Right now, Tinashe says she’s having an “amazing time.”

That’s due to the fact that not only is she the new princess of R&B, but at the moment she’s in Dubai hanging out with none other than the country’s royal family. “We had the best day ever,” she gushes during a phone interview with The Hype at the end of her visit. “They showed us all around; we rode in sand dunes, hung out with the monkeys and all went swimming together. It feels like a vacation, but I’m actually performing tonight.”


If you told Tinashe in early 2014 that’d she’d be chilling with actual royalty in a year’s time, she’d probably think you were crazy. But a lot can change in a year, as she’s transformed herself from former child star (Yes, that’s her on old Two and a Half Men reruns) to a force in the worlds of hip hop and R&B thanks to break-out single “2 On,” a sultry, 90s-inspired nightclub banger that hit rap radio one year ago this month and propelled the 22 year-old singer into the musical stratosphere. “That song definitely changed my life,” she explains in between saying goodbye to the her new royal friends. “’2 On’ came about because I was always curious about why there were no women on any Mustard songs,” she says, referring of course to DJ Mustard- one of the biggest producers in hip hop today who’s crafted beats for the likes of Tyga (“Rack City”), Kid Ink (“Show Me”), and 2 Chainz (“I’m Different”)- just to name a few.

Tinashe saw what Mustard could do and became inspired by his success- who, up until last year- had been exclusively with male artists. “I felt there was a real open lane for a woman to work with him,” she explains. To prove herself, she hit her home studio with some friends and crafted the same kind of beat that Mustard himself would put together. “It wasn’t set up by the label or anything,” she explains of the shot in the dark. “When we finished it, we thought it was pretty hot. My label then played it for Mustard, and he liked it and wanted to be a part of it. So he put his own spin on it and made it really sound great. It was an amazing process and a really big deal for me.” The song, which Tinashe calls “a dream come true,” would soon become “2 On.”

Like many music industry dreams, Tinashe’s are rooted in a series of false starts and countless rejections. Born in Kentucky, she jetted off to Los Angeles when she was a just kid to pursue a career as a child actor. She quickly lined up respectable gigs- whether it was a voice role in the Nickelodeon staple Rocket Power, or a plum part in the hit animated holiday film The Polar Express. “I was in fourth grade when we filmed that,” she explains of her appearance in the Christmas classic. “It was really fun being on set. Looking back on it, it was just incredible that I was working with a legend like Tom Hanks. We filmed it wearing body suits and afterwards they digitally animated us.”

A few years later, Tinashe made the leap from the acting to music when she joined The Stunners, a sassy R&B girl group founded by pop singer Vitamin C. However, after a brief burst of fame and with a full album on the horizon, the group disbanded. “To be honest, I always saw being in The Stunners as a stepping stone,” she explains of the fallback. “When we broke up, I actually wasn’t discouraged. I was more excited, because I thought it was my opportunity to become a solo artist. It’s a shame, because some of the girls in my group thought of it as their shot and after we broke up they gave up on music. But that wasn’t an option for me.”

As Tinashe’s car cuts through streets of the United Arab Emirates , she talks about living life as one of music’s most buzzed-about young artists. For one, she currently calls the quiet Los Angeles suburb of Glendale home, forgoing a hipper area by design. “It’s a little bit more residential, which I like,” she explains of the sleepy area. “I love L.A.’s creative energy, but in Glendale I can go on hikes and dates, and have some free time in peace.” It’s in Tinashe’s Glendale adobe where she has a home studio- the one where she first crafted “2 On” and put together her early solo work after The Stunners said their goodbyes. “I taught myself how to run all of the programs, like Pro Tools and Final Cut,” she explains of her process. “It was really through trial and error that I taught myself to record. Everything’s in my bedroom and you can’t get more relaxed than that… it’s nice to have that kind of comfort. I think people like that rawness, knowing I do a lot of it myself.”

It’s that rawness and homebred talent that continues to win Tinashe fans. Ritz Reynolds, the producer behind two cuts on Tinashe’s debut album Aquarius (including the title track), noticed her chops right away. “It was immediately very clear when I started working with her how strong of a singer and songwriter she was,” Reynolds says. “She had already spent years honing her tone and harmonic arrangements. She’s sort of a young vet as far as her abilities and ideas in the studio go; it’s definitely no accident that she’s gotten where she is today.” Calling Tinashe a young vet makes perfect sense after listening to her late 90s-inspired singles, whether it’s the sizzling “Pretend” featuring A$AP Rocky, or “All Hands on Deck,” a track fallen 90s-icon Aaliyah herself could have cut. “For me, late 90s/early 2000s R&B is what I grew up listening to,” she says of her throwback style. “I always thought it was a shame that it dropped out of mainstream radio, so I’m trying to bring it back again.”

It’s that kind of unique passion for R&B that yielded the release of recent mixtape Amethyst, a seven-track effort she created in her aforementioned bedroom during the last Christmas break (and which Reynolds also had a hand in). “It’s been six months since my album came out and while that doesn’t seem like a long time, I thought that since that the fans have been supporting me through this entire journey I’d give them a sort-of thank-you gift,” she explains of the impetus to release the mixtape. “It’s important as an artist to always give the fans as much content as possible- especially in this day and age. I think they really appreciate that.” Staying true to her word, besides the album and mixtape, Tinashe is also currently featured on the poppy remix of Nick Jonas’ hit “Jealous,” the rising Kid Ink track “Body Language” (alongside Usher), and the raunchy “Drop That Kitty,” alongside Charli XCX and Ty Dolla Sign. “She stands out because she takes risks,” said Ty. “Plus, she’s genuinely sweet and can crack a joke.”

One risk that Tinashe successfully navigated past was the collapse of a long-planned North American tour with Iggy Azalea. (Production delays and head-butting within Azalea’s camp are reportedly to blame.) After shifting the start of the tour from this month to September, Tinashe and fellow co-headliner Nick Jonas subsequently dropped off the bill. Looking back however, it was probably a blessing in disguise for Tinashe- considering R&B queen Nicki Minaj herself came calling shortly thereafter. “Initially I was excited to be with Iggy,” Tinashe explains of the shake-up as she continues to travel through Dubai on the way to her performance tonight. “But after Nicki’s people came to us, I realized it was all part of a bigger plan. It’s crazy how it worked out. Everything happens for a reason and I get proven that every day.”