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Tinashe has recently exploded to popular recognition, thanks in part to a media cycle that’s always on the scout for the next big thing. Her breakthrough hit ‘2 On’, a smouldering club track with DJ Mustard production and a ScHoolboy Q guest spot, brought her to the forefront of the public consciousness seemingly overnight. So when hip-hop’s current reigning champ Drake performed an impromptu rendition of the track, it wasn’t hard to predict that she was about to become big news. Tinashe is far from an overnight success though. Having collaborated with a diverse range of musicians, from Ryan Hemsworth to RZA, there’s no doubt that Tinashe is worlds away from being a one-hit-wonder.

This story is featured in ACCLAIM magazine issue 33 – ‘The Explorer Issue’ – available soon from the ACCLAIM online store.

Photography by Adri Law.

Styling by Michael Comrie.

Hair and makeup by Jessica Cook.

You spent some time in a girl band called The Stunners. Did you find the experience helped with your solo career or do you think it’s caused some conflict, in terms of having to reshape your public appearance?

Honestly, from my perspective it was an amazing learning experience. I got to experience firsthand doing things that a lot of artists have to go through. Because I had already done those things with the group I feel a lot more secure now that I am on my own. I feel super confident in all the different aspects and elements and things that go into it. I think I was kind of lucky in a way that the group wasn’t hugely popular, because I think that would have made it harder to break away and to be my own person. It has been a few years and I’ve worked really hard to establish who I am. I definitely feel like it was a positive experience.

I find that the media are always comparing artists to one another to define them. If someone says Tinashe sounds like Aaliyah or Cassie, how do you find that?

I don’t think any artist should be compared to other people because it really does kind of put you in a box, and people start to expect a certain type of thing. Even though people can be similar, that doesn’t mean that they’re the same in any way, shape or form. It is somewhat frustrating but then at the same time I think that some of the people I get compared to are really amazing, so sometimes you just have to look at it like a compliment.

You were a dancer and you’ve done some acting in the past. Is this a result of being based in LA, or is it because you wanted to indulge in different avenues beyond music?

I think I’ve always wanted that. That’s why from such a young age I started really doing everything that I possibly could to entertain. I started taking dance lessons at four years old, and did my first movie at six – so I’ve always been entertaining, and I love every aspect of it.

I read that you produced your early mixtapes in your bedroom. Now that you’re at a different level in your career are you still involved in the production process from the very beginning?

For me, it’s really important to be hands­on in basically every level of the creative process. From the music, to imagery, to the videos, to the live show, it’s essential that I’m involved.

You’ve collaborated with musicians like Jacques Greene and RZA. They’re both so different sonically – how do you adapt in that scenario where you’re working with someone in a style you may not have worked with before?

The thing about the creative process is that it’s very hard to define, and every single time I do create something it happens in a different place. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s not. You can never really put too much pressure on it because that’s when you start to overthink things.

Being versatile and tackling these new genres is really important. Is there one particular genre that you feel a strong connection to?

I don’t think I’m particularly one genre; I appreciate being hard to define. I like to live in the grey area between R&B, hip­hop, and alternative pop – and all of these things at once.

Let’s talk about ‘2 On’ – DJ Mustard and ScHoolboy Q are huge right now. What attracted you to that song initially?

I just wanted to create a song that I thought was fun, that I could dance to in the clubs, that had that energy with it. DJ Mustard has been one of my favourite producers from LA that’s making kind of fun, danceable songs – so I really wanted to collaborate with him, and ScHoolboy Q has always been one of my favourite rappers out of LA. It kinda had that West Coast vibe already; it was just a very good combination of all the parts.

What about Drake jumping on the beat? I read that you found out about that on Twitter.

I did. [Laughs.] I had no idea that was going to happen, but I was really excited. It was awesome because that just means that he genuinely likes the song.

That organic co­sign doesn’t happen very often, especially not with someone on Drake’s level.

Everyone loves Drizzy.

I heard your flip of ‘Days In The East’ called ‘Days In The West’. What was the motivation behind that? Did it spawn from Drake reworking your song or were you always going to do that?

Absolutely, he did my song and I was like “Well, that was cool – maybe I’ll remix one of his songs.” It’s as simple as that.

Your album is just about due for release. Were there any producers that you worked with consistently?

I worked with a lot of really amazing people – Rich Reynolds, Dev Hynes, Mike Will, an array of people from hip­hop to more alternative. It’s been really amazing.

You’ve been involved in the entertainment industry for a really long time now. Is it strange for you that there is this new audience that isn’t aware of your back catalogue, and see you as a new artist?

It’s crazy! It’s to be expected, so I can’t be mad at it – but I do hope that they potentially find out that there is more material to be discovered. You have your original audience and this new audience from the commercial sector now.

What is next in terms of your career path?

The essential next step is really establishing myself as an artist, not just somebody who makes a song. So hopefully the album will have several singles and people will know that it has a very long life. I put a lot of work into it, and a lot of time.

How do you grow to be an artist like Mariah or Madonna or Aaliyah? What do you think makes an artist truly iconic?

I think a true icon is somebody who people respect on a deeper level than just having a look or a song that they get somehow. People who are iconic have a special quality that people connect with, and you feel that you know that person and they can appreciate what that person is trying to say or do. I hope that my music can reach out to people and be meaningful to people and that I can then touch people’s lives.