Ever since she completed her music degree at the University of Oregon and moved back to Portland a year or so ago, I have been meaning to check out Wynne’s new studio—situated in the bedroom of a ninth-floor condo on the Eastside. The studio, with a breathtaking view of the Portland skyline, is where the blonde-haired MC breathed fierce life into the bulk of her sparkling 2019 debut mixtape If I May.., which sees the artist genuinely confronting her privilege, setting admirable intentions, and slaying complicated, reference-heavy rhymes over monstrous production. A week before Wynne hit the road to join EarthGang’s “Mirrorland” tour, flanked by b-boy/hype man Rafael “Raf” Newman and engineer Itay Lerner, I went to chop it up with her about all the exciting moves she’s made, her decision to stay in Portland, and what she still hopes to bring home to the Rose City.
MERCURY: So how are you doing? I heard you slipped a disc?
WYNNE: I’ve had so many health issues in the last month, it’s been horrible. I just kind of have a bad back and then I got hit by that car—that was two years ago—and my back never really fixed itself. And so we started preparing for the show and for tour: I’m going to the gym everyday, I’m running on the treadmill—which I’m not supposed to do because I don’t have a disc between two of my vertebrae, so impact is not great. Ended up slipping a couple discs and couldn’t really walk for a couple days during rehearsal. Supposed to be wearing a back brace 24/7, but forgot it today. And I got really sick, I’m kinda getting over it now. Had a three-week virus, a cold. But feeling better! Ready to leave in a week!
Good! I had so much fun at your “Hunny I’m Home” Hawthorne Theatre homecoming show.
WYNNE: I’m so glad you came!
How will this “Mirrorland” tour performance compare to that? Will there be a live band?
Totally no. Super no. We wanted to make the hometown show something special because we’ve turned down a lot of great opportunities in order to really present my first headlining moment as its own thing. So we wanted to go all-out, obviously. We were so lucky to have the Amazon partnership that allowed us to bring in a creative director and build the big beehive that hung from the stage, and bring the bear, have the little vine installation, have the band. [This new set] is still gonna be special. We had a music director help us build out that “Hunny I’m Home” set, and we’ve taken those elements to bring on tour with us. Raf, hype man extraordinaire, is obviously coming. We’ll have a big LED video screen that EarthGang’s letting us use, so we’ve got some good content going on. So it’ll be special, but it’s an opening set.
How did the connection between EarthGang and you come about?
We built a really solid relationship with the SinceThe80s crew. SinceThe80s is a management company—I think they’re starting a label branch—but it’s Kei Henderson, Barry [“Hefner” Johnson] and Zeek [Nicholson]. They manage J.I.D. of EarthGang and 21 Savage. So through our J.I.D. relationship, EarthGang became familiar with us, and it just made sense for us to hop on as opener for their tour ’cause our fanbases align.
How have you been preparing for this tour? I know you said you’ve been doing your physical therapy and have to continue with that...
A lot of physical therapy. The “Hunny I’m Home” rehearsals helped us prepare quite a bit because the set length will be fairly similar. Obviously, going to the gym, trying to get ready to be healthy for six weeks, which is a challenge. But we rehearse every day, Raf and I. Got my in-ear monitors for the first time, which is an adjustment. And you know, spending as much time as I can with family and friends before we go out and making sure we have a comfortable van is important.
What’s the setlist like?
It’s about half-project, half singles. I’m coming out to “Buzzer.” The second song that follows that is called “Obitchuary,” but it’s not released. It’s produced by Christo who also produced “Fine Things.” He’s J.I.D.’s producer. I’m gonna do “Rose City.” I’m gonna do “Ego Check,” obviously. “Fine Things,” “Don’t Touch,” and I think I’m gonna do the “KOD (Remix)” cause Dreamville fans, they need that. Especially if they’re unfamiliar with an opener, they want something to make them familiar. So if I can crush a J. Cole beat in front of them, that might give me an edge up. We’re packing like eight songs into 20 minutes, so... it’s thick.
“Ego Check” feat. J.I.D. is one of my favorites on the album for sure. I do have some questions: What do you mean when you say “I don’t see anybody waitin’/I prefer you say congratulations”? Who is talking to whom here?
“Ego Check” was actually a weird story. I was such a nerd in high school. I never really fit in and didn’t go to parties. Just kind of stayed in my room and wrote music. And now all those kids who bullied me in high school are like, “Hey we should hang out,” and “Hey, I always knew you’d make it.” And so those background vocals are me standing in the venue looking at the people waiting [in line]: No one’s in here, you don’t know anybody here. And like, I prefer you say “Congratulations” to me for getting in here. There had just been a bunch of parties in LA, and Ty [Lerner] and I [would] go to mingle and to meet people and to network. And we are lucky enough to have team members who allowed us to skip the line. I remember seeing people I knew, just like walking past them and getting in. That’s kinda sick. And then the night that we recorded it, we went to a Swizz Beatz party in downtown Hollywood, and we couldn’t get in for like an hour. We’re just like standing out there. At that point I’d already written the lyric, and we were recording it, and I go “I’m gonna name this song ‘Ego Check,’ because I can be both of these people.”
Are you gonna make a music video for it?
Yeah, Lord willing.
Any other songs off the album you’d ideally like to make a music video for?
For sure. We’re in the process of shooting a “Rose City” video. We have a couple of logistics that we need to flesh out, but hopefully we finish filming before we leave for tour. And we could do kind of a short-film-trio situation for “Hungover,” “Playa” and “Petty” because they are kind of a story. So to maybe do half of one song that leads into another, and the other one’s kind of an outro... that’s a possibility.
And then, for “212°,” how did you connect with Mahalia?
I’ve been a fan of hers for a really long time, ever since she released her Colors video, and I heard “Sober,” and I was like, “Holy shit, that’s my favorite song of the year.” I made the record with Sounwave first, and Mahalia is actually signed to the same publishing company as me, which is also where Parisalexa is. And so we had kind of known similar people. Someone on my management team, [who] knew that Mahalia was also kind of working with Sounwave through our publishing company, hit us up and was like, “Hey, my friend produced a lot for Mahalia and she’s in LA right now. She has one more night here. It’d be great to get you guys in the studio and see if she’d be down to work on the song.” She pulled up on us later that night, I think. For the first two hours, we just talked and just kicked it because it’s so rare that you meet another young woman who’s doing shit in music. We just became friends pretty quickly. We were pretty comfortable with each other. And just kind of told stories, we had a lot of weird stories with producers and people we knew that we could connect about, and she ended up wanting to lay it down on the song so we did that and she’s just... she’s dope.
Cool! So I’m sure you guys will probably do more work together in the future.
Cool cool. I kind of already asked you about your setlist, but will you be performing “Open Letter to Donald Trump” on tour?
I will not be. That’s a song that I would like to save for... I don’t know. That’s a really good question actually because it’s a very important time. It’s hard to sort of pay attention to the audience you’re playing for and fill 20 minutes. You also want to play fairly recent material. But we are releasing—soon hopefully—an acoustic version of “Open Letter” I did with Banana Stand, and we filmed that. So we’re gonna release that hopefully in the next month... Our publicist got really sick so we’re trying to figure out how to release that in the best way. It’s super timely right now, unfortunately.
I mean it’s been timely since you dropped it.
Fuck. Yeah, so that’ll be coming soon.
Shifting gears! You’ve had all these viral moments, big looks, cosigns, and high profile features at this point (like the BET Awards). Do you have any awkward or unexpected celebrity encounters?
This wasn’t weird, but after the BET Awards, we had gone out to Nobu Sushi with my team, my publicist. And we turn around, and Anderson .Paak was sitting there with his girlfriend or his fiancée. And my manager walks up to him—and he didn’t know him—but he was like “Hey Anderson, we have a couple mutual friends. I just want to introduce you to my artist Wynne.” And I’m like sitting at this table and I’m like “Holy shit, I love Anderson .Paak.” Like “Holy shit, Anderson .Paak is sitting right behind me.” I’m looking at my publicist like “What are we gonna do right now? Court just walked over there! He’s like, having dinner!” And I hear Anderson go “Wynne!” And I like turn around, and he’s like [motions to come over], he’s like “Sit down!” and he pulls out a chair, I sit down with him, he like pours out a shot of sake, he goes “This is your first awards show!?” I’m like “Yeah!” He goes, “Cheers!”
We sat there for 10-15 minutes with him. He’s super nice. Just like a genuine dude. That was probably my coolest moment.
And legendary live.
Yeah, definitely one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen.
Whew! He blew my mind. It was the Malibu tour at—
Yeah! I was in the VIP section and I was like, “I’ve never seen a crowd this dancey in Portland.”
What’s cool is I waited two or three hours outside of the venue to meet him with my Malibu vinyl and he finally came out and I gave it to him and he signed it. And I go, “In three years, I’m gonna work with you,” and we took a picture together. And when I sat with him at Nobu, I told him that. And he was like “Holy shit!” And I was like “Yeah man, it’s about time. We gotta knock it out now.” So that’s one I’m trying to manifest for sure.
What artists or albums are in your heavy rotation right now?
Roddy Ricch. Love that album. Fuck! [His Portland show] is the day we leave. Yeah we go to Seattle that day. That sucks! Damn! I’ve been listening a lot to his album. I’ve been listening a lot to Baby Keem. I listen to Summer Walker’s project a lot. That was probably my most played project of the year. Listening quite a bit to the new Ant Clemons. Spent a lot of time listening to Xavier Omär’s project with Sango. And yeah, those are probably my most recent. And I’ve been listening to Lucky Daye’s project since it came out.
How has the reception been for your album If I May..? Does it feel like everyone’s saying ‘Yes, you may’?
Yeah. [Laughs] It feels like that. You know, when we started working on the project it was Ty and my goal to make something we felt could stand the test of time and that we’d look back on and be proud of, not embarrassed. And that’s part of the reason we built this room: to have a safe space to work on the project. To see the reactions of people [to the project] be exactly what we wanted is not something you can ever prepare for. And a lot of people have been like “Yo, I found you off the J.I.D. feature and had no idea who you were and suddenly you dropped my favorite hip-hop project of the year.” And that to me is [huge]. Because it’s one of my favorite hip-hop projects of the year. I feel like I gained a lot of trust in myself and in my team, mostly Ty. [We] know what our goals are and we work towards them, and those things are achievable if you put in what you want to get out. So I felt not lucky, but blessed.
“To see the reactions of people [to the project] be exactly what we wanted it to be is not something you can ever prepare for.”
How would you characterize your fanbase?
It’s mostly men. It’s mostly underground hip-hop fans. My Spotify is like 80 percent dudes.
Right? And I think it’s because I’ve done so many cyphers and came up cyphering and freestyling.
Your cyphers are very tight and impressive and it’s always just kind of like, “Oh, that’s embarrassing” for everyone else. In the “Cypher Effect” video, you step up and look a little mousy for a second, then you open your mouth and it’s like “Oh okay!”
I feed off that. That’s how I gained confidence. I had to walk into the room with 20 dudes, and they would all go first and I would go last and the producer would be like “Yeah, you should close it out.” And then I was like “Okay, word,” like, “Maybe I can do this.”
“CVTVLYST” is the song that hooked me. I always love the nostalgic references to like Disney characters and stuff.
But it doesn’t come off as corny at all. What’s your writing process like? Are there certain things that need to be happening for you to write a lot?
Sometimes. “CVTVLYST” happened because I was distracting myself a little bit from a pretty unfortunate situation with a guy who kind of broke my trust. So over winter break I was doing everything I could to not think about it, and I just kept writing, and it turned into a six-minute song. But my writing process has changed a lot. I used to just sit there with my earbuds and write until I felt like something was finished. But when I joined my college band the Illaquips, which is where I met Raf... that’s when I started to freestyle. Because we would freestyle hour-long house show sets, and we were doing a lot more melodic things. I came up as an MC so I wasn’t ever thinking about singing or melodies or harmonies, and once I started doing that it became a pretty important part of my writing process. Now I sit on the couch with a mic and some headphones with Ty. I used to only write by myself. He’ll put a beat on and I’ll spend 30-45 minutes freestyling melodies, lyrics, concepts, anything. And then I’ll go through the session and pick what I like and I’ll write words to it. I’ll keep things, add harmonies, layer things. I would say at least 70 percent of the project was freestyled in some way.
Was there one song that was harder to write on the album or one that you struggled with? Or maybe a track that took a lot more editing?
Yeah I would say every song for the most part on the project came easy, just because that’s the best stuff that ends up making the project is the stuff that comes easy. The hardest song was “Fine Things” because I made that the week that we had to turn the project in because I felt like we were missing something on the project. So I hit Christo, who’s a fantastic producer, and I hit Samurai to make some samples for me, gave Sam some references. He cooked those up quick, like in a day. I sent them to Christo, [and] Christo sent me back the beat in a day. And I really only had like two days to write the song. To me it needed to fit a very specific thing, so I did a lot of editing to that song. I freestyled the hook pretty quickly and got that down. But then I got to the verses and was like, “How do I wanna flow on this without sounding basic, and keep the energy alive, but make it musical like the rest of the project.” That was probably the hardest one. A lot of reward with that one.
“I feed off that. That’s how I gained confidence. I had to walk into the room with 20 dudes, and they would all go first and then I would go last and the producer would be like ‘Yeah, you should close it out.’”< hr>
This is kind of a big question: Are there any other Portland-based artists you’d like to collaborate with?
I really honestly wanna make a bar-out track with Vursatyl. That’s one of my goals, and we’ve talked about it too. So that’s on my checklist. I would love to make some shit with Rasheed [Jamal]. I think he’s got an incredible pen and an incredible flow. I think we would sound really good together on a track. I would love to keep making shit with Blossom. She came in here a couple of times during the making of [If I May..] and laid a lot of backgrounds. We even laid some stuff for an album down the line that didn’t end up making the mixtape, but it showed me a lot of what Blossom and I could do. I’d love to work with Myke Bogan. He’s got some incredible ideas and flows and I love the texture of his voice.
Cool! What’s cookin’ on the backburner right now for after the “Mirrorland” tour is done?
I need to make some new shit. There’s some stuff we made towards the end of the project that could exist on a shorter project, like an EP, at some point this year. But we haven’t been able to flesh it out because we’ve been deep in mixtape street runs or preparing for the show, or the holidays. So hopefully while we’re on tour we get some beat packs and I could make some shit. But when I get back I need to make another something else. Hopefully I’ll put out some singles while I’m on the road. Hopefully. Easier said than done. And I would love to do some more touring this year. It’s good to get that under my belt. I think we’re gonna learn a shit load.
Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
[My team and I] decided we’re not gonna move out of Portland.
Nah, we’re not leaving.
I wanted to talk to you about this, because I also grew up in a suburb of Portland and I’m still here, working and in that zone where it’s like, “Should I go or should I just stay?”
Yeah, it’s an interesting line to walk because it’s very thin. I’m extremely aware that I’m from Lake Oswego. I talk about it in every interview. That being said, this is the city that I put on for. And there’s a lot of potential here. There’s a lot of spaces that I can see myself filling. There’s a lot of work I want to do, a lot of things I want to help with, whether that’s just overall societal things or in terms of developing [the] music industry culture here. There’s a lot to be said for deciding: If I’m going to be a hot commodity... I’m going to be telling labels “If you want to meet with me, you need to come to Portland.” That’s a statement that I think not only is important for just me and what I stand for—I’m such a Northwest kid, I couldn’t live in LA—i’s also just who I am. I’m just a loyal person. Dame [Lillard] actually instilled a lot of that in me, because he’s very much like, “I came to Portland, I’m gonna bring my city a ring. Like, whatever that takes, I’m not leaving to get a ring. If I get one, it’s gonna be in Portland.” And that kind of loyalty is something I really look up to and realize is important to me, too. And I realize that it’s an ever-changing place with a lot of its own issues and a lot of its own wonderful aspects, but that’s something that I’m gonna stick with no matter what it means.
I really like that attitude. One of the first times I interviewed Blossom I asked her, “How do you feel about this pressure to leave Portland once you reach a certain point?” And she was like, “I don’t see why I would need to leave. I can travel.” She’s like, “I love Portland. I want to live here.”
Yeah. When we’re working on music, we’re in LA for at least two weeks.
And that’s because of all the resources and people?
Yeah, all the producers. There’s a lot of creatives over there, but there’s also a shitload here! I mean, all the artwork [for the album], a lot of the production, pretty much all the additional instrumentation, background vocals, anything musical that was added to a beat was out of Portland. All the visuals, whether it was Riley Brown or Fenn Paider really going to bat to help execute my creative vision. And, you know, Dame deciding that he wants to pull up to Pioneer Square to shoot [“The Thesis”]? These are people who believe in the city and want to make it work, and that to me is exciting. I said to someone in some interview who asked if I feel a pressure to put on for Portland, and I said it’s less of a pressure and more of like a passion. Because it’s exciting to me. I feel like I get to wake up every day and this is my office. I’m not in LA in a small studio like ‘What can I do here?’ I’m here looking at all of this. I feel like I can help, and that’s exciting.
I’m excited just hearing you talk about it. ’Cause it is such a hard thing for me to think about like “Am I really gonna live in my home city, like, for my whole life?”
Right. That’s fair.
Why would I move somewhere else in the US when Portland is kind of like THE place to be right now?
Every time you travel and you come back... you miss it, and then you like smell the air and you’re like “Oh I can breathe here. I can drink the water here.” It’s fresh. And I need that so bad.
I feel you. I love coming home to this.
I can’t wait to be in a van for six weeks with three boys. I’m gonna be in like Nebraska and Illinois, and then come back to Portland and be like [sigh].
And it helps knowing that other people are also committed to that and not just taking all our talents elsewhere.
And that’s what it is. There has to be at least a couple people that are like, “No, I’m gonna stay.” And then more people can make that decision. But nobody’s made that decision yet really except for Dame. We were going back and forth: “We might need to move to LA this year. What’s that gonna be like?” We had a meeting at Kamp Grizzly and that was eye-opening because... you kind of get this idea in your head that things aren’t possible in Portland. You can’t develop an industry here. Those things only exist down there with those resources. And we went to Kamp Grizzly, which is just a dope creative agency here. We were just seeing their office and meeting them and being like, “Oh, those things exist here.” People don’t know about them because they aren’t necessarily feeding Portland. They’re still working with New York and LA, but they’re here and you can do that. And we left there and we were like “Fuck that. We should just be here. That’s way sicker and way easier.” And immediately, we just got so much happier.
I’m glad y’all came to that conclusion. And also you have this view, which is frickin’ tight, to remind you of that.
Yeah, it’s the best spot. In “Buzzer,” I said “Floor9 views for the skyline.” Like when you’re working... and you’re looking at this, especially at night, you can see everything. And that’s just like so fuckin’ sick. It’s so inspiring. And Ty and I have a lot of our meetings downtown because we like to be inside of it when we’re thinking about it. But it’s nice to come back here and work and be slightly removed but be able to stay on it.
Yeah, and also to be a part of Portland’s rise. ’Cause like I feel like we’re the next spot almost.
The time is coming.
And some people won’t be here to see it. I have this like horror idea in my head of like leaving and moving somewhere—
And it happens without you.
Yeah. I don’t wanna come back and be like, “Huh?”
Yeah, that’s definitely a fear.
’Cause I feel like I’ve already invested so much time and energy here, I don’t want to just leave it to somebody else.
And you see it paying off! Like, I can see shit growing here.