Quinn Is Too Real For the Internet

In the early pandemic, the 17-year-old rapper/producer went viral for her spin on hyperpop; now, her new self-titled album looks for a more present life.

Down this side of America, in Muscogee County, Georgia, there’s no hiding. As I pass through the first security checkpoint, I get a text from quinn: “make sure to go the speed limit. the military police are WILD and they hide in the trees and shit.”

Right now, the 17-year-old rapper/producer quinn and her family live in Fort Benning, a 104-year-old military base on the border of Alabama and Georgia. Her dad is a master sergeant, and in October 2021 they relocated from Virginia, interrupting quinn’s stint at a prestigious arts school. quinn co-ran a music production club there and often got recognized in the hallways for the music she started releasing as a 14-year-old. Now she’s completing her senior year at a school 600 miles away, where there isn’t a real music program and kids get curb stomped out back. (She sometimes gets the same looks, though: The day before, she was recognized by some bros at an on-base festival headlined by Cee-Lo Green and Andy Grammar.)

Every weekend, the tanks fire off practice rounds, punctuating waking life with booms. quinn is still getting used to that. But otherwise, she’s more or less made this place home. On one side of her bedroom, cordoned off by a massive hanging poster of outer space, is her recording studio, where a rack of samplers and DJ gear sits by a microphone and audio interface. On the other side of the room are posters and banners—Naruto, the African-American flag, Motley Crue—some of which she’s splattered in silver with her graffiti tag: “SPIDR.” As we talk, she lights some sage; Daisy, an old, white toy poodle with human-like eyes, chills on the bed.

quinn, formerly known as osquinn, is a certain kind of famous. In the early months of COVID-19, she captivated alt-teens across the internet with stormy songs simmered in the atmosphere of online life. Building on a soup of influences like the trap metal of Sybyr and the switchblade flows of internet rapper saturn, she sang in a flat, fuzzy tone, often pitching up her voice until it lasered into your brain. As singles like “ok i’m cool” took off, she quickly—perhaps unwillingly—became one of the faces of a burgeoning hyperpop scene, amassing a cultish fanbase drawn to her drifting, ephemeral style. This, too, was the shape of hyperpop itself: not the “countercultural sound of the 2020s,” as one writer postulated, but instead a scene that flourished in a pocket of the internet, a microcosm of decentralized culture. quinn says her parents didn’t get it till they saw the streaming checks coming in; they later found out she was trans when she was profiled in a New York Times article.

All the while, the labels kept calling: Universal, Interscope, 300. quinn turned down or ghosted every single one. She was also getting sick of how fans perceived her and her art, lumping her into internet-addled iceberg memes and deifying her. When she decided she no longer wanted to make hyperpop, and made this clear on Twitter, many of her fans pestered her in search of an answer why. For half a year, she vanished from the internet, drifting away from former collaborators and toward the dance music collective Eldia, whom she bonded with over Discord. In 2021, she emerged from her hiatus with a swath of aliases: cat mother for her new jungle tracks, trench dog for her ambient tapes, DJ weird bitch for her trippy mixes. Her ensuing debut album drive-by lullabies felt more like a mixtape, loosely collaging these styles and identities instead of collapsing them into a statement piece.

“I like for people to hear one thing I made, like my most popular song, and then they hear my cat mother shit and they're like, ‘Holy fuck, is this the same person?’” she says. “I love when people ask that question. I like to confuse a supporter.”

These days, though, she’s mostly just quinn. Her new album, titled simply quinn, and released via the independent label DeadAir, won’t surprise fans who’ve been following along with her lost-in-the-mix 2022 releases. Soupier and more intentionally arranged than drive-by lullabies, it’s a stew of Soulection swing, chintzy pop, and headnod funk. These songs are warmer, and more handmade than the cold electronics of past records. In quinn’s voice, you can hear traces of the kid who blacked out over saw waves a couple years ago, but they’re faint.

Is this music still about the internet? Kind of—it’s certainly a negation of it. See “warm and fuzzy,” where quinn rambles about her reluctance to show people her music. Or the smooth closer, which is about balancing work—in quinn’s case, being a small celebrity—with being a teenager. In general, though, quinn’s album feels more like a breezy stroll than an endless scroll. On the irresistible “please don't waste my time,” she lilts, “Mama said the life I live is just the life of a man, except the gender change just wasn’t part of the plan.” Then, she practically grins: “I’m in a new place, I’m in a new light, I’m where I’ve always wanted to be.”

quinn spends days at a time with her buddy Jarrod (who’s joined us for the day), smokes copious amounts of weed, and listens to almost exclusively hip-hop of the formalist, bars variety—Kool Keith, People Under The Stairs, Apache. The two of them also talk a lot of shit. In my day at Fort Benning, I learned more straight facts about the townies—friends, enemies, lovers, parents, racists, swingers—than I did about quinn herself. After quinn dons a teddy-bear backpack and drapes a keffiyeh over her dreadlocks, they’re eager to show me around the ‘burbs and share all the lore—the resident Scary Guy, who looks like a young Dr. Dre and jokes about having bombs in his backpack; the group of “white thugs” obsessed with NBA YoungBoy. “I remember hearing one of them,” she recalls. “He was like, ‘Bro, if YoungBoy dies, then I die.’”

Born in Baltimore, quinn bounced around the East Coast growing up, spending chunks of her life in Virginia and Pittsburgh and finding community on the internet. (By the age of 12, she was already in an short-lived online music collective with Atlanta firebrand Bktherula.) “Fort Benning is the best place I've lived yet,” she says, as we pass a community recreation center. “Not in terms of quality and the people here, but just because everyone knows each other here. And I got friends here, and I know a lot of people locally. And that’s something I’ve never gotten to feel because… military family, you know?”

Before moving to the neighborhood, quinn and her family stayed at a local hotel, where they shared space with military personnel from around the world. A group of Russian soldiers partied every single night, their din permeating the thin walls, making it difficult for quinn to properly record. Instead, she focused on making beats and spitting freestyles to convey the stress and loneliness she’d been feeling from moving, finishing (and ultimately scrapping) an entire rap album. One thing she recalls are the faces of the Saudi Arabian special forces that wandered the hallways. “They’ve seen it all,” she says, while crossing the street from a convenience store. “They were so monotonous, and it was kinda sad, because they had no soul. I imagine after seeing all that shit you got no soul no more. And you gotta come to the country that did it to you? I’d be so pissed.”

We make our way back home, where quinn scrolls through her music library on the computer, moodboarding the influences on quinn: the compressed-to-death sample chops of an online scene called soul-hop; the “ketamine music” of chipmunks on 16 speed; Ghostface Killah and BADBADNOTGOOD’s Sour Soul; the wonky outsider rap of Massachusetts collective Dark World. The core inspiration for quinn, however, came to her via a renewed obsession with her favorite album of all time, Standing on the Corner’s jazz rap opus Red Burns. You’ll hear parallels between these albums’ jigsawing structure and tone, their current of pan-Africanism, staticky vocal takes, short songs that work best as parts of a whole. “I started getting more spiritual when I started coming out of my depression,” she says. “I was like, ‘Damn, there's so much more to life than just, get on Discord.’” She says she gets most of her spirituality from music, in particular citing conscious rap like Ka, Digable Planets, and Al Divino.

Compared to past records, where she sang about fans not really knowing her, her writing on quinn is stripped of a lot of that baggage. This gives her more room to explore new themes, like her relationship with her girlfriend Mal, who can be heard on the SoundCloud-only album track “CUANTOS AÑOS TIENES.” On the gut punch ballad “the trust game,” quinn tenderly explains her philosophy of love in a single line: “I love you for my soul.” The most abrasive moments are almost comically intense, and walk the line between sounding unfinished and feeling alive—like the interlude “i see you,” wherein quinn goes on an unhinged tirade, threatening to break into an unnamed staff sergeant’s house, eat his string cheese, “fuck on his PAWG of a wife,” and key his car. It’s a reminder of quinn’s raw edge, which in its consistency has placed her music in a different realm entirely from the quirky aesthetics of hyperpop.

As the sun begins its slow descent, I drive quinn and Jarrod about 15 minutes off base to South Columbus, Georgia, a college town the two often explore on weekends. “All this shit slave money,” quinn says as we walk by fancy eateries and stores. A man approaches her asking for money and she gives him all $43 in her wallet. We wander down to a promenade by the Chattahoochee River, which traces the Georgia-Alabama border. The rapids aren’t so rapid today, so a few people are cooling off in the shallows. “I would go swimming if I wouldn’t catch cancer right after,” quinn jokes, hopping over a rocky outcrop.

On the way back to Fort Benning, we get lost. Google Maps is useless; entering and exiting the base is finicky based on time of day. I swivel around loop after loop, miss exits left and right, make sharp U-turns in the middle of the highway, all while the late Maryland rapper Goonew is blaring out the speakers. quinn and Jarrod try to help, but they’re having too much fun watching me fail.

Suddenly, quinn remembers she’s missing her set at the online community Goop House’s new virtual music festival. For a few seconds, she enters the stream, watches her pre-recorded performance on mute, and sees her fans flood the chat. Satisfied with the overwhelming support, she smiles, then puts away her phone.

Pitchfork: You’ve gone from working with collaborators to being kind of isolated in your process. Does it ever get lonely?

Quinn: It honestly doesn’t. I used to wish I had that team of people behind me, but now I do have that support [from deadAir]. I’ve never really missed collaborating with people, because my creative vision is usually one of one. If I get anyone else on this, I feel like I’m just going to commandeer their vision and turn it into mine anyway—so I might as well just work by myself, which is why I’ve declined bigger people working with me. I can do all this shit by myself, and I want to show you that I can, you know what I mean?

One thing I tell people often is that if you really want to blow up, just shut the fuck up. End the social media presence, all that. Just stay to yourself and focus on your music; don't even promote shit. Eventually, the rest will just follow suit, and they're gonna be like, “Oh my God, who is this mysterious person stirring up all this trouble around this part of town?” One leads to another.

Are you in a place where your old sound just feels like the past to you? Like “ok im cool”—what do you hear in that today?

I hear that song as a relic, sometimes a misinterpretation, because people hear that and expect me to still make the same shit now. But its like, nah, man. I was 15 when I made that. “i don’t want that many friends in the first place”—I made a song when I was 14. I didn't mean for it to be my most famous one, you know what I mean? That shit blew up within a month.

Do you feel like your fans think of you as something you’re not?

I feel like I deserve the credit that I get, although I do not like it when Im seen as a savior or something like that. I do get how I save people’s perceptions of life and stop them from their depression or the consequences of such. But what I don’t like is when people worship me because they’re like, oh my god, quinn saved my life, so now I’m forever in her debt. I don’t like that cult-like ovation. I do remember someone got my name tatted on them; it was a pretty sick tattoo, so I’ll give them credit for it.

What do you want listeners to take away from this album that they might’ve not known about you before?

The quinn that y’all think I am is not the quinn that I am. I promise, ok? A lot of them realize that I’m just my own individual being because they see how detached I am now. Maybe 75 to 80 percent of my fan base already realizes that, but that last 20 percent is what I’m trying to get at, because they’re the most vocal, and sometimes they trick me into believing that they are the 80 percent.

I tuck my shirts in, goddamnit! I wear my keys on my belt loop. I carry a teddy bear with a gun inside of it. I burn sage and incense and smoke a lot of weed. That’s who I am. I’m not alt quinn who’s chronically online anymore.

I feel like this is the first time I’ve heard your vocals rawer, less processed.

I don't know. I was just randomly like, let me throw everything at this album, including my unprocessed voice and let's see how they process that. I guess some people are like, oh my god, I thought you were a girl, your voice is so deep, what are you? And I'm like, whatever you want me to be. I love being seen as androgynous, man. It's like I'm being seen as an Indian god, or a Pacific Islander legend or something like that. It's just something about it that's just… a being. You can't really determine what they are; they just are that. There's a lot of shit about me that I couldn't explain to myself if I wanted to, and that's one of my favorite feelings.