D.C.'s Nfinity Zhy Is Proud To Be An Aquarius

Credit: Tyler Keegan Grigsby

Credit: Tyler Keegan Grigsby

“I don’t like to be vulnerable,” Nardia Strowbridge—Nfinity Zhy—tells me, propped up on her elbows on a granite-topped kitchen island in Northeast D.C. on a Wednesday night. But of course, vulnerability is the sticky, messy place where everyone’s creativity originates—and although she may not like it, Strowbridge (or just Zhy, as her friends know her) is in the process of learning one of the hardest artistic lessons, which is how to lean in and push past any initial discomfort. Her newest release, a mixtape-length EP called Aquarius, after her astrological sign, is a record of that process, and of what she views as the most transformative period of her life so far.

Zhy’s love of astrology and mythology is the connective tissue holding Aquarius together. “I always wanted to hold a sword,” she says. “I was always interested in the myths of Zeus and their whole family tree.” She’s sad that she doesn’t live in a time period where everyone believes in those myths, in a world that holds a little more magic and mystery than the one we inhabit today. Her related interest in astrology is rooted in her desire for an organizing force in the universe. “When I heard about astrology, everything made sense,” she says. Aquarius is a thoughtful, original, and independent astrological sign, and 20-year-old Zhy feels that learning what being an Aquarius meant to her was an important step in her own journey of self-definition. (Full disclosure: I first met Zhy several years ago, when a close friend of mine taught her as a student in D.C.’s Fly By Light program.)

Over the course of Aquarius, Zhy delineates a tumultuous relationship that shifted her perceptions of the way humans interact and relate to one another. “Ganymede”, the track that deals the most explicitly with Greek mythology, uses the story of Zeus and Ganymede as a metaphor for a moment of escape. (In the myth, Zeus, the king of the gods, falls in love with Ganymede, the most beautiful of the mortals, and abducts him to serve as a cupbearer on Mount Olympus.) The dissolution of the relationship shook Zhy, but she admits that when it happened, she was searching for inspiration.

“Before, in October, I didn’t know where Aquarius was going,” she says. “I didn’t know who I was. But in 2019, from January until this day, I continue to learn more shit about myself than I’ve ever known in my entire life.”

Zhy has lived in D.C. her whole life, mostly in the city’s Northeast quadrant, and as one of seven children, six of whom were twins, music was a way to define her own identity. She’s been playing music since she was a teenager, in a band with other students at D.C.’s Bell Multicultural High School. She started out as the lead singer and keyboardist, but learned guitar when the band decided they needed an additional member to play the instrument. She picked it up quickly, and although most of the music she creates now is based around electronic beats, she still draws on her guitar skills during her live performances, and uses guitar in her songwriting.

Credit: Tyler Keegan Grigsby

Credit: Tyler Keegan Grigsby

“Starting a song is different each time, depending on what comes first,” she says of her creative process. “Maybe a melody, maybe I hear a beat first, maybe I get an idea. That’s all random. Any one of those things can happen at any time. But let’s say I get a beat, my first thing to think about is a concept—what am I going to write about? What am I going to say?”

Aquarius represents a huge leap in artistic growth from Zhy’s first recorded project, Paparazzi, which she self-released in 2018. At the time, she says, “my whole intention was to make music that sounds good, that everyone would think sounds good, that everyone would enjoy. We live in a time where the mainstream is very vulgar, or very raunchy. So if that’s what everybody likes, I was like, ‘That’s what I’m going to give them.’ But after Paparazzi, I thought about what the next step in my music journey would be. How can I make music that’s more true to who I am, that really shows who I am as an artist? I can only do that if I’m true to myself.”

Zhy admits that she has struggled with the prevalence of misogyny in rap music, and as a woman who dates other women, it was sometimes an easy trope to fall back on. Becoming more mindful of how those tropes were cropping up was another element of the process behind Aquarius. One of Zhy’s favorite artists is Lana Del Rey, and the sadness and sometimes playful self-reflection that Del Rey draws upon for her own music has been a source of inspiration for her.

In her identity as a queer artist, and a queer artist of color, and a queer artist of color from D.C., Zhy—who currently works as a youth facilitator at One Common Unity, Fly By Light’s parent organization—is energized and excited about making a name for herself in a city that sometimes struggles to put itself on the map creatively. “One thing I do like about D.C. is that it feels bigger than it is. I don’t know what kind of government trick that is,” she says, laughing.

We’ve both finished our dinner of local vegetables and Trader Joe’s ravioli at the island in the kitchen, and Zhy shares a few more thoughts about the EP’s release with a mixture of nervousness and excitement.

“I hope in this project that there’s something for everybody,” she says. “No matter who you are, I hope there’s some part of this that you can relate to, that you can dance to, or that you can even cry to. But also, I want [listeners] to know more about me, and more about who I’m trying to be as an artist.”

Hear ‘Aquarius’ on Spotify on Monday, May 27.

Katherine Flynn