Tinashe, born Tinashe Jorgensen Kachingwe, doesn’t want to be boxed into a certain category or label. The singer admits that her music—sometimes upbeat, synth-heavy pop and other times somber R&B—doesn’t fit into a particular genre, but growing up with a mixed-race heritage, being undefinable feels only natural today.
“It’s very uncomfortable for me to be one thing or another, because I generally enjoy all of the different aspects of what makes me a creative, what makes me human,” she tells CR. “It wasn’t ‘Are you black? Are you white?’ It was just us. It was just our family. It always felt natural to me to be both or to embody everything that makes me who I am.”
After signing on with RCA records in 2012, Kachingwe released her debut studio album, Aquarius, to critical acclaim, the tracks rife with soft spoken-word interludes and intimate, lo-fi ballads in-between club bangers like “2 On” (featuring Schoolboy Q and produced by DJ Mustard) and “All Hands on Deck.” The singer courted praise for her voice, described as both sultry and malleable, yet self-assured. For her follow-up, the 2016 mixtape Night Ride, the album revealed the singer’s moodier side through hazier, more atmospheric beats, eschewing the glossy production value of traditional R&B.
A series of professional hurdles and cancelled singles made—her second studio album, Joyride, which releases April 13—a work-in-progress for nearly three years. She began teasing song after song in 2015, first “Party Favors” and then “Player” with Chris Brown, which was the intended lead single for the album but was eventually scrapped. Kachingwe then leaked an ’80s-inspired track called “Flame,” another intended single that she says her record label had encouraged her to make (with which she wasn’t completely on-board). After that, almost a year went by without any new songs.
“I wasn’t forced, but it was one of these situations where it was like ‘Okay, I will trust you guys and this is what you believe is the best decision so I’m going to get behind it,’ because that’s more advantageous than to sabotage my own songs,” she says. “And when that wasn’t necessarily successful, I realized that it was my turn to get back into the driver’s seat as far as curating every move I made from there on out.”
“No Drama” (featuring Offset), the official lead single released this past January, at first appears an uptempo party song, but the singer’s unshakeable determination and urgency punctuates the track. “Said I’m fallin’ off but they won’t JFK me / Tried to be myself but they won’t AKA me,” she sings, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the professional roadblocks she’s faced over the years.
“The biggest thing that music is for me is bring people together from different walks of life to just connect with something, even sonically, even if they don’t understand the lyrics,” she says. “A melody is very powerful expression and for me, it’s been interesting to see how I’ve evolved, how I am telling my story. The more people that I can connect with, the more that I’m able to introduce to my world and to bring them in.”
When Kachingwe was eight years old, she uprooted her life from Kentucky to Los Angeles with her parents and two younger brothers to pursue music and acting. Her father is a first generation immigrant of the Shona people of Zimbabwe; her mother is Danish, Norwegian, English, and Irish. Both are teachers and the pair met during school in Iowa, where the majority of their extended family lives. Growing up biracial, Kachingwe has always embraced both sides of her heritage. She also felt pressured from an early age to be successful.
“My parents were making a lot of sacrifices on my behalf,” she says. “We couldn’t really afford to live in L.A., but it was the only place where I could continue to pursue entertainment and go to my auditions, go to my dance classes, and it just made sense. They made a lot of sacrifices just so that I could stay there and pursue my career and I give them a lot of credit for their belief in me and how much that led to my own belief in myself.
Small roles in television shows Rocket Power and Avatar: The Last Airbender led to a reoccurring stint on Two and a Half Men for two seasons. Acting pulled her out of school for three to four months at a time and led to feeling alienated and being bullied by her peers. The singer ended up graduating early, joining an all-girl group, The Stunners, which eventually disbanded in 2011, before she embarked on her solo career.
“I wasn’t around as much to relate to my classmates so unfortunately, it led to me having a real distaste for school,” she remembers. “On the bright side, I was hyper-focused at a young age. At 14 or 15, I was making career decisions that most people wouldn’t even think of.”
Speaking with Kachingwe is like watching persistence and drive unfold. She’s aware of the misconceptions and scrutiny around her own image and what people think of her—that she doesn’t know who she is, that her music is unfocused, that she’s controlled by her label, and that she “isn’t a real artist,” she says. She’s outspoken about racism, sexism, and sexual harassment in the music industry (something she says others have derided as “whiny”), recently stating that #MeToo movement hasn’t fully reached hip-hop. She’s compared the ratio of male artists, producers, and writers to females as a “numbers game” in which it felt like a constant fight to have her opinions respected and to be equally represented in a song with a male artist. She’s said that if you’re a black female singer in this industry, you’re “either Rihanna or Beyoncé.”
“It’s not literal but there’s the perception that unless you’ve reached this ultimate level of success, that you aren’t successful, which is limiting and unfair because there’s a lot of black women in the R&B space that are making great music that should be equally respected and represented,” she says. “Everyone is quick to call you a flop or a failure if you haven’t reached these high pinnacles of success. It comes from an idea that there isn’t space for that many women, like there’s this competitive undertone to everything. It isn’t necessarily the case at all; there’s room enough for everyone to be successful.”
She knows all too well how gender dynamics come into play within the music industry. Of the eight awards presented during this year’s Grammy Awards, only one—Best New Artist—was given to a woman, prompting Recording Academy president Ken Ehrlich to say that “women need to step up” in music. In early 2016, months after Joyride was announced, a screenshot of a Twitter message reportedly from Kachingwe emerged, in which she said her record label was focusing on Zayn Malik, who had just released his debut solo single “Pillow Talk” at the time. Kachingwe reiterates that RCA has always thrown their full support behind her as an artist, but feels “frustrated,” yet “empowered” by the people who underestimate her in the industry.
The singer says she wants to encourage more young women and female artists to not only pursue music, but to step into the behind-the-scenes roles—mixing, engineering, recording—spaces typically occupied by men in the industry. She wants more female representation in music, more camaraderie between artists, and for there to be creative collaborations between men and women, without a sexual element underscoring the work.
“In a more metaphorical sense, I’d like for people to take away that I’m really the master of my own destiny,” she says. “I’m really curating my art, and I’m not just a pretty face or a cute girl or just someone who can sing a little catchy song and do a little dance routine. It’s way deeper than that for me. I want people to connect with that.”END
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