Prior to her taking the stage, we had a chance to sit down with Leikeli47 to discuss her background as well as her signature mask.
“Heey, Stephanie!” Leikeli47 rises nimbly from a plush couch to greet me with outstretched arms and no shortage of personality. She’s petite in stature so I have to bend a bit to embrace her, and I receive a genuine bear hug for my effort. She tells me she’s happy I could make it and she hopes I like her performance, and then she introduces me to her manager and dancers (who are also her good friends). At this point, we’ve only just made each others acquaintance, but Leikeli47 has one of those naturally exuberant and authentically warm personalities that makes you feel like you’re chopping it up with an old friend. It’s rather ironic considering she’s wearing the trademark mask that has thus far prevented me, or anyone else for that matter, from knowing who she is.
Leikeli47 has been under the radar where interviews are concerned, too. What is known is that she’s a Brooklyn girl with a creative streak about six miles wide. And lately, that creative streak has been getting a lot of notice–a nod from Jay Z is a pretty big deal. The rap mogul recently made 47’s infectiously twerk-inducing anthem “F**k the Summer Up” number one on his Tidal playlist. And, after seeing a number of her high energy songs performed live at EDC, it’s understandable. Prior to her taking the stage, we had a chance to sit down with her for a chat.
Well for starters, we wanted to find out a little bit more about your background because you’ve been pretty low key where interviews are concerned.
I’m from a little here and a little there. As far as music, I’ve been doing it forever, like straight out of the womb, forever.
From what we hear, you grew up in Bed-stuy and you were kind of a loner, so in a lot of ways music became an outlet for you. Can you tell us a little about that?
Yeah, that’s very true! I was very shy growing up.
So as far as shyness and the mask goes, we kind of understood you wearing it as something similar to what Margiela did early on with fashion. It seems like an intentional action that forces your audience to pay attention to your music without distraction. But since you were also shy, does it doubly work to help you feel more comfortable performing?
Yes, absolutely. This mask is my cape. I tell people that all the time. I also just wanted to keep it fun and fresh. It’s just like you said though, the mask keeps the focus on my music. It helps me with performing, too. I was definitely a very shy kid growing up in New York. I also have some Southern roots, though.
VA–two up, two down. That’s my second home.
So yeah, being a loner you start playing around and finding out things about yourself. And the stuff that’s in your head, you start figuring out how to make it outside of your head.
I remember you saying that some of the sounds you created were in your head for like a decade before you figured out how to actually get them out. Expanding on that, can you tell us a little about your creative process and how you actually started making music?
Honestly, technology was limited to me in the hood. I couldn’t afford all of the equipment so the sounds I came up with had to come from my heart and my head. Getting into the studio I didn’t want to force or change that, I wanted to keep it me. So when I’m in a session whatever is around me becomes an instrument. For instance, in “C&C” there’s no stock instruments.
Yeah, we were told you did everything yourself on that song.
Yeah, there are no stock instruments in there, at all. I used a wall, my keys, and my mic stand. I even created my own 808.
You know a pop filter? I’m sure you’ve been in a studio before… You see that filter thing that’s right in front of the mic? I just tapped it.
Oh wow, really?
Yeah, I didn’t have a lot of the technology coming up. So like I said, it forced me to be more creative, so that’s pretty much my process. I go in and whatever is in my head or heart I just go with it. I have an amazing team, too.
Can you remember the first song you created?
Yes, “Miss America” was one of the first ones. Well not the first, but it’s one of the first ones people heard that I’d actually done a very long time ago. That was done in like 2001-2002. As far as the concept, beat and the movement, I was ready in 2002. Everyone else wasn’t ready, but I was. [Laughs]
As far as the mask, can you tell us a little bit about the evolution of that?
Like I said, I was always a shy kid so I always felt like I wore a mask anyway. Music was always my field and I never wanted to do anything else; I really dedicated myself to just music. Coming into the industry and having to learn certain things, you’ve got to play the game, and you’ve got to get your feet wet. I felt like I was wearing a mask then, too. And I’m definitely not a vet yet, but I’m just saying, even when I first stepped in and had to pay my dues I had to do different things. Some of the stuff I didn’t want to do, but it taught me–it was all a learning process. Eventually I decided to take that mask off–meaning what everyone else wants you to do, and what they think you should be doing, and how you should be doing it–I took off that mask and I put my own on. I put my face on. Honestly, I don’t even see a mask. What mask? What mask are we talking about?
It’s also nice because as your career progresses you’ll have the privacy a lot of other artists aren’t afforded. Do you think about that a lot? The future, and if it will ever be necessary to come forward without the mask?
You know I’ve never thought about it. I’ve been operating like this for so long I’m just used to it. On my daily runs I do me, but when it’s time to do whatever else the mask comes on. A lot of the stuff that I do, I don’t have a conscious thought about. I’m just living in the moment. I love fun. I don’t like to over think things.
I think your music is really indicative of that. Even the lyrically more serious stuff, sonically it’s still kind of upbeat and fun sounding.
That’s what it’s about for me. When I’m on stage I want to look out and see people so happy, so fun and so turned up. Whatever you walked in with, leave it at the door. Turn up. Forget all of your worries and all of your cares; throw it in the air with the lyrics.
Does your creative process for music have that function for you?
I don’t have a process for creating my music. There’s nothing calculated about it and there’s no set way I do it. It’s literally whatever I feel at that moment. I sell out to the moment. I was taught never to think about it too hard and just sell out to the moment.
Do you think you’re lucky in that sense? Sometimes you talk to people who have made such a study of a particular genre that things become almost formulaic for them. Do you feel lucky that you’ve managed to avoid that by not having a traditional “music” background?
Yes! In the words of Ms. Nicki “No I’m not lucky I’m blessed, yes.” But yeah, I definitely do. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry about being stuck. It does happen though. Sometimes you go in and it may not flow right, but what I don’t do is force it. If it’s not working that day I go home and I just go on about my life. Like I said, it’s important for me to sell out to the moment. I have such a great crew, all of us, we sell out. That also helps me to define who I can really click with. When I met Skrillex, who is one of the most amazing people in life; the nicest coolest, most humble person ever. The day I met him–I’m talking about like five minutes after we met–we were selling out. We were raving in the studio. With people like that you just go.
So you just want people to vibe, right?
Yeah, and I want people to look at what I’m doing and say if this brown girl can get up there in a mask and wild out, I can do it too–at whatever it is they might want to do.
Can you tell us a little about the future? Now that you’re signed to RCA what are you planning? What are you excited about? What are you nervous about?
I’m excited and nervous about working on an album. I have my project out now, a self-titled EP. Now I’m working on my LP so I’m kind of excited and a little nervous because it’s the first–it’s my debut.
Does the whole label situation make you nervous at all? Obviously you still have your autonomy, but now there are deadlines and expectations and more regimented working conditions. Have you ever worked that way before?
[Laughs] No I haven’t.
We’re curious because a big part of your practice is being in the moment. Do you still feel like you’ll be able to create in that manner?
Well, I’m grateful that the machine I work with doesn’t pressure me. I work and I go in when it feels right. I thank God I don’t have to deal with working any other way. When I was working on the LeiKeli47 EP there was no pressure. Of course it’s a mixture of the old and new, but when it came down to the new stuff there was no pressure.
You do the creative direction for your videos too, right?
Yes, I do.
Do you have a process for that?
No, I just like to be hands on. Some of my videos are just very on the spot. The “F**k the Summer Up” video was actually shot at someone’s birthday party, so that’s why you see that BBQ at night. The two girls in the video during the day are my actual friends, and that’s where they live. We’re in front of their house on their block and we took their car to the BBQ. Everything was just very authentic so I wanted shoot that day. I just wanted to have fun and show people what we do. So that’s how it came out.
Ok, last question: Have you ever made an appearance in any of your own videos without the mask?
Hmmm, wouldn’t you like to know.
[Laughs] You would. I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not.
Alright, We’ll leave that one alone… For now.
We’ll keep it there, but that’s more than anyone has gotten.
- Photography:Tyler Adams