Audacious, ballroom-inspired rap
OTW #486: LE1F

When Frank Ocean posted an open love letter to a man on his Tumblr last July, the hip-hop community took the unusual step of applauding this young black man in voicing his sexuality in an eloquent and forthright way. Commentators remarked that this could be a turning point in hip-hop’s prevailing negative attitude to homosexuality, and praised Ocean and the response at large for its encouraging open-mindedness. In the same month however the rapper Le1f released the video for his track ‘Wut’, and websites which hosted it saw a deluge of hateful anti-gay rhetoric in comment threads deriding Le1f for his own openness. The contrast between the two reactions tells us that despite large-scale outpourings of support and discussion like Ocean’s, prejudice towards the gay community is still rife in rap and any rapper who identifies as LGBT can face a hard road.

Le1f though? He’s the definition of No Fucks Given. A ballet dancer for fifteen years before he turned producer and rapper, New Yorker Khalif Diouf breaks it down with now characteristic cockiness and maintains that “all good music is made for crying, having sex, dancing, or smoking weed.” Holding this mantra dear has served him well. His two lauded mixtapes ‘Dark York’ and ‘Fly Zone’ showcase his rapid-fire yet nonchalant flow over an immaculately curated selection from the likes of Nguzunguzu and Brenmar as well as his own productions, portraying a rapper who can flit between identities within this MIA-inspired dance-rap realm with malleable ease.

On ‘Dark York’ he’s a unicorn, a mermaid and Amber Rose, on ‘Fly Zone’ he name-checks the X Men and flips a classic Eminem line into “I am whatever you say I am / Stop worrying about how gay I am” with a playfulness and sincerity suits Le1f's identity binaries perfectly. As we await his third mixtape - of which “ten songs are good to go” - it’s become clear that although his sexuality is a major subject matter, it’s entirely gimmick free. It’s part of the nature fold of his character, and this natural self-confidence at the heart of a flamboyant, multiple personality, high energy sound is what sets him apart from nearly every other rapper around.

Words: Lauren Martin
Photography: Dom Smith

WHERE: New York, USA
WHAT: Audacious, ballroom-inspired rap
GET 3 SONGS: ‘Wut’, ‘Coins’, ‘Gayngsta’
UNIQUE FACT: Le1f has a straight alter-ego called Keith, who'll “say whaddup after a Henny or two.”


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