Tinashe thrives on constant motion. “She’d have too much to think about if she had a day off,” Ali Nazzaro suggests at the New York listening session for Joyride. This kind of statement feels patronizing, as if Tinashe is a kind of music-making robot—after all, what’s wrong with time off to think? But it’s something she herself worries about. Tinashe knows there are misconceptions about her, and they get under her skin. She knows some think that she has nothing to offer, that she’s just a cute girl whose music has no sophistication or artistry. A one-hit wonder. Asked about Ali Nazzaro’s time-off comment, however, Tinashe echoes her manager’s assessment. “I’m not a big fan of downtime,” she says. “I have too much time to think.”
She scoffs, like it should be obvious. “That I’m not doing enough. That I’m not good enough. That I’m wasting my time.”
She’s a shark and if she stops moving, doubt and self-scrutiny get in. Michael says that this self-doubt is the quality in their daughter that he and his wife are most surprised by. They can explain where the work ethic came from (Mom), the love of music and performance (Dad), the fondness for checklists (Mom), but this habit of getting stuck in her own head, that they can’t account for. It was a problem for her in middle school and freshman year of high school, and she recalls those bad feelings in front of her family.
“Nobody wanted to fuck with me. As far as the guys go, nobody wanted to like me or date me. They’d talk to me in secret and then at school they’d ignore me. Literally ignore me to my face. And psychologically that messes with you. It makes you feel that you must be genuinely unattractive if this person doesn’t want anyone to know that you even talk. That’s bad.”
Kudzai weighs in. “It’s a lot harder for African-American girls, especially in these kinds of communities,” he says. (La Crescenta is less than 1% African-American.) “If you’re the only African-American girl in your school. For me and Thulani, it’s a lot easier. When you’re the guy, you’re seen as different. She was singled out. But being the only African-Americans helped us socially.”
You got to be the cool token black friend.
“Exactly,” he says. “But it wasn’t the same for her.”
“My sister felt the same thing,” Michael adds. “She couldn’t get out of high school fast enough.” Tinashe left school after ninth grade.
In the bedroom where she has recorded the vocals for songs you’ve heard on the radio, Tinashe has taped inspirational quotes all around her twin bed’s white-painted wooden frame. A well-worn stuffed animal peeks out from under the blanket on the bed. Some of the quotes are part of a set, like a greeting-card pack, with sayings like, “Everything I need comes to me at the perfect time.” Above the headboard, above her pillow, she has posted a handwritten note to herself in black marker on highlighter-bright paper: “I know I’m a good person.”
Did you ever doubt that?
“I guess I did when I was younger,” she says. “When I was in middle school and everybody didn’t like me. I’d wonder, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ Because it’s hard not to feel like it’s a reflection of what I’m doing wrong. You have to try to remember that that’s not always the case. That it’s not always a reflection on you.”
But who figures that out when they’re in eighth or ninth grade?
“It’s a hard lesson to learn. But I think an important lesson to learn because it carries over into a lot of things in life and career. How sometimes I’ll doubt myself, and wonder why some people can seemingly get more success. It’s the same thing. It’s not always just about me, or something I’m doing. See, the room is pretty small! You’ve seen the whole thing.”
The whole thing: Her bedroom is tiny, hence the twin bed, and the walls painted white and a shade of blue that’s close to teal. A plush Totoro toy, from the Hayao Miyazaki cartoon, looks down from a shelf by the door. A row of different-colored bras hangs on a rack next to her desk. Photos of family and friends, Mike and Ali, are taped on mirrored tiles on the wall behind her desk. Her iMac is on; ProTools is up. The lyrics for at least three different songs are open in different colored windows of text. There’s a microphone hanging from the ceiling to the left of the desk with a small, maybe foot-and-a-half-long curtain hung behind the mic to insulate her voice. This is her makeshift studio. The platinum plaque for “2 On” sits next to a row of dance trophies high up on the wall opposite the foot of her bed. Another token of her burgeoning career—a slip of paper tacked to a corkboard, bearing a single word: Joyride. Below that is a mock-up of the tracklist, the song titles written in black marker on bright paper, like the note to herself. She’s planning the album like you might outline a school project.
Tinashe paces while she talks; her orange cat, Sundance, brushes against her legs. The album’s not quite done, she says. “I would’ve said 95 percent, but now I’m going back to 80 percent,” she says. “Rethinking some things in the 11th hour.” Pacing the room, Tinashe seems to be rethinking things right now. She’s feeling the pressure.