HoodCelebrityy Is Working Her Ass Off to Add to Dancehall's Rich Legacy
The Jamaica-born, New York-based artist is breaking all the rules on her latest EP, ‘Inna Real Life.’
Photo Courtesy of Dennis Leupold
Earlier this year, HoodCelebrityy gave everyone Kanye-level confidence with her breakthrough single “Walking Trophy,” a dancehall record that landed her a spot on the roster of Epic Records. The song, which Hood told us only took an hour to make, was about “empowerment, self-love, and confidence.” Her mantra, “You pretty pon di gram / And pretty inna real life,” was a glimpse of the way the Jamaican-born artist could make her music feel relatable. “Walking Trophy’s” fearlessness doesn’t stop when the song ends, but exists inna real life, too. When HoodCelebrityy walks in the Noisey office on a scorching 90 degree day in a crop top, it doesn’t seem like she’s thought twice about her putting her 8-pack on display. She laughs when I ask her about her work out regimen, but she’s clearly worked hard for her physique—and has worked even harder to position herself as the next international act out of Jamaica.
HoodCelebrityy, born as Tina Pinnock, was born in Jamaica’s Portmore neighborhood before moving to the Bronx when she was 12. She befriended a pre-”Bodak Yellow” Cardi B as a teenager, which resulted in summery collaborations for their respective mixtapes. Last year, Hood released Trap vs. Reggae, a marriage of the subgenres that shaped her signature sound. Her version of dancehall and reggae doesn’t use her female perspective as a gimmick, but instead mirrors the men who have Jamaica’s dancehall scene in a chokehold. “Hardball” drips in the bravado of dancehall’s megastar, Vybz Kartel, while “Bubble” feels like a retort to Konshens’s “Gyal a Bubble.” The whole project is incessantly upbeat and feels tailored to Jamaica’s raucous street music scene.
Today, Hood is releasing Inna Real Life, her first EP for Epic. The 5-track project diverts from Trap vs. Reggae’s waistline inducing melodies, providing the perfect summer cool down. Though it’s her first project as a signed artist, she hasn’t let a contract get to her head. She knows this is only the beginning and there’s still work to be done. “My album is already done,” she says. “I still want people to get a chance to know who HoodCelebrityy is.” We chatted with HoodCelebrityy about her transition to the states, her definition of “trap reggae,” and the success of “Walking Trophy.”
Noisey: You got the name HoodCelebrityy after being well, a hood celebrity, in the Bronx. What do you think it was that made people gravitate toward you?
HoodCelebrityy: I feel like my music is different. How I came up with the whole sound Trap vs. Reggae. My style is different. As a Jamaican, you just never saw anybody that looked like me before.
So you were born in Portmore, Jamaica, and I saw you say that couldn’t say you had a hard life until you got to America. Can you explain what the transition was like moving from Portmore to the Bronx?
I mean, the transition was definitely different. I had to speak proper English when I got here. The weather was different. I had to wear two jackets, three socks, compared to Jamaica where I had just belly shirts and shorts. As a kid everything is different. Kids don’t pay bills, you don’t pay rent. You don’t take care of yourself. When I came here, as I got older I had to take care of my own responsibilities and I had to work for what I want.
What do you miss about Jamaica?
The people were better in Jamaica. The friends were real. The people were more respectful. Coming to New York, it was a whole different thing. People were disrespectful, no morals, no fucking respect. Nothing.
So, you come to New York attend a performing arts school, High School for Violin and Dance. That seems like a departure from what you’re doing now. How would you say that prepared you for your career now?
I don’t think it prepared me for my career at all. Even though I was going to school for music, I wasn’t really 100 percent connected. I was just doing it because at that point it was something that I loved. I was young, I was a teenager. But as I got older and my brother got locked up in 2015. That’s when I really started preparing for the future like, “This is it. I gotta get it right.”
You use the term “trap reggae” a lot. What is it about both genres that made you want to blend them?
It came really natural for me. Me being born in Jamaica, practically half-raised there and half-raised in New York. Coming from a country where I just speak patois, straight broken English to a country where I had to go to school and maneuver proper English. It just came natural so I had to just put it in my music.
Did you ever feel like it was a little difficult to sell yourself as “trap reggae?” Especially since New York isn’t the epicenter of trap?
No, because I feel like New York’s scene is trap.
Let’s talk about the mixtape. You have Trap vs. Reggae, where you do a great job of blending your two worlds. There are moments that are reminiscent of Vybz Kartel and Konshens. These sound like your spin on the popularity of male artists but from the female perspective. How do you approach those songs?
I feel like I approach everything more hard, and a lot more aggressive. A lot of females don’t do that. I just try to go hard and think outside the box, thinking of something a regular female wouldn’t say at all.
What is it about someone like Vybz that makes you want to adopt that formula?
I feel like Vybz has a different sound and he can just do music about anything. Not a lot of artists can do that.
One of my favorite parts on the tape is “The Takeover.” It’s the epitome of you being a Jamaican raised in New York because you’re interpolating 50’s “Many Men,” but it’s titled after a Jay-Z track. Do you also feel a certain amount of pressure to pay homage and show you’re a student of rap also?
No, I just be myself. When I go to the booth, I don’t think of another artist. I just do whatever comes to my mind.
Trap vs. Reggae feels a little more dancey and upbeat than Inna Real Life. The EP feels a lot more mellow. Why is that?
It definitely was a different approach. I wanted to bring something different to the table and show my fans and the people who only know about “Walking Trophy” the versatility of HoodCelebrityy and that I’m an artist and I could do any type of music.
Speaking of “Walking Trophy,” I know you were saying you wanted it to be a moment of women’s empowerment and taking less focus on social media. What do you feel like you’ve accomplished with the song?
I feel like I’ve accomplished everything I wanted. The females that’s been listening to “Walking Trophy” had told me I really helped build their self-esteem. People told me they were going through depression and didn’t feel pretty. I brought a lot of confidence to them and that’s what I wanted to do. Little kids, little girls, just enjoying the record and knowing that they’re beautiful.
How long did it take to make that song?
It took like an hour to do the whole song. But, we spent like five hours on FaceTime just repeating the hook because my producer was making the beat over the phone. Then, I went to the studio and cut the whole thing.
You said you knew “Walking Trophy” was going to pop off because of the hook. What is your writing process like?
In the room, lights off, candles. Sometimes lights on, but mostly lights off because that gives me more time to meditate.
You recently did two very important performances: one at Summer Jam and one in Jamaica, which was your first time going back since you moved. Tell me a little bit about those experiences.
Summer Jam was definitely big for me. Every year I always wanted to go to Summer Jam but never got the chance to go get a ticket. For me to be on the main stage, that was big for me, that was big for my family. Just for New York, just to see how New York supports me. I feel like once you can make it in New York with your music, you can make it anywhere. That was a great accomplishment for me. Shoutout to Hot 97.
Jamaica was a great experience and showed me that I have to appreciate what I have more. Sometimes you do forget. Reuniting with my brother, who had a big influence on my brother—he was why I started writing music. It was a great look. Seeing how my culture supports my music. I see it on Instagram but when you get to see something in person and get to experience it in person, it’s a different vibe.
I saw you venting on a #HoodTalk about people who’ve said you’ve changed. How does it feel while you’re still in a transitional period between being the average citizen to a public figure?
I do feel like there’s a lot of pressure with people telling you that you have to speak one way or do one thing. I’m the type of person that doesn’t follow rules. Sometimes I do have to think, let me hold back a little bit. But other times, I’m like I shouldn’t give a fuck because I shouldn’t live my life for anybody. Some people want me to speak a certain way because their daughters are watching. That’s cool because “Walking Trophy” did give me a lot of kids as fans, but I also feel like kids shouldn’t have Instagram. But that’s a different conversation for their parents.
How do you feel about being marketed as the next global sensation?
I feel good. I’m always going to remain myself. So, can’t nobody make me feel a way about whatever category you try to put on me.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.