A rare queer voice in R&B, 20-year-old Philly-based Christinna O is also a rising spoken-word poet who’s competed in the NAACP’s national slam poetry competition and led Temple University’s poetry collective Babel, a tight-knit group of poets, rappers and musicians.
She found her way to music and poetry in her early teens while being homeschooled in Miami to avoid bullying she’d faced in school. At home, Christinna figured out how to use Pro Tools; pulling beats from YouTube, making melodies on her dad’s Yamaha keyboard, and topping it with her self-produced and self-engineered vocals. She developed a small but devoted following on SoundCloud with her self-released mixtape, “The Violet Tape,” (made at age 14), EP, “Abide,” (released as a senior in high school), and standout single, “Milk Carton.”
Her inventive, thoughtful melding of R&B and poetry found its way to a few music industry tastemaker ears, leading her to connect with Rogét Chahayed (“Sicko Mode,” “Sky Walker,” “Broccoli”) and Wes Singerman (Rich Brian, Tyus, L Devine) who produced her debut single, “Shelter,” released in winter 2018. Christinna quickly followed up the release with a second single, “Lay It Down,” a song written about finding validation in vulnerability and which garnered praise from NPR (Slingshot 10 must-hear songs from Philadelphia), The Line of Best Fit, KCRW, Milk Media, Elevator Mag, The Wild Honey Pie, and more.
In 2019, Christinna released her debut EP, “Girl In Passing.” The nine-track collection rides the pop-funk bounce wave, punctuated by three interludes that showcase her poetic abilities and innermost thoughts.
“’Girl In Passing’ speaks of lessons learned,” Christinna says of the EP.
“In this life that we are all passing through, that is always turning anew, this is my account of current times and conscience. ‘Girl in Passing’ is art and soundscapes of the times, and of the feelings we know so well that present themselves differently every time.”
She recently released a new single, “Braided,” a clear-eyed manifesto on self-love and how love for others and reverence of those who came before help in actualizing it.
PW recently caught up with Christinna to talk about her music and poetry.
PW: You found your way to music and poetry in your early teens while being homeschooled in Miami to avoid bullying you’d faced in school. How did music and poetry help you get through this time?
CO: During that time, my musical and poetic expression replaced the feeling of being heard. I was extremely isolated, especially from my peer group and all the while trying to navigate a journey of finding my identity. Also while channeling my feelings, my thoughts, my confusion, my findings through art, I learned so much about myself. I may have learned more about myself than the average teen because I had so much time looking inward without much noise.
PW: You’ve been successful melding music and poetry. How did you come up with that combination? Why are you drawn to this approach?
CO: Music and writing have been my passions for as long as I can remember, but for a long time, I kept the two quite separate. I was not used to blending spoken word poetry with my music creations. I kept the creative process of poetry and music separate for a very long time up until the past two years. I was constantly writing poems and trying to perform them wherever I could, and then often I would go home to my studio in the hallway and make music, then post that on SoundCloud, but I never really paired the identities together.
It was truly my loved ones, including my manager, who really encouraged me to explore the melding of the two mediums. I usually feel like I am in two different roles as a poet and a singer-songwriter. I don’t write poems the way I write songs and vice versa. But now, as I meld the two, I look at both of them to illustrate a different aspect of feeling in a record. It allows me to address all the details of an experience. It gives the music a necessary depth, I believe.
PW: What inspires your poetry?
CO: Often what inspires my poetry are the experiences that constantly feel indescribable. Indescribable in pain or joy. I find there’s a challenge to find the words to describe this experience of being alive sometimes. Language suddenly comes up short. So, I am always challenging myself on how well I am able to tap into the life that I’m living and make words touch the feeling. It’s hard. I only have so many words but a lifetime of new experiences.
PW: Talk a little about “Braided.” How did it come together? What’s the message behind it?
CO: “Braided” is a really, really special track because it’s the first track of mine that I’ve produced and written. Since quarantine started, I have been dedicating a lot of my time to teaching myself production. I was in the living room one evening and I had my laptop and MIDI controller. I did some simple chops on this guitar sample I found. I then found some gritty stomps and kicks. Shortly after nailing a loop, I memo’d the hook and everything else followed.
“Braided” is a new expression of my love for the ones that have come before me, to make me who I am. A new expression of my love to the ones closest to me today. To say “we’re braided” is to acknowledge the depth and uniqueness of our love, our magnetism, and our protection in it.
PW: What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself and your career in five years?
CO: I wish I knew what was next for me, but I have an idea of what the next five years could look like. I see myself pushing out thoughtful music and connecting with the world as much as I can through the music. I also see myself songwriting for some of our favorite artists today. I have quite a long list of artists that I feel like I could paint pictures for…I also want to say I’ll be surrounded by some of the best producers and top-liners that this industry has. I see myself creating bridges within the music industry – finding new ways to bring people together through music.
PW: How can your fans stay up-to-date with you and hear your work?
CO: Everyone can connect with me best on Instagram and Twitter and every music platform! I’ll have a YouTube with more creative insight to my work soon. Looking forward to sharing more.