Rapper Le1f’s New York roots may not be completely injected into his music, but his latest EP ‘Hey’ should definitely give him a rightful amount of street cred in all five boroughs – and beyond. The five song set contains mastered reworkings of previous hits along with a few equally impressive new tunes. The ‘Hey’ EP also marks the first full-length solo release from Le1f to appear on ITunes. With very little accessibility outside of social media and mixtapes, ‘Hey’ is more of an introduction than his actual fourth body of work. Donning orange knee high stockings, leather tights and gloves, and a sickening trench coat, it’s clear Le1f isn’t aiming for mainstream success. But luckily for the rapper, the clever mix of hungry indie producers paired with his great lyrics makes ‘Hey’ an EP that will have you instantly addicted to exploring his entire catalog.
“Hey” does double-duty as the EP opener and title track, and does a great job of setting the project’s tone. The urban-trap infused number finds Le1f at his absolute best – rapid-fire wordplay – as he raps “I’m a Charmander, a banji commander / ask a gay question, here’s a black answer / purple panther”. Like most of his lyrics, it takes quite a few listens to really decipher his intent, but it’s often quite witty and comical once you’ve pieced together his lyrical puzzles. Although “Hey” also packs a strong, super-catchy chorus, the overall effect is bogged down when he starts rapping just a bit too fast. But the beat compliments his flow effortlessly, even if you may need RapGenius to decipher what he’s saying.
“Sup” is the most mainstream song on the EP, but I’m not sure if it’s reasons are exactly warranted. Le1f’s flow rides the beat as he spits about chatting up (presumably Uptown) dudes (“wassup, boy, wassup”). As epic as his bars are on “Sup”, the chorus is hindered significantly as it sounds like an all-too-familiar Future knock off (#drunksinging + Auto-tune). The sing-songy rap style may work well for artists like Future, but comes off awkward for someone as talented as Le1f, leaving the inclusion of “Sup” the lone #scratchingmyhead moment on the entire EP.
“Boom” displays a melting pot of Le1f humor – from his pronunciation (“how many battybois can you fit in a jeep”), his use of LGBT-lingo (“welcome to Banji Burger”), and his reference to his flesh tone (“skin color Pepsi”). Produced by Dubbel Dutch, a beat like “Boom” requires great lyrical expertise, and Le1f steps up to the challenge even from the song’s intro. The video for “Boom” is just as banji as the establishment previously mentioned, turning a fast food joint into a futuristic diner/nightclub. Since the video is quite unconventional, the weirdness of it all helps understand both his lyric interpretation and his artistic vision – a great talent to have especially for a lesser known artist.
Although “Wut” is jut over two years old, it’s the equivalent to Azealia Banks’ “212” in terms of his entire catalog. When the video came out in 2012, the song ended up sticking with me much longer than most rap songs – up until the official release of ‘Hey’ just last month. Not only is “Wut” filled with numerous LGBT references, he also spends a great deal of the song debunking interracial dating stereotypes (see second verse). The lyrics on “Wut” are so cleverly crafted that I’m convinced he’s one of the best rappers within today’s music scene, even if I can’t say the entire EP follows the same format. Nevertheless, Le1f’s speedy raps also brings to mind Azealia, but he comes with much more authentic storytelling elements than his female predecessor.
“Buzz” finds Le1f at his lyrical best on the entire release. The song’s title plays double for a more sexual double entendre of “bust” as he raps about meeting and ignoring dudes. His delivery comes off more as “sex siren” than “banji rapper” but that’s quite okay. The chorus on “Buzz” features both of Le1f’s “buzz”/”bust” pronunciations matched with an EDM-style beat even Diplo couldn’t handle. With a song as strong as “Buzz”, it’s definitely a strong single contender and at least deserves a video.
At the tail end of EP standout “Boom”, Le1f raps “they wanna see me blend in like real trade / but I can’t do that, I gots to do me” and I honestly believed every word. Sexuality shouldn’t be as important as artistry and musicianship, which is something Le1f proved to be his strong point on ‘Hey’. The lyrics are respectable enough to compete with anything on the radio, but funny enough to make almost anyone laugh out loud hysterically. ‘Hey’ doesn’t sound like a debut release by no means, but many mainstreamers will view it as such. Delightfully, Le1f’s latest full-length release packs just enough punch to propel him into the spotlight throughout 2014.