Maryam Monalisa Ghavari writes “it is difficult to imagine anywhere in contemporary society where the concealment of the face in public does not trigger suspicion” in reference to women wearing niqab. Leikeli47, a rapper from Brooklyn, dons a ski mask in public – no one knows her age or what her face looks like, and this mask’s function is to force the audience to focus on the art and not her, the artist.
The mystery surrounding her identity in an age where visibility is commodified and thus useful in order to succeed as an artist tends to elicit the opposite desired effect. Virtually every interview with Leikeli47 focuses on this mask. In an interview with Hot97, she says “I like to do a lot of my revealing through my music. You know, bit by bit, I like for people to grow with me. I don’t want to just give you all of me” and with Acrylic, that is exactly what she does.
Leikeli47 is in control, not only of her image but of her sound. Acrylic is her second studio album, following her braggadocious debut Wash and Set. Leikeli47 gave us Design and Pick a Color as EPs, which included three tracks from the album before the entire project was released weeks beforehand. The anticipation of how many more tracks were on this album and how the concept would unfold was a part of the performance, which is true to her ethos; leaving the listeners hungry for more and curious and slowly revealing herself, without ever unmasking entirely.
The first track, “Walk-Ins Welcome,” is an audible welcome mat and it begins with a skit. Tires squeak off into the distance as the Brooklyn MC introduces her project with the verse “Girl, I can’t with you today/ I can’t with you today/ I got these walk-ins comin’ in/ And it’s been hectic all day/ If you gon’ talk, then sit your ass down/ Get your nails done and pay.” The following track, “Acrylic,” builds up on this motif, with a piano and bass riff. “Walk in and smell the acrylic/ me and my crew counting digits”
In 19 tracks littered with skits, silvery vocals, and hard-hitting bass tracks, we are given a tour of her life in Brooklyn. The mark of her genius is in her control, her agency, her ability to take 19 tracks and do what Tierra Whack did so effortlessly with visuals and one minute tracks earlier this year. She shape shifts throughout the album without a hint of hesitation and delivers a project that is far more erratic and fun than her debut. “No Reload,” a track that was first introduced on the Design EP, is gutty and empowering. Leikeli is a girl’s girl, in this track she raps “Grew up in a house full of women/ They ain’t need no nigga.” “Tic Boom” is an ebullient track that zig zags in your ear drums, but the production is the most exciting thing about it. “Let’s Go Get Stoned” takes a Ray Charles song and wakes you up with what sounds like a knock on your door –keeping you on your toes.
On the escapist track “CIAA,” she sings “These kids with no name/ Seen their families slain/ guns and cocaine/ These lions with gold chains/ hunt their prey.” In that same Hot97 interview, Leikeli47 discusses her approach to life, which is to “die every day,” to refuse to be mediocre or exhaust herself in the repetitive mundanity. On her album cover, two hands adorned in gold rings and long acrylics float alongside two other black hands carrying roses, which is reminiscent of memorial T-shirts. Writer Jasmine Sanders expounds on commemorative tees in an essay in the New York Times, describing the danger in “conferring affection for a person onto an object,” she says “threads will unravel, paint will fade.” So perhaps that is the purpose, to understand Leikeli through the nail salon is to understand a world around her that is always being reconstructed, her neighborhood tour happens in the face of gentrification, Black people being pushed out or being killed.
On Acrylic, we bear witness to a truth in Leikeli’s ability to adapt and switch up while also understanding that, to Leikeli, death isn’t the end, but a beginning. Tracks like the “Bad Gyal Flex” capture the feeling of the languid joy of having your nails done and the pitter patter of nails hitting against the hard surface. If Wash and Set was about growth, then Acrylic is about patience in transformation. Getting acrylics requires patience, but it is also a lesson in how beauty is a collective process.