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Pinqy Ring At Lollapalooza: “I Am Worthy, I Am Learning, I Am It, I Am Lit”

Written by on August 14, 2023

Chicago artist and community activist Marisol “Pinqy Ring” Vélez spreads self-love by empowering the next generation with the tools for creative expression. Backstage at Lollapalooza, she met with Bekoe to discuss her experience teaching kids about hip-hop at “Kidzapalooza,” her community work and being her authentic self despite adversity.

Marisol Vélez, better known as Pinqy Ring, is a community leader, teacher and rapper based in Humboldt Park, Chicago, and the newly-appointed community alchemist for John Walt Foundation. Earlier in her career, Pinqy Ring wasn’t offered many opportunities to succeed; now, she hopes to use the platform she’s built to uplift young people and foster community connection through hip-hop.

“They say you become what you needed when you were growing up,” Pinqy reflected. “For me, giving back is … married to the work that I do in hip-hop … [Young people] deserve to be seen, they deserve to be mentored and they deserve to see a manifestation of what their dreams can look like in the flesh.”

Pinqy Ring backstage at Lollapalooza on August 6, the final day of her first year performing at the festival. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

Across the city and the world, Pinqy teaches hip-hop workshops to facilitate connection through creative self-expression (as part of the U.S. State Department’s hip hop diplomacy program, and her own “Pinqy Project”). This often entails visiting schools, or teaching at events like Lollapalooza’s “Kidzapalooza,” where she participated in a workshop teaching children the history of hip-hop to commemorate the genre’s 50th anniversary. 

“I really do believe that the future is in [young peoples’] hands, and I’m so lucky to see that,” she said. “Those things keep me going, just knowing that this culture … has gone so far, and that I get to be a practitioner in it.”

After taking a hiatus from rapping, Pinqy received an Individual Artists Program (IAP) grant from Chicago’s DCASE this summer and plans to get back into rapping again this year, as well as speak at TEDx Chicago on October 6. Additionally, she was named the city’s best hip-hop artist of 2023 by the Chicago Reader this spring. Looking back, Pinqy feels she owes her success to the drive of her younger self, which fuels her dedication to uplifting the next generation.

“Be whoever it is that you feel in your heart that you want to be, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. You are more than enough,” she encouraged young listeners. “Keep pursuing your dreams, no matter what. You are the measurement of your own success, and you could do whatever you set your mind to.”

After teaching kids the importance of hip-hop throughout all four days of Lollapalooza, Pinqy Ring met backstage with Vocalo’s morning host Bekoe to discuss her time at the festival, giving back to her community and more.

Bekoe: It’s Vocalo Radio, Chicago’s only NPR Music station. I’m your host, Bekoe, alongside my girl Pinqy Ring! Now, is this your first time hitting the Lollapalooza stage?

Pinqy Ring: First time at Lollapalooza, period, and my first time I’m performing all four days. How dope is that?

B: I mean, we got to speak on that, because you said all four days. A lot of artists, they are here, but they’re performing one day at a time. But you’ve been on stage all four days, so how has that been for you?

PR: Bekoe, I’m tired. But I’m blessed and purposed, right? Like, I cannot ask to be doing anything else, other than living in my truth, performing. I’m performing for kids, too. So that, in and of itself, just feel so good, because they’re turnt up at 12:30 p.m. I’m like, who’s your parents and where are they? But just blessed to be here, and that my career has taken me to a stage like Lollapalooza.

RELATED: Pinqy Ring Uses Hip-Hop To Build Hope

B: Now before we get into your career a little bit, I want to dive into the community, because you’ve been heavy within the community, not just Humboldt Park, but all over. You’ve been, to me, you’ve been a voice for Humboldt Park. So can you speak a little bit about what you’ve been doing for the community and how people can actually get in tune and help you within what you’ve been doing for the community? 

PR: Yeah, absolutely. I actually haven’t even announced this officially yet, but I was asked to be the community alchemist for the John Walt Foundation. We just performed in front of the Buckingham Fountain on a Lollapalooza day. For me, growing up as a budding MC, no one was showing me the way, no one was giving me a platform, no one was giving me opportunity. So, they say you become what you needed when you were growing up. And, for me, giving back is part and parcel and is married to the work that I do in hip-hop, as well. And, if you want to get in tune, volunteer for panels if you’re musicians or entrepreneurs. Give us some money, right? There are lots of nonprofits, we just did an event with SocialWorks and Healthy Hood, we did an OpenMike. Get in tune, but also if you have a platform, open that up for a young person. They deserve to be seen, they deserve to be mentored and they deserve to see a manifestation of what their dreams can look like in the flesh, so that they can do it, too. Because we need more youth voices in Chicago on all of these stages.

Photo courtesy of Pinqy Ring

B: Tell us, how can someone donate and support what you all been doing? 

PR: Yeah, so JohnWaltFoundation.org is the foundation I work for. But again, I work for so many other people. So I also do curriculum, I also teach in schools. If you want to bring me to your school, the program that we did here at Lollapalooza was a celebration of 50 years of hip-hop. So it’s me and my beat boxer, Yuri Lane, he’s a beat boxer and a harmonica player at the same time. So we teach them all the elements of hip-hop, we teach them about hip-hop history, hip-hop is turning 50 years old this year, we teach them rap affirmations, they learn how to beat box, I perform some songs for them. That is just really, really meaningful, so we’ve packaged that and we can take that into schools. I do speaking engagements.

Allow your young people to see what it could look like for them to reach their highest goals, and you’re going to see how they can flourish. So if it’s supporting me – also, if you got some money, and if you a handsome man… just know I am looking for you! And it could be multiple of you, as well … emphasis on money! I’m just kidding. But I’m not.

Tap in with the community. There’s so many people that are doing dope things all across the city, give them your money, give them your time. But most importantly, it takes nothing to share a post, it takes nothing to show up to a show, to show love. Chicago is doing some really dope things right now, I’m so lucky to be a part of that and to see it. And for y’all to be a witness to that, just come through, show love, support, repost. It takes nothing to do that, and we really need that support.

B: So before I get into your name, what’s been the biggest influence for your career? What helps you get through what you’ve been doing so far?

PR: Wow, we’re going to therapy today. I think the thing that keeps me pushing is just knowing that, gosh, when I think of all of the things that I’ve done, I was so far removed from that. I always say, high school Pinqy is really, really proud of me. She couldn’t have imagined that I was going to do the things that I did, because of hip-hop. So I think just reflecting on that keeps me going. Knowing that I still owe it to her, that young girl who just was fiery and wanted to rhyme and was jumping into cyphers. I would think of her, and that keeps me pushing.

But then again, just speaking back to this relationship with youth and young people, seeing young people really inspires me. Seeing them standing in their truth, going to therapy. They know what affirmations are, they know the breathing techniques they need to do to calm down. I was not, I didn’t have those things. So I really do believe that the future is in their hands, and I’m so lucky to see that. And those things keep me going, just knowing that this culture, like Biggie said, “You never thought hip-hop would take it this far.” This culture has gone so far, and that I get to be a practitioner in it, I have nothing to complain about. And those are the things that keep me going, and keep me grounded as well.

Photo courtesy of Pinqy Ring

B: I love to hear it. And like I said, I got to talk about your name. You’re pinked out, Pinqy! I mean, from the hair to the nails to the shirt, you got to let people know about why you named your artist name “Pinqy,” and … the meaning behind everything.

PR: So first of all, this costs a lot of money. So that rich husband, just another call for you! I’m waiting for you. Pinqy Ring, and it’s funny because people don’t call me my full rap name. And when they do, I feel like I’m in trouble! Like when your mom calls you by your full name like, “What did I do?” So Pinqy Ring came from, I hated the color pink. 

B: Hated?

PR: Hated the color pink. I was what you would call the time a tomboy, which I hate that term, because it suggests that girls shouldn’t be doing things that boys do, right? But I was very much a tomboy. I liked wrestling, I played little league baseball. So pink, to me, was a symbol of girly things and I associated those girly things with weakness or not enough, right?

So as I grew into myself, I think the pink has literally become a part of me, because you can be feminine and strong at the same time. So everyone started calling me “Pinky,” because I wore pink one day to school. I was infatuated with 50 Cent. When we’re talking about budding MC Pinqy Ring, 50 Cent, Tony Yayo, Lloyd Banks … It was my stuff … Young MC, that’s what I’m hearing. So I’m like, “Oh, I like that.”

So, in one of their music videos, they had a girl with “G Unit” spray painted on the butt of her pants. So I got a pair of pink pants, and I spray painted “G Unit” on the butt. I went to school, I went to Lane Tech High School, shout out to Lane Tech … With “G Unit” on the butt, wearing pink, and everyone, first time ever wear pink, everyone just started calling me “Pinky.” And I was like, “I hate that name! I don’t want that name. Take it back,” they wouldn’t.

I met a manager, I had another MC name that was actually very, very hip-hop. I’m not gonna say it here, because … We’ll wait for the exclusive, exclusive interview for that one!

But I met a manager, a music manager, and he’s like, “That’s not a viable name. That’s not good for branding.” He’s like, “You’re gonna be Pinky, so figure it out.” So then I was like, “Okay, I know a million ‘Pinkies,’ I don’t want to be just another ‘Pinky,’ so what can I add to it to give us some some swag or some dopeness?” So “Pinqy Ring” came from like mafia/mob culture, you know, you kiss the pinky ring out of respect, but also hip-hop culture, right? Because every rapper raps about their pinky ring.

And that’s what it was for me, as I was coming up as an emcee, they were ciphering they’re like “Yeah … You ain’t got nothing to say! Wait till you hear her.” They wanted to show me off. So “Pinqy Ring” is not like a money thing, it’s more like a, “What’s your shine and how do people want to show you off?” And for me, that was my whole career. And then pink just overtook my life. My house, Bella Bahhs was at my house the other day, she’s like, “You so on-brand!” Because everything is pink in my house.

B: Your whole house pink?

PR: It’s ridiculous. But the best part of my house is my very pink Cam’Ron shower curtain.

B: All you need is a pink Range Rover and it’s a wrap.

PR: That’s it, just drive up! Yeah, literally. Lollapalooza, for next year, I need a pink cart. You heard it here first!

Vocalo morning host Bekoe caught up with Pinqy Ring after her Lollapalooza performances and kids’ workshops. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

B: Now, I gotta ask you, too, what’s in the coming works? What’s happening with you and what you’ve been doing in the near future? What’s going on?

PR: Word. So I just got to DCASE grant! So I’m gonna be working on new music. Everybody’s like “Pinqy, can you please?” And when you’re a musician, it’s a lot of work that goes into creating a song, releasing, all of the everything. But now that the city gave me money, I’m like, “Okay, I got money for it. We could rap again.” So I’ll be rapping again this year! So that’s exciting.

And, I don’t know if they put it on their website yet, but if they haven’t, you heard it here first, I’m gonna be a TEDx Chicago performer in October! I’m so excited. I’ve always wanted to do a TED Talk and be on the TED stage, so I’m really excited about that. Yeah, so new music, always community work. So come through and support what we’re doing, what I’m doing. Send rich husbands my way! But yeah, just won Chicago Reader best hip-hop…

B: You did it, congrats!

PR: Best hip-hop artist! That’s it, I’m done bragging.

B: No, you continue to brag! Because you work for it. You gotta let people know how they can follow you and stay in tune, stay updated. We got your music in rotation, so you got to send us some more! Let people know they can follow you, stay in tune, and then share with the kids on how they can be more than their environment.

PR: Okay, so you can find me everywhere. “Pinqy” is with a “Q.” Rappers, we like to spell things differently, so it’s P-I-N-Q-Y, Pinqy Ring. You can find me on Instagram @Pinqy.Ring, Pinqyring.com, send a carrier pigeon, send rich uncles with money my way! Thank you. And for the young people, don’t do what I do, but do what I do! Literally be your authentic self. I say that I finally made a career out of being my authentic self, and that looks like pink hair … that looks like I got long nails, that looks like I speak with slang, but I’m highly intelligent.

Be whoever it is that you feel in your heart that you want to be, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. You are more than enough. One of the rap affirmations we do in our little concert is: “I am worthy, I am learning, I am it, I am lit.” That’s you! All of y’all. Worthy, learning, it and lit. keep doing what you’re doing. Keep pursuing your dreams, no matter what. You are the measurement of your own success, and you could do whatever you set your mind to. If I could do it, if Bekoe can do it, and we out here living our dreams in this world at Lollapalooza, you can, too. Believe in yourself, and we love you.

B: I am worthy I am …

PR: Learning! 

B: I am it, I am lit!

Follow Pinqy Ring on Instagram and listen to her music on Spotify below.

Interview conducted by Bekoe

Audio editing by Bekoe, production by Morgan Ciocca

Video editing and production by Omi Salisbury

Photography by Morgan Ciocca

Written introduction by Imani Warren and Morgan Ciocca

Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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