective layer.”
Having some guise of protection is something that anyone who’s ever stepped a single foot in the city can attest to. But in the city that never sleeps, Chynna has embraced the madness; making a home for herself with a little help from a pop culture mashup fit for a rapper who’s first single was named after Mean Girls’ meme-worthy character, “Glen Coco.”
Among New York’s creative transplants, a common thread tends to rise up. Everyone not from the city tends to have some show or film that sparked their burning desire to cram into sweaty subways in exchange for the sometimes glamorous glory of becoming a “New Yorker.” It was no different for Chynna; though her cultural constellation was a bit more twisted. Add in two parts Sex and the City (a “cross between Samantha and Miranda” with 100% of Miranda’s cynicism, fyi); one part Rent by way of a freezing winter realness thanks to a faulty heater; and, most importantly, one incredible Law and Order-inspired “Executive Produced by Dick Wolf” neck tattoo.
That’s not to say it’s been all sunshine, roses, and pizza rats, though. Not far from the Alphabet City streets she’d seen in Rent, she was living the true creative struggle, wondering, “Am I going to eat or am I going to have to strain?” Through the strain and toughened skin, she found a circle of incredible people she’d never have met back home. “They wouldn’t even be able to exist or develop into who they were anywhere else,” she says of her crew. “I’m very grateful for that.”
Among all the crews and creatives she’s surrounded herself with in and outside of New York, one has left more of a mark than all others — literally. Even the most fleeting glance at Chynna is enough to realize that she has a lot of ink and most of it has come at the hands of DMUG, a tattoo artist back in Pennsylvania who began tattooing right as she was starting to get inked. Over the past seven years, they’ve grown with each other. “I’ve watched him go from having just a chair in a shop to owning his own shop. He’s watched me grow from rapping in someone’s basement to being able to do an interview in midtown New York City.”
For Chynna, tattooing has become a way of release and remembrance. A reminder that things can hurt her but also a way of feeling that she’s getting rid of something; a bloodletting if we want to go towards a more visceral term. With that mindset, it’s no wonder that her bond with DMUG has become so ironclad. “It’s [about] having a synergy, having that connection with someone who’s an artist as well; trusting them to scar you permanently every time. I’m letting you hurt me for three hours or whatever, and trusting that I’ll be happy with it at the end of the day.”
Among the many tattoos tracing Chynna’s history, some of the most significant ink is in reference to her Buddhist faith. From her mandala and Eye of Ra to “wanderlust” in cursive script, the singer’s deep connection to the ancient Indian spiritual practice is on full display. Not a fan of sermons (“I don’t need nobody talking to me”) or traditional religion (“They tried to raise me Baptist, it just wasn’t working out”), her childhood was spent conducting her own little theology class. “I still felt like at the time I could’ve used some guidance, or some understanding or anything,” she says of this phase in her youth. As part of Chynna’s Finding Your Faith 101 crash course, she visited temples, talked to monks, and eventually realized that Buddhism was one of the few things in her life that helped keep her centered and present.
The idea of being present in an era where our attention has been pulled in so many different directions we’ve become modern day Medusa’s may seem dubious, but Chynna has come up with a uniquely millennial take on mediation that wouldn’t be out of place in an inspirational wellness blogger’s IG feed. Meditation is clearing your storage.
“Your brain doesn’t have unlimited storage. It doesn’t. You have to get rid of things, and that doesn’t mean suppress them. It means you have to really entertain it, get rid of it, let it go. Make room for the next set of shit you’re going to go through.” Yes, meditation is usually about clearing your head rather than rifling through the files in the internal hard drive we call our brain, but she takes a different approach. She sits for hours “going in to the deep, super deep crevices of my brain and all these corridors in my head.”
Clearly, the method is working for her, but meditation isn’t the only outlet she taps into. To the surprise of literally zero people who’ve pressed play on “seasonal depression,” writing and making music is another natural outlet to expunge her feelings. Her music is a deeply personal insight into her life; an emotionally charged sonic diary reflective of a childhood filled with the sounds of everyone from Circa Survive and System of a Down to Panic! At the Disco and Van Halen. Oh, and Meshuggah, the Swedish extreme metal band from Umeå (even if she “didn’t even know what they were saying).
With that palette in her back pocket, it’s understandable that her sound has notes of everything from Soundcloud rap to psychedelic rock. While there’s no pigeonholing her music, one consistent feature of her catalogue thus far has been a slow drip of an album a year. For her, the choice is a small fight against the constant content churn of the hip hop genre; a problem reflective of a larger issue we’re facing in our digitally connected lives.
“I’ve always had this problem with hip hop not having the same longevity as a lot of other genres. People want new content all the time. If you want it to be genuine, you want this to be authentic, organic work, I have to live first. You have to give me six months to get into a bunch of bullshit I shouldn’t be doing, so that we can talk about it. It needs to be natural, and I don’t think people really realize how long it takes to create a project. How you can sit on the same song for six months to a year and change little things.”
When she does get into a bunch of bullshit, a visit to the studio is still a long way off. First comes the paper and pen to write out her stories. “Every song is a complete thought for me,” she explains of her method. “I don’t have the attention span to write a book, so I write my stories in two, three verses.” By the end of her writing process, the tracks become a snapshot; a way to document her progress in life. But like meditation, they’re also a way to expunge her feelings. A necessity given her habit of not being “outwardly emotional” in life.
“People think I’m just a really emo person all the time, and it’s like, no. I’m way more emotional in music than I am on my day-to-day.” That’s not to say she is an emotionless robot wandering the East Village. She feels comfortable expression two emotions, irritation and excitement, but according to her, “as far as sadness, fear, anxiety, I’m too prideful to show those things, so the only way they really get out is in the form of music.”
For the fans who’ve found solace in her sound, she has only one hope. “I don’t want people to be sad listening to me, but I want them to feel understood. That’s probably the only one I can say with confidence.” You’re allowed to think dark thoughts without being psycho and losing your mind, but if you do, she has one inspiration we can all get behind.
“When people listen to my music, I want them to feel like Britney Spears [when she] shaved her head. Like, I get it now. ’07 Britney was a peak emotional moment that I totally understand the longer I’m in the same industry. You can feel fucking crazy. She seems like another one who doesn’t even have time to feel her feelings, because she has to work again. I totally feel her. Free Britney.”
Now on the cusp of 25 and in her quarter life crisis, it might seem like her path is leading towards a pair of clippers in a barbershop, but that’s not the move (even if she would definitely rock a bald head). Chynna might hope her music inspires Britney buzzcut vibes, but that’s just the chapter she’s in right now; there’s no guessing what direction she’ll take next. There’s only one objective, and that’s to enjoy her days, keep learning, and hone her songwriting. “I’ll know I’m done when I try to go to the studio and I can’t beat my last verse. That’s when it’s time to sit down.”
- Director/DOP & Edit: Gerrit Piechowski
- 2nd Camera: Julius Krappe
- Art Director: Stella Richter
- Photographer: Nika de Carlo
- Producer: Lara Casselman
- Producer: Rochelle Bambury
- Local Producer NYC: Emily McEvoy
- Graphics: UNFUN Studio, Joel Stark
- Hair & Make-Up: Denae Marshall
- Production Assistants: Carly Krim & Zach Tidmore
- Color Grading: Lutz Forster
- Sound Design: Staub Audio
- Extra Photos: Julius Krappe
- Commissioning Editor: Aaron Howes
- Project Manager: Elise de Villaine
- Tattoo Artist: Dmug