Zhavia swooned the hearts of audiences all over the world at just 16, becoming a fan favorite on The Four, a music competition series that broadcasted on national television. After the show, the Norwalk, California native went on to sign a major label deal with Columbia Records… which didn’t exactly play out as she had hoped.

Fast forward to today, she’s 22, independent, and ready to finally be dropping new music. While her hit records continue to play in rotation — “17,” “Candlelight,” “100 Ways” — Zhavia is adamant that her unreleased music is 10x better, having gone through the rollercoaster of emotions that come with being a recording artist in the music industry.

And if there’s one thing you can count on with Zhavia, it’s the fact that she loves tattoos. Art is an avenue of expression for Zhavia, which bleeds through her makeup, fashion, and music.

On the 60th episode of Shirley’s Temple, I sat with Zhavia to discuss her tattoos, growing up in Norwalk, going independent, learning how to produce, Hit-Boy showing love on “17,” creating with Snow Tha Product, and more!

What are you getting tattooed today?

I’m getting the word “protected,” it’s in my godmother’s handwriting.

What number is this? Have you lost count at this point? 

Yeah honestly. It’s funny because my fans know how many I have. I’m like wait, how do you know how many I have and I don’t? 

Does the whole chest piece count as one?

I guess the count is not as high, but I have a lot of big pieces. Probably somewhere in the 30’s. Somewhere around there. It doesn’t sound like a lot but like I said, the pieces are big.

Do you just have an urge? What do tattoos do for you?

Yeah honestly. Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be tatted. In elementary school, I’d literally draw myself = with tattoos. I’m like “Okay, I want this tattoo. This is what it means.” I got my first tattoo when I was 16.

Your mom had to take you? 

No, I just went. [laughs] It’s been a fun hobby for me. I love art so I like to have it on my body. It helps me express myself. 

You must have high pain tolerance… 

Dude, everybody says that. Honestly, here’s the thing. Women in general have a better pain tolerance than men. It’s scientifically proven. 

Does smoking make it worse?

I used to be a crazy, crazy, crazy stoner. It definitely does make it worse. Sometimes, if you get too high and it’s a super painful tattoo in general, you feel like you’re gonna die. 

I know that happened on your stomach!

Yeah, that was wild. I had Appendicitis, I didn’t know I had it. I was getting my stomach tattooed and that shit hurts so bad. I literally felt like I was gonna die, but that’s half of it. [laughs] The weed, and then that.  

What inspired West Coast across your stomach? 

Because I’m a West Coast baddie honestly. At this point, let’s admit it. [laughs] No, I love LA. That’s where I’m from and there’s nothing like it honestly. There really isn’t. The food? Oh my god

I see you, vegan 3 years now right?

Yeah, something like that. [laughs]

I saw your video driving around Norwalk. You went to the same donut shop, and Tams. Do you miss those?

Certain foods I do miss. We were gonna go film the music video, and I wanted to go to the donut shop that I’ld go to as a kid. So we asked him if we could film in there and they said no. I understand though because they kept getting robbed. They didn’t want any more attention so they’re like “Nah, we’re good.” They said no, but Randy’s donut shop is the best one. The other one, I never went there before, but that was the only one we could use. And it was down the street so alright, it’s local. Everybody else probably goes here.

Do you mess with the vegan donuts then? 

Oh hell yeah. What’s it called, Donut Friends? That place is bussin’.

How does it feel being independent? Because I interviewed you when you were with Columbia. 

Damn, she was here from the beginning. She was out here. Honestly, it’s the best. I feel so free as an artist. That’s the one thing that we all want, is your creative freedom. To be able to put out music whenever we want, to put out the stuff that we like. It’s honestly a new journey for me. I had to get out of another one…

After Columbia? 

Yeah, we’ve been going through it guys. But it’s all good. I’m free now. I’m officially free. I have so many songs.

Your fans have been waiting for this album. When is the album coming? I love “17.

Thank you, I appreciate that. The stuff that I’m working on now sounds nothing like that. It’s still soulful, because I’m a soulful person. My voice is very R&B and soulful, but it’s definitely a huge contrast as far as production. Just my development as an artist, as a singer and a writer, and even as a producer has been crazy. 

So are you producing your own records?

I’ve been doing a lot of co-producing where I’m literally like “yo, play this melody. Put this tempo. Put the drums like this.” But now I’m trying to learn how to do it myself, pressing the keys and shit.

I love female producers. I had Lil CC on Shirley’s Temple

Oh shit, really? You have to connect me. Listen, honestly I’m so open to working with female producers. Because dude, I can count on fucking one hand how many times I’ve worked with a woman in this industry. It’s crazy. It’s honestly sad. I want to encourage anybody out there: if you want to do producing and you’re a woman, go for it. We’re here. We’re ready for you. We are here for you. 

Does weed help you in the studio?

I quit smoking in the studio. I was smoking crazy in the studio because I was really uninspired. That was during the time that I was signed. I really wasn’t inspired so I was smoking to get through the day. I thought it helped me get ideas, whatever. But honestly, it was definitely holding me back. Because I could’ve done a lot of developing, but I was relying on it. I was relying on the weed to get through the day and get ideas, and I really did not need it. If anybody out there is relying on alcohol or any type of drug or weed to feel like you’re great, you really don’t need it. You’re already great. You already have it inside of you. 

You were so young, you must have had people in your ear.

Everybody thinks they have the right idea of what is for you. They’re like, “Oh, I know this is gonna work. Try that.” No. At the end of the day, you’re the only person that knows what’s right for you. 

The reason people fell in love with you is because you were yourself. 

That’s true. I guess it’s their ego honestly. Instead of opening their eyes and looking around like oh shit, people like her for what she’s doing. Why don’t you let that continue? Tea. But shout outs to Snow [Tha Product], we’re working on a project right now. Honestly, we’ve been in the studio so much. We already literally have 6 songs together. 

I love that! When I saw you guys together, my heart. 

Yeah, it’s crazy because I’d been following her online for a long time. Me and her had been following each other because everybody would tag us in photos of each other and say, “Oh, you look like her. You look like her.” I’m like oh shit, let me follow her. And she followed me too. We’d been wanting to meet in person for a long time, but we didn’t get around to it.

Can we talk about the fit though? The fit is crazy. What are you wearing?

Well, these are some boots I got on Etsy. I have really cold feet, all the time. So these are very practical. Yo, I need to keep my feet warm. And they’re stylish. They’re secondhand. I try to buy everything secondhand. It’s better for the earth, but also they have the best shit. It’s low key better than a lot of stuff they make nowadays. 

My pants, low key I bought these… I had been wanting to go to that store. What’s it called? It’s on Melrose, they do a lot of patchwork. It’s called RCNSTRCT’ED DENIM. I‘d been wanting to go there for a long time, then I finally went. I saw these like oh, these are dope. I’m definitely into the patchwork vibe. I like things a little random, a little unexpected. My jersey, damn I got this a long ass time ago. I had this thing for at least 6 years.

How’s that Fashion Nova bag?

[laughs] I mean it’s good, I’m out here. I’ve been honestly keeping my head down, working and learning and getting better. I haven’t really been posting a lot of music. It’s going to be worth it. The wait’s gonna be worth it, so I’m not even trippin’.

I feel like your catalog is just racking up the streams right now. 

That’s shit’s old to me. For you guys, okay how many years back? 3 or 4? That shit’s 7 years back for me. [laughs] We’re on a whole different wave here. I love the music I made, that’s what I made in the moment and it’s fire. It’s something new. It’s something exciting what I’m doing now. Literally if I wanted to, I have enough songs to drop every week if I wanted to. I’m not going to do that, but I literally could do that. 

I have so much respect that you wanted to start producing and you learned. That’s not easy.

Listen if you want freedom, you gotta learn how to do shit. If you want to be able to do whatever the fuck you want to do, you gotta learn how to make your clothes. You gotta learn how to do your makeup if you want to learn how to present yourself. If you want to make your music that sounds just like you, you gotta learn how to produce now. Whatever the fuck you want to do!

Favorite producer all time? 

Damn, that’s a hard question. I cannot say one, because honestly there’s so many dope producers that I’ve worked with. It’s really interesting to see the different generations in producing and how they interact with the artists. It’s interesting, but there’s a lot of dope people that I worked with. I love Supah Mario, Illmind, S1, Hit-Boy.

He did “17” right? How did that happen?

Dude that was crazy. Honestly, shout out to Hit Boy because he literally reached out. He’s like “Hey, like I want to work on a project with you. Come to my studio, pull up. Let’s get some songs in.” Again, I was really not inspired at the time. When you’re an artist, you have to worry about okay, how am I gonna pay for the studio? How am I gonna pay for the hours to get in the studio? How am I gonna pay for the engineer? How am I gonna compensate the producer?” 

He’s like, “Yo, just pull up. It’s all taken care of, just come. I want to make music with you.” Again, I was really not inspired at the time. If I were to get in the studio with him again now, I probably would be way more productive. At least a song a day. At least “17” came out of it. That shit was fire. He’s so awesome and humble for giving me the chance to get in the studio with him and show him what I can do. Even putting out a fucking song with me. [laughs] That shit’s crazy. 

How long did “17” take to create or write? 

Honestly, it was pretty quick. I had already came to the studio with lyrics. I do that when I’m inspired, so I guess I was inspired that day. I guess I was doing good. [laughs]

You can’t write “17” not inspired. A lot of people don’t make it where you come from.

As an artist, it’s important to tell your story in whatever way that is for you. The thing that inspires me the most is connecting with people. I knew that “17” would be a way I could connect with people, and that’s what music is about. 

“Mama worked two jobs, couldn’t keep the fridge stocked. Always ate popcorn for dinner w/ the soda pop.” What was the reality of growing up?

A lot of people growing up from Norwalk can relate to those lyrics. A lot of us don’t really grow up with everything that we need, our necessities. It was definitely very difficult, but it also taught me to be very independent. If I want something, it taught me I gotta get that shit. I gotta do it myself, because I had to cook at home for myself. [laughs] It started from there, it elevates and elevates like damn. 

Was it ever overwhelming? You got 500K followers overnight!

No, nobody’s ever ready for there to be so much judgment. So much criticism. So many people watching your every move. Of course, it’s a very privileged position to be in, but it’s also something that you’re not prepared for. Especially as a teenager overnight. Even adults can’t even deal with that shit. No offense to them, but that’s just their reality. That’s also a reality for a lot of underage kids who become celebrities or popular online. It’s the reality. I’ve always known that I was born to do this, so I knew at one point I was gonna have to deal with that. As a young kid, I accepted that.

I feel like you got more love than —

I definitely got a very positive welcoming. It’s just different from living your normal life and people not knowing who you are. I guess that’s the difference. 

What’s the meaning behind your face tat, Starlet?

I always say: you gotta believe in yourself. I know I’m a star, so I put Starlet. Positive vibes honestly.

Can we talk about you getting your man tattooed? Walk me through the process. 

Honestly, I have 4 tattoos dedicated to him. It’s not hard to think about when you love somebody. It’s not that big of a deal to me. [laughs]

How did you guys meet?

We’re from the same city, so we met through friends. 

And how young were you guys? 

Oh damn, I don’t even know. It was a long time ago. Honestly, we’ve been together for a long time. I don’t even keep track no more.

There’s no anniversaries? 

We just vibe honestly. We’ve definitely been together for a long ass time. 

We gotta talk about your locs. First of all, your mom did them? 

Yeah, she did. Honestly, she’s wild. She always let me express myself. She let me do whatever I wanted, as far as my appearance.

What inspired you wanting locs at 13?

I hated doing my hair. I don’t want to wake up every day and worry about my hair, that’s one more thing to worry about. I already have so many things to worry about, so I decided to do that. it’s easier to maintain.