HUMBOLDT PARK — Pinqy Ring is a force to be reckoned with.
After a car accident that nearly killed her, a volunteer gig in Ghana and a somewhat rocky teaching career, the self-styled Princess of Chicago is at it again, rapping about the things most important to her — feminism, Puerto Rican pride and the streets she calls home.
But it almost didn't happen.
In fall 2004, then-19-year-old Pinqy, real name Marisol Vélez, was getting into all the kinds of trouble — drugs, fights, and hanging with gangbangers.
"I was a really bad person," the now 28-year-old Vélez said. "Looking back, I can say that. I was a bad person."
It was that taste for trouble that led to a bad car accident when she and a friend hitched a ride to watch an Oscar De La Hoya fight with a couple of guys they didn't know had been taking pulls from a bottle of Hennessy just before picking them up.
When the driver swerved at one point to avoid a parked car, he lost his grip on the wheel and veered straight into oncoming traffic, hitting another car head on.
Vélez didn't remember anything until she woke up in the hospital with a head injury, a broken nose and broken teeth.
"When they showed me my reflection, I couldn't recognize myself and realized that could have been the end of me," she said. "I thought about what my legacy would have been, and the next day was a 180."
She re-enrolled in UIC — she had previously dropped out — and finished her degree in creative writing, becoming the first in her family to get a college degree.
Then she used some of her settlement money from the car accident to volunteer at a school in Ghana for two months, and came back to Chicago to start a teaching career here.
But music always called to her.
She had begun rapping in high school and competed in online rap "battle domes" under a man's name. She had attracted attention, but got sidetracked with her troubles on the streets.
Teaching had satisfied her desire to make a difference, but there was still a void. So when Vélez found out last year she'd be losing her job teaching GED classes, she knew exactly what to do.
"I told myself, 'You could be really, really upset or you could take this as the universe pushing you out, telling you need to do what you love — making music,'" she said.
And Vélez didn't waste any time. She started working on recording new stuff and also wrote hip hop reviews on the Chicago hip hop blog Fake Shore Drive. Her writings and personal story soon caught the attention of an editor at The Hype magazine, landing her on the cover of the January 2013 issue, a spot usually reserved for more established rappers with huge followings.
So by the time the job ended in June, Vélez was already well on her way. That same month she released a nine-track EP, "HerStory," following it up with a video in September.
Now she's working on a new album, and is back in the classroom two times a week teaching high school kids creative writing, song writing and poetry at Pedro Albizu Campos High School in Humboldt Park.
She plans to release her new album sometime in 2014, around the same time she'll launch another big project, dubbed the Pinqy Project, in which she'll go into classrooms on a tour across the country, performing and giving motivational speeches.
Though she keeps busy, her day-to-day can still be a struggle — it's tough making a living with music, especially for a woman in a male-dominated genre — but her determination to succeed coupled with her desire to bring a positive influence to her community drives her forward.
"One of the biggest lessons I've learned is patience," she said. "And I'm learning that with my music career. I gotta be patient."
Pinqy Ring is next scheduled to perform at a food and toy drive benefit show Wednesday night at the Subterranean Lounge, 2011 W. North Ave.
The show starts at 9 p.m. Pinqy is scheduled to perform at 12:25 a.m.
Tickets are $7 at the door, or $5 with a toy or food donation.