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Life lessons with ChiniGettinSaucy

DMV-based rapper Chini talks Atlanta, developing the artist’s identity without bounds, and battling misogyny in the music industry.


By Caroline Cliona Boyle

When rapper ChiniGettinSaucy connects to the zoom call, Shannon Hayes pops up in the request spot. After a quick admission, three dots on the screen move up and down, and indication she is connecting. The name ChiniGettinSaucy swiftly replaces Shannon – Chini has entered the chat.


The DMV-based artist has been featured in NPR, performs weekly on Session Live, and is currently working on shooting a music video for her new song Mile High.


This is the zoom account she uses for her work, she says. From nine to five, Shannon works online for a government job, the ‘money maker’. When she shuts her computer down for the evening, she assumes the identity of Chini – an identity that better resonates with how she perceives herself.


Chini spends her time stitching spoken word together, and tying clever conjunctions of phrase in a way that make you go, damn, she just did that. That’s because ChiniGettinSaucy’s music cuts through genres. While Chini’s music stays grounded in the roots of hip hop and neo-soul, ChiniGettinSaucy is the amalgamation of a lifetime’s worth of rapping. Naturally, elements outside the bounds of traditional rap music - pop and disco – have made their way into her music as well.


In her recent single ‘The Night Ain’t Over’, Chini stepped outside her comfort zone to rap over a sample of The Jones Girls. Working with LA-based producer Witz the King, she mixed her own lyrics over a reboot of one of the group’s 70s R&B hits. “The whole song just flowed, we made magic,” Chini says.

Albeit virtually, Chini’s presence is ornamental. “You can really be any image you want to be - no rules, just do it” she says.


Electric pink is the choice of the evening, and Chini has adorned herself with a loose-fitting jacket with round effervescent sequins - the ones that gleam shades of blush to hot rose when they move. The jacket sits on her shoulders loosely, and is illuminated by her hot pink tank top. A medallion headdress that sits on the crown of her head shimmers against her striking gold lids. On her lips, a lavender shade of lipstick tops the look off. All in all, Chini very well may be cast in of Goldmember.


She quite literally could – Chini’s background is in theatre. She tells me a critical point of inspiration for her work as an artist, and in particular her stage presence, was during her time enrolled in the acclaimed Duke Ellington School of the Arts.


“My stage performances are part of my act”, she says. Theatre “definitely added that variety.”


On her lyrical process, she says the creative writing courses she took as an English major at Georgia State also fundamentally shaped how she manipulates words to tell a story. “All that language over the years made me more witty and clever in how I deliver,” Chini says.


She’s flexed this creative muscle for a long time, she explains. Now 28, Chini was the kid singing Dorothy Dandridge at 5 years old - “young wild and free since a little girl,” she says. Her mother recognized her talent at a young age and quickly arranged piano and voice lessons to develop her musical skills.


While she’s originally from the DMV, Chini says she views herself as “a rapper that just happened to be born here.” The DMV isn’t exactly the most supportive part of the country to be an artist, she says.


Seeking greater support for her artistry, Chini spent four formative years in Atlanta. She says this period was critical for not only gaining traction among producers, but building internal confidence in her style and her work. “Atlanta helped me to become, it took away my fear,” she says.


However, personal growth in her personal and professional life have not come without tough lessons learned in Atlanta. When she first moved down to Georgia, Chini was a single mother freshly moved out of her parent’s house. This in itself was difficult, she explains, but her personal experience with misogyny in Atlanta’s music scene was an additional barrier that she found quite disappointing.


“It’s tough to perform the art of the sermon, knowing how to filter out the bullshit,” she explains. “It can really take trial and error, and that error can hurt, but I definitely persevered through it.”


Now living back in the DMV, Chini balances her identities as a rapper and mother to three children. Her kids have become absorbed in her music creation process, she says - “just involve them in it!”


Sure enough, an hour before the zoom chat, Chini’s Instagram story featured her daughter sporting wide-rim sunglasses and an electric pink feathered coat – personality runs in the GettinSaucy family genes.


Looking back on her experiences when times were tough, “I want to make sure I can take you through my journey,” Chini says. Throughout and she was living in Atlanta with her first-born, Chini recounts the difficulty of making new music when she was in a ‘bad space’. Whereas a lot of artists use their music to vent about the challenges they experience, “my brain needs time to register everything that’s going on, then I can write” she says.


Reflecting on how her style as a musician has evolved over this conversation, she uses an almost sonnet-like way of communicating her story – subtle voice inflections that rise and fall in tune with a breath pattern that is so rhythmic that you can tell Chini thinks in bars.

Traversing identities as a mother, a lover of the English language, and the moniker ChiniGettinSaucy, Chini’s mastery of literature, poetry, and spoken word demonstrate she has mastered a unique, multifaceted method of storytelling. These gifts have propelled her center stage to the list of the seriously underrated, up-and-coming hip hop artists in the U.S today.




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