BlackBook Interview: Christinna O on Poetry, Philly and Being LGBT in R&B

Image by Shabnam Ferdowsi

 

It’s not often discussed, but there is indeed a dearth of powerful queer female voices in R&B and hip-hop (though it could surely be argued that’s the case with nearly every possible existing vocation). Princess Nokia, of course, has been fiercely blazing that trail. But another new voice has definitively caught our attention, leaving us determined that you should also know who she is.

Christinna O (even her name sounds like she means business) is a 19-year-old firebrand from Miami, but who now calls The City of Brotherly Love her home. For our part, BlackBook has spent no small amount of time out on the Philadelphia music scene, and have long been acutely aware of the city’s perspicacity in nurturing singular new creative talent. And Christinna is unique in that she had honed her wordsmithing skills as a teenage poet, even competing in the NAACP’s National Poetry Slam.

 

 

Now she’s thrown herself fully into her music, with a stunning new single “Shelter,” and an EP, poignantly titled Girl in Passing, coming in the next couple of months.

“This last time last year,” she recalls, “I was writing and conceptualizing this song in my grandmother’s bathroom. I was having more than one account where something or someone was making my love feel small in the world.”

Her inspirations are manifold: she draws from emo punk and Aaliyah, but also from her experiences as a bullied youth, who had to be home-schooled to escape such mistreatment. Surely, it has all only made her stronger, smarter and more determined.

As the calendar flipped to 2019, we caught up with her to discuss where she’s been, were she’s at, and where she intends to be going.

(Follow Christinna’s gorgeous Instagram page.)

 

 

What first brought you to Philadelphia?

College is what first brought me to Philly. I attend Temple University, currently standing as a sophomore…but I also chose it because I knew it would be a beautiful nest to nurture who I am becoming, and who I am to be as an artist.

Do you indeed find it to be a city that really nurtures young music talent?

Philly does nurture young music. The community is a full body of support, hungry for your next release or show. They bring their friends – they create the wave. The love in the Philly music scene is my energy.

R&B is characterized by so much slick over-production. Yet your music seems to be more raw, unadulterated.

I would like to think so. I visualize my sound, which I believe keeps me open to new things to try, lyrically, production wise, and in arrangement. I want to reach the point where not one component of the song depends on another; each component should stand on its own. I think slick overproduction happens because it may be a compensation.

What has been the response to your being a queer voice in a genre that isn’t really known for cultivating LGBTQ artists?

I don’t know if there is much of response just yet, I’m an infant on the scene; but from surrounding friends and mutual queer listeners, it seems like a new day – a new era for us. A new day in which music begins to make more than one difference, especially representation. I am excited to be a part of the picture of a beautiful coming wave.

 

 

Image by Shabnam Ferdowsi

 

You were bullied as a youngster; do you feel as if we’re coming to a time of greater acceptance? Sometimes it’s hard to tell, especially when mainstream politicians encourage so much suspicion and division.

It is hard to tell. Of course I want to believe like we are, but there days when cases appear – kids taking their life because they can’t be themselves without the wickedness of bullying. I want to believe, but we have so much bettering to do for our youth. Watching sometimes feels like all of my wounds from that time haven’t closed.

Who are some of your most important musical influences?

This question hurts! I don’t want anyone vital to be forgotten. Frank Ocean, the duo known as Kllo, Jordan Rakei, Moses. I am also a big fan of a few emo punk bands: Citizen, Beach Fossils, Foxing and American Football. Those bands drive me to be a better songwriter, they pull emotional depth like no other.

How does your poetry figure into your lyrical approach?

It’s actually hard for me sometimes to bring my poetry in the studio. The poetry approach can a lot of times make a song too convoluted to a mass music audience; the goal with the music audience isn’t always the same as the poetry audience. The poetry figures into my lyrical approach because writing was my first walking ground, and in the form of poetry especially. Everything comes alive differently and what is unexplainable become explainable perfectly.

What can we expect from your Girl in Passing EP?

This EP is allowing everyone a passenger seat on some daily introspection, it has a great appreciation for airy sound, with tones and lyrics that are the anchors. Girl In Passing is a musical way of saying, “I’m just passing through, but here’s what I’ve felt and saw.”
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