Manhattanite and exquisite gay rapper Le1f may be relatively unknown, but his recent releases have placed him at the top of the pack in terms of his gay male rap predecessors. Originally a ballet and modern dance major at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, Le1f chose the rap route as his ticket to international stardom. He often refers to his artistry as having a “hoodrat Tumblr aesthetic”, which is clearly prevalent in many of his visuals, Tweets, and magazine shoots. Le1f’s catalog is quite expansive, spanning three full-length mixtapes, a collaborative EP with fellow indie producer Boody, and his first official solo release ‘Hey’. Given his massive indie following and a respectable sized discography, it’s clear that Le1f is aiming for success on a broader scale in 2014. With the cards somewhat stacked against him already, up is the only place left for Le1f to go – and he’s already there.
Le1f’s lyrics often deal with the plights of being rich and famous in mainstream America. His debut single “Wut” from his first mixtape ‘Dark York’ featured the comedic bars “fantastic since Scholastic amongst dudes stiff like Mattel / carbon copies look so plastic talking bout let’s keep it real” which details just that. ‘Liquid’, his first collaborative EP with fellow producer Boody, featured some of his more commercial verses. “Soda”, the promotional single from the project, featured sing-songy choruses like “she think she a cool cat but she don’t like the water / step up to my ocean and dip in with the daughters” that set trends for his second and third solo mixtapes ‘Fly Zone’ and ‘Tree House’. After questioning the success of Macklemore’s LGBT anthem “Same Love”, many critics began comparing the two. Thankfully, songs like “Spa Day” and “Jack” point to Le1f as the obviously better lyricist.
As a former dance student, much of Le1f’s artistry includes references to various forms of the activity, especially ballet. His album covers have featured avant-garde poses with a slight ‘Grey Gardens’ slant. Many of his recent looks includes box braids with shaved siides, which works to his advantage as it brings out his modelesque bone structure and ***flawless chocolate skin. Le1f’s videos often feature the same aesthetic, pairing unconventional oddities alongside fashionable backdrops. His artistry includes quite a bit of color and weaves – two things that I think re essential for any musician in this day and age – male or female. Without a major label budget backing him, it’s safe to say that most of his videos still exceed current industry standards by a longshot.
In terms of making himself noticeable by tweaking the work of other artists, Le1f isn’t normally known for covers. “Airbending”, an album cut from ‘Fly Zone’ cleverly samples Eminem’s 2000 hit single “The Way I Am”. The song, which comes off as more of a ballroom chant than a rap release, is also a standout in his entire catalog just because of its versatility (no pun intended). “Kadabra”, from his ‘Tree House’ set, samples Aaliyah’s classic “Beats 4 Da Streets” introlude. The beat is quite similar to Timbaland’s original version, but is enhanced to match Le1f’s usual bass-heavy nature. He takes Missy’s verses and flips them incantation-style over a darker, fresh arrangement that slays while still paying homage to the original.
It’s pretty safe to say that none of Le1f’s material would be considered “mainstream friendly”. If this were the case, he’d have a major label deal and numerous songs on the radio. While it’s not his primary intent, there are songs that could work if given the right promotion. “Spa Day” saw moderate success in early 2013 and featured a more playful, radio friendly Le1f side. “Wut”, the widely known single featured on his ‘Hey’ EP has garnered a fanbase of its own. The song has been tributed and covered in addition to some of the most creative fanmade lyrice videos I’ve ever come across. So here, it’s not that Le1f’s completely inaccessible to the general public, but maybe he just hasn’t had enough playing time to peak mainstream interests.
Le1f has been touring internationally for close to three years now, but his appearance on David Letterman made history for gay male rappers. By becoming one of the first of his breed to appear on a nationally televised late-night show, Le1f’s “Wut” single received more exposure than I could ever imagine. While his non-televised performances are a bit more energetic, Le1f’s Letterman stint was likely the result of label coaching on stage presence. He already embodies a star, but needed a bit more camera exposure before headlining a show such as Letterman. Le1f’s club and concert appearances, however, are filled with lots of energy, sweat, and profanity, the three successful parts of any live showcase. All in all, if Le1f’s Letterman doesn’t pull you in, his delivery will. There’s much more to Le1f besides his sexuality, and his catalog alone proves he’s capable of much more. The rapper’s recent multiple album deal with Terrible/XL Records means Le1f – the rapper – isn’t going anywhere.