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Jentina Chapman, professionally known as Jentina, is a British pop singer, rapper, songwriter and model. Chapman was born in Woking. She grew up in West Molesey, Surrey, alongside 13 brothers and sisters on a diet of Cabbage and Potatos. By the age of 16 she had had several jobs and was working illegally in Dixons. By seventeen she had moved to work in London and got her first record deal at 19 years of age.
After a heavy advertising campaign on television and features in various UK music magazines, (notably NME), her debut single Bad Ass Strippa was released in the summer of 2004. Heavily sampling an O'Jays classic, the song topped the Box charts for a week, but this did not translate into sales and ultimately it reached number 22 in the UK singles chart. Considering the heavy promotion, this was disappointing for Jentina's label and they quickly restyled her image and sound. Enlisting serial hitmakers Cathy Dennis & Greg Wells to write the next single, French Kisses was notably a more pop-oriented record. The single was released in the autumn of 2004, entering the chart at number 20. Jentina released another single after this in Italy only, "Mysterious". With little promotion, it reached the Top 30 in Italy. Her debut album Jentina was then released, again, only in Italy.
In 2005, Jentina was parodied in the underground diss song, Sad Arse Strippa by peer and rival, Lady Sovereign. In the same year however, her songs: Bad Ass Strippa and Mysterious gained worldwide exposure after being featured in episodes of CSI:NY. In 2006, Mysterious underscored some of the audition stages of MTV's DanceLife.
In November 2007, Jentina represented lingerie brand Wonderbra, following on from the likes of Eva Herzigová and Caprice. She was featured in a spoof video of the Cadbury's popular Gorilla television advertisement, in which a gorilla plays the drums to the Phil Collins single In The Air Tonight.
Two things you’ll notice straight away about 19-year-old Jentina. First, she’s gorgeous, with the kind of natural good looks that stop traffic. And catwalks. Second, she’s a real personality with a passion for the music she’s making, not another manufactured pop puppet with nice hair and nothing underneath. Which is why it’s best to let her describe herself.
“I’m loud,” she laughs. “Big. I’m quite a lot for people to handle, quite a lot for people to love. If I knew another me, I’d be scared! I’m sensitive, even shy sometimes, but I’m also an entertainer. I just want to have fun, make everybody else happy and try and bring people up even when I’m down. I’ve got so much energy – I get everyone going. And I’m confident, but deep down inside I will admit that there’s a lot that I’m scared of.”
Jentina was born in a caravan in Woking. When she was one year old, her Romany mother moved her growing family into a house in West Molesey, Surrey, which is where Jentina grew up. She describes the town as like living in The Truman Show. “Nothing happens there. Ever. I go back there and everybody I grew up with, every man who used to walk their dog around the park is still there. They just look older.”
She’s from a large family: “Lots of three-quarter length trousers because they were passed down, and lots of scrambling for food when it came out.”
There was a lot of conflict at home and Jentina left home at a young age. She looked much older than she was, so she left school, moved in with an older friend and got a job making switches in a factory for £20 a week. She got into trouble, of course. “You had to nail things down to stop me from stealing them,” she says matter-of-factly. “I was evil – my mum called me a teenage witch, which was true.”
She scraped together £1000 and decided to go to Miami. Her sister once had a doll called Miami Roller Baby, and that’s who she wanted to be. “I was following my dreams.” She stayed with a friend’s cousin on Sunshine Boulevard, the only white face in the neighbourhood. She even got a job serving sandwiches in a rollerblading bar, but she fell over so often she eventually got fired. She ended up working as a spokesperson for a model agency, putting on a cut-glass English accent for them at conferences. It all worked well until they found out her real age and had her sent home.
This is when she really went off the rails. Until one day a policemen managed to get through to her, make her see where she was heading: prison, maybe worse. “It was so scary. I just realised what my life was coming to.” She stopped drinking. She stopped taking drugs. She stopped getting into trouble. And she decided to make something of her broken life.
Jentina had a passion, and the passion was music. Way back, one of her brothers had given her a Nas tape and despite her mother’s disapproval, she kept it as a secret treasure. A couple of years later, she made friends with a black family living nearby and she’d bunk off school with the three kids, who introduced her to more of the music. They’d spend their afternoons sitting in the attic smoking weed, drinking Scrumpy Jack, listening to Tupac and Biggie and trying to write lyrics of their own. “It was my idea of heaven!” she grins.
Her precious rap tapes were a lifeline, and if her style now owes more to US hip hop and R&B than to the British club scene, “It’s because that’s what I grew up with, the first music I really loved. I didn’t know there was anything else, and it was their style I was copying until I found a voice that sounded like – well, like Jentina.”
So when she finally decided to sort her life out, she knew music would be the key. She moved to London and got a job in the hip Soho clothes store/gallery Zoltar The Magnificent. She’d stand behind the counter with her laptop, making beats “and just wishing”. Whenever anyone involved in the music industry came in to the shop she’d sing quietly, hoping to be noticed. “I wanted it so much. I just wanted to do music. I wanted to be the technician, I wanted to be the producer, I wanted to be the person who writes songs, I wanted to be a vocal coach, anything. Because music was the only thing I liked to do. I love to dance, I love to rap, I’m a big fat show-off.”
Then one day some guy walked in while she was working on her laptop, and started asking her about music. When he told her that he was a manager, she rapped for 30 minutes non-stop, just to show him what she could do. Dave Dorrell asked her to come into the studio, and the rest is the stuff dreams are made of. Managers’ dreams, that is. Because Jentina turns out to have the voice of an angel (if angels smoked and went out clubbing), and plenty to say with it. “The only place I’ve ever felt like I belonged is in the studio,” she says. “I’ve never felt like I came from anywhere, never felt like I fitted in. But ever since then I’ve been on a roll. It’s amazing how my life’s just turned around.”
She’s too respectful of R&B’s ruling diva to compare herself to Missy Elliot, but Jentina says she’s definitely been an influence, someone she admires for her strength as well as her soul. Hip hop/R&B producer Timbaland is another favourite, with his mix of restless experimentation and commercial pop hooks. So her first single Bad Ass Strippa shows Jentina in full-on party mode, and a glorious noise it is too: bold, brassy and instantly catchy. But there’s much more to her than that. You’ll have to wait for the album to hear some other sides of a sassy, self-made woman who’s been through hard times and come out on top.
“Even though I never had anybody, I’m glad in a way,” she says. “I’ve come through life alright. I’ve never gone hungry, I’ve never given myself a bad reputation, and I’ve taught myself. Without that I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now, and I wouldn’t know what I know. I’ve had to act a bit dumb at times, but I could get myself out of a bad situation quicker than anyone else could. Now I’m trying to express things that are inside me. I’ve spent two years working on this album, and I’d like people to listen to it and feel like they half-know me. I just want to come across as real.”
Why not treat yourself?