Leikeli47’s rhymes are the windows to her soul. Much like she keeps her facial appearance under lock-and-key, many aspects of her personal life are also left to the imagination, leaving the rapper to use her words as her welcome mat. However, you shouldn’t let her private nature deter you from any beliefs about what she may or may not be like.
The petite Bed Stuy-bred MC is wearing an all-black sweatsuit, camel-colored Timbs and a black Paisley-print face mask, a tomboy-esque style she helms as “dramatically comfortable.” However, she’s an undercover ‘girly girl’; her hair is, how the kids say, laidt in a slicked-back, left-parted bun with her immaculate baby hairs on display, and she’s rocking an assortment of gold jewelry, from nameplate necklaces to rings. While only her deep-set eyes, chocolate-colored freckles, and smile (which features a gold tooth cuff) are seen, her expressive aura is felt throughout your time with her, which is more than enough.
She’s smiling and cracking jokes while posing for pics in front of the famed mural of one of her idols and fellow Brooklynite, The Notorious B.I.G. When prompted about the proximity of her childhood area to the shoot location, she of course keeps you guessing, and states with a laugh that she grew up “not that far” away.
During the Uber ride to dinner, a conversation about New Orleans Bounce, song recommendations and musicians she fancies (like Rihanna, Ty Dolla $ign and D.R.A.M) offer glimpses of the woman behind the cover-up. Interacting with others while at Miss Lily’s in the Lower East Side, however, shows the impact of Leikeli’s life as a (private) public figure.
A svelte and stunning waitress at the Jamaican-inspired eatery embraces the rapper with a hug before breaking into an impromptu cover one of her biggest tracks to date. “‘I got money!’ That’s my sh*t!” she giggles while shimmying to herself. Near the meal’s conclusion, “Money”—‘47’s snapping, catchy ditty about the power of a positive mindset and strong work ethic—blares out of the speakers to the musician’s surprised delight.
“I rarely listen to myself outside of performing,” she smiles after the song ends. “So, when I hear my song, it’s like ‘shoot, that is me!’”
Leikeli, who cites Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, N.E.R.D and the Red Hot Chili Peppers as her biggest influences, dropped her sophomore album, Acrylic, on Nov. 15. Her resume boasts several projects such as her 2016 debut LP Wash & Set, 2015’s Leikeli47, 2014’s LK-47 Pt. II, and her self-produced mixtape, 2012’s LK-47. She’s gained fans in notable figures such as Skrillex, Diplo, Issa Rae, Missy Elliott, and JAY-Z, who named his 2016 TIDAL summer playlist after her song “F**k The Summer Up.”
The rollout for Acrylic involved the release of two separate “bundles”—the energetic “Pick A Color” and the experimental “Design.” Before savoring the album in full, listeners were able to feast on its appetizers, which are chock full of sonic and thematic flavor. On the project, fans can enjoy songs like “Roll Call,” which drips with HBCU pride, “CIAA,” a neo-soul dipped track that shows off 47’s singing chops, and the bossed-up “Girl Blunt,” which was featured on the third season of HBO’s Insecure.
“What’s crazy is that, Acrylic, it’s one of my best [projects], sonic-sounding,” the energetic artist states in between munches of jerk french fries. “Just musically, I can hear my growth and I can hear myself reaching those points of when I first heard some of [my idols] sounds. Sonically, there’s no ceiling with my favorite artists, and that’s how I wanna be, I just wanna continue to just grow and glow musically.”
Leikeli notes that much like Wash & Set, Acrylic is a peek into her intentionally hermetically-sealed life. The musician called on some of her favorite producers to create musical magic that’s both enticing and entertaining, such as Gavin Williams, Mike Barney, Dave Hamelin, Clyde N Harry, Charlie Burrill and the album’s executive producer, Harold Lilly.
“[Acrylic is] an invitation to walk to our campuses, hence ‘Roll Call,’ it’s an invitation to our love stories, hence the song I have called ‘Top Down,’” she points out. “It’s just another creative way for me to just let people know where I’m from and give people a little insight about me, the area I grew up, my friends, my schools. Black life, period. ‘Come on in, y’all, come on in. Let’s party, let’s do it,’” she says with a wave of her hand.
She details that Wash & Set and Acrylic are part of an album trilogy, and sticking with the beauty motif is something that helps create a relatability factor not only for her fans and listeners but between them as well.
“I’ve never been interested in interviews and stuff like that, a lot of my narrative is in my music,” she grins. “So [Wash & Set] was my first invitation to where I’m from, but I also wanted to speak to not looking like what you’ve been through, not looking like anything you’re actually going through. The way that our nail salons, our barbershops, wherever you are, are set up, you don’t know how much you relate to your neighbors. But one thing we do know, when you leave that salon, you don’t look like anything you’re going through. You look refreshed.”
Leikeli is optimistic that this overarching theme in her music will give listeners the confidence to be true to themselves. Individuality is a trait the rapper says she’s always possessed. However, she notes that her personality really sparkles through while wearing one of her ski-masks. A shy person by nature, Leikeli47 was initially hesitant to wear a mask due to discouraging words from others in her formative years as a musician. However, after adopting an “eff it” mentality and continuing to wear facial disguises despite the naysayers, she gained courage and liberation in her personal and professional lives.
“You know, my mask plays my little superhero cape,” she says while pointing to her face. “I feel like the Dark Knight, or one of those superheroes, or Superman… the mask, it represents freedom. I’m free with it on. Outside of it, though…? (Laughs) I wish people saw me outside of the mask the way they see me in the mask. Even in my quietness, I’m the same person, you know what I’m saying?”
While she doesn’t always wear a mask (she points out how terrible it would be to wear it in places like the airport), ‘47 certainly feels most comfortable with one on. On a higher level, she says wearing a mask is representative of the love she strives to put forth in her music, and it holds a deeper meaning about the importance of individuality.
“I really do hope that [fans] look at [the mask] as an escape,” she explains. “Or look at it as the labor of love that it is. Doing [music], it really is just a labor of love. It gives me the ability to create, to be free, to be fun. Music-making is a people business, and I wear this mask, not just for me, but for you. So you can get out there and do what you want. You can be the person that you wanna be, you can love who you wanna love. I hope today, this mask represents just being different.”
While she doesn’t divulge much about her personal life, she reveals that as a bullied, introverted young girl who worked with the cards she was dealt in life, music always provided therapeutic comfort during tough times. She also points out that being teased helped her carve out important values she held on to as she continued to grow.
“[Bullying] taught me how to fight back, how to stand up for myself, how to be resilient,” she says. “And also in a sense, it taught me how to fight for what I want with this music. So the same way I had to fight people who bullied me, I fought against the machine that said I would never make it.”
It’s not surprising that she did “make it,” though. Growing up in a musical family with relatives who “played, wrote or sang,” ‘47 says that it was hard to ignore the influence it was going to have on her. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve always heard different genres, different things and different sounds,” she says of her childhood. “[Music] was a beautiful escape, and it led me here, and what’s crazy is it was the only thing that I chased. As cliche as it may sound, you know how some kids knew that they wanted to be a doctor, or they knew that they wanted to be a gymnast early? It was the same exact thing [with music].”
“The difference with me is that I was just super shy, you know? And I didn’t have a lot. I didn’t have a whole lot of resources to do anything,” she continues. “My very first studio session was in a bathroom in Virginia in the projects. But it was always something in me that I wanted to be the best that I could be at. Even in that bathroom, I knew even then, ‘this is the beginning of it, you gotta start here.’ Even to this day, it’s this or nothing. I honestly believe if you have a dream, a passion, go at it. And I’m talking about going for it, like, stupidly, dumb, crazy hard. This may sound crazy, but fail. When those things happen, that’s the universe testing you to see how bad you want it.”
HipHop is in Great hands..
— The Old Man (@oldmanebro) August 16, 2016
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Leikeli is grateful for her support system back home and thanks some “incredible black men” in her life for having her back during her come-up. She’s also thankful for her “number-one supporter”—her brother—who, up until last year, was actually unaware that she was a musician. However, when he returned from jail, she stood in the truth she hid from him for so long.
“I told him I was working a regular job, I think he thought I worked in an office,” she explains as her eyes become more expressive. “If I was in the booth, or if I’m in the studio, I gotta front. (Whispers) ‘Hey, I’m about to go into this conference.’ (Laughs) I felt like this is something he wouldn’t understand over a telephone. Even in that moment, it was like, ‘wait what?’ As time went on, everything was like woah, everything started making sense to him.”
Leikeli47 isn’t someone who “hopes” for things to happen; if she wants something, she’s going to go out and do it. Keeping the latter sentiment in mind, she will continue to make music, will play Madison Square Garden and “will touch millions of people.”
“I like to speak things into existence,” she states firmly. “I like to say it how I see it. For me, there’s no hoping, I’m always just gonna do it. I don’t care how many times I gotta fail to do it, I’m gonna do it. I’m not gonna ‘try’ nothin’, I’m gonna go do it.”
While she’s working tirelessly on doing everything she sets her mind to, she’s steadily gained visibility on her road to glory. In 2014, she was the surprise guest during Skrillex and Diplo’s New Year’s Eve Jack Ü concert at Madison Square Garden. She rapped in an all-female cypher with Rapsody, Kash Doll and Tokyo Jetz at the 2017 BET Hip-Hop Awards. This past January, she was one of the performers for Missy Elliott’s tribute at Essence’s Black Women in Music event. The rapper, who calls Virginia her second home, has been inundated with Misdemeanor comparisons for quite some time. Albeit flattered, Leikeli says that it would take “a lifetime” to fill Missy’s shoes.
“It’s no slight to myself… but [the comparisons are] blasphemous, man. Blasphemous,” she says. “There’s never going to be another [Missy Elliott], but I’m not mad that that’s the company that I sit in, because she’s the greatest.”
What inspires Leikeli47 to do what she does? She says knowing there are “no ceilings” in life and having the ability to live fearlessly both push her to strive for greatness. So far, a positive mentality has proven to be beneficial for the New Yorker. Much like her mask, music gives her superpowers to do whatever she wants, and she won’t stop until she’s taken over the world. While she does have doubts from time to time, she’s a firm believer in hard work and living out your dreams. That dedication is something you can see at all times—mask on or mask off.
“I never claim defeat, but you do have those moments where you think, hmm… I hate that it happens, but just being human, they kind of creep in,” Leikeli says. “’Is this gonna work? Will this work? Will that happen?’ I’ve conditioned my brain to quickly jump out of that. As soon as I have this thing where I’m like, ‘Is this gonna work?’ Yes, it’s gonna work.”