Get To Know Leikeli47, The Rapper Behind The Mask
If you ever find yourself on the brink of fame, and in desperate need of some humility, try taking a cue from Leikeli47. The Brooklyn-born rapper relies solely on her chops, cloaking the rest of herself in anonymity. And this isn’t a euphemism; 47 is never without a mask. Why? So as to not distract from the music.
And you can’t exactly blame her; it wasn’t always that being a musician came in tandem with unreasonable, Beyoncé-level, superhuman standards for beauty. Some might balk at the idea of deliberately avoiding the opportunity to be internationally recognizable, but considering how passionate Leikeli47 is about her music (and music in general), it makes sense. As a true and wholly devoted artist, she wants to be known for her craft and her craft alone. And the fact that she’s already seen immense success, despite always being shrouded in ski masks and balaclavas, speaks to her talent.
Ever since releasing her first (and self-titled) mixtape in 2012, she’s been on the come-up, first catching the attention of the fashion industry, and then receiving praise from Mr. Jay-Z himself.
They’re commendable feats she should undoubtedly be proud of—feats that would make anyone cower in intimidation—but ones you would never guess upon meeting her. Leikeli47 isn’t just nice, she’s unsettlingly nice—both for a successful rapper, and for a native New Yorker. On top of that, she’s unmistakably chill. She makes your level of DGAF look paltry in comparison, without displaying the slightest bit of entitlement.
Audibly recognizable, yet physically anonymous—she doesn’t even have an Instagram account to worry about— 47 is nothing short of a mastermind. And definitely onto something.
Before taking the stage at our Milk Makeup party last night, I caught up with the rapper, producer, and MC about her favorite stores in New York, her dream designer mask, and why wearing a mask has actually been quite good for her skin.
So I know you just recently started doing interviews. Why did you decide to start doing them?
I think I started doing them when I felt like I had something to say. When I first came out [onto the music scene], I just wanted to live. I just wanted to actually be a new artist. I hadn’t had the experience yet. Now that I’ve been able to travel, see things, and experiment, I have some things I can actually talk about.
[Initially], I just wanted the people to get into me, get into the music, see what I’m about, and vice versa.
I know you’ve said that, at the beginning of your career, you were figuratively wearing a mask. And that after taking it off, you were able to embrace yourself and come into your own. What’s something you did after taking off the proverbial mask that you couldn’t have done before?
Well, I let my hair down, you know? I could just completely dive in. The music that I do, all that stuff, my performance—none of it is rocket science. Putting on the mask made me feel so free to just dive in. It makes me feel carefree; I’m race-less, I’m genderless, all of that “–less.” It’s about me being a human being, and it’s all about my music. You know, I’m proud of that and I like to have fun.
If you could have any designer make you a mask, who would it be?
Of course Alexander Wang. I have such a love for him. I have so many of his pieces—ones that I got before all of this [success]. I love his art, his aesthetic. I’m also a huge Mark McNairy fan. I wore one of his masks in my “C&C” video—it was the clown mask—it was so sick. [Riccardo] Tisci is great too. Just people who get it. It would be fun to work with anyone actually because there are so many awesome designers out here.
How do you fare during the summer? Do you ever get hot?
Let’s put it like this. If you’re hot, I’m hot. If you’re cold, I’m cold. After a performance, you know, you’re sweating under there. When you take it off, your skin feels like a baby.
Yeah, now that I think about it, whenever I go to sleep wearing an eye mask, I always wake up feeling at least five years younger. Do you wear any makeup under your mask?
Your eyes are amazing! You’ve got no lines—nothing. Listen, seriously, you have beautiful skin. And that’s what we all aim for. I think that’s the beauty of what Milk is doing. The products are made for girls like us, like you and me.
Under my mask, I usually wear a light concealer. I’ll play around with some stuff on the eyes though. The colors that Milk Makeup have, the concealer, just everything they have is perfect for a girl like me. I’m super, super light. I wear close to nothing. So yeah, it works, it really works. I’m so excited.
If there’s one thing you could change in the beauty industry, what would it be?
There’s a lot that could be done, but I think we’re making strides in the right direction. When you look at Milk Makeup, like the videos, the different women, there are so many difference races, shapes—eye shapes. It’s just such a beautiful thing to see that diversity. To be honest, I think [the beauty industry] should take a page from what Milk is doing. You know, just show the beauty in women, men, trans, gays, straight, bi, period. Just let us in, you know? Focus on that art; when you see it, don’t be scared of it and let us in. Yeah, I’m with that. You could put Milk Makeup on my mask, I don’t care. But people should definitely take a page form what Milk is doing. You know, celebrating human beings. The real woman, the real girl.
When you’re thinking of creating a song, what’s your process and how does it come to you?
In all different ways, I don’t have a set process. As far as producing, I’m heavily influenced by Bobby McFerrin. I create all of my sounds by mouth or I like to use what’s around me. Sometimes the beat may come first, the words may come first, sometimes it may just start with a [makes banging sound] in a hotel room. Then some lyrics and I head to the studio. Make a full production around that. It depends.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve used to make a beat?
I actually created my kick, my 808, with our pop filter. I wanted a specific boom, and I just couldn’t find it. So, I went to the studio and I just kept touching the mic. When I finally heard that good tone, I was just like, “That’s it!” Me and my engineer tweaked it, and created our own personal kick. It was pretty cool.
“I’m not caught up in what sounds right or what’s going on today—what’s trending, what’s hot.”
What’s the most helpful piece of advice you’ve been given since starting in the industry?
I’m surrounded by nothing but wise people giving great advice. One of the best pieces of advice I think I’ve ever been given was from Harold Lilly. “Just keep your head down.” You know, like, don’t worry about what’s going on around you. Keep your head down. It keeps you focused on what you have going on. I’m not caught up in what sounds right or what’s going on today—what’s trending, what’s hot.
I’ve also noticed that the fashion industry seems to love you. Who are some of your favorite designers?
I don’t like to stick with one. There are too many great ones and they’re all so different. So, I like to play around with everything—street, high fashion, thrifting. A lot of my stuff I hold onto, and I’m glad I’ve held onto them. One of my favorite pieces was a white jacket that I wore in the video for “Synonym.” It’s actually an Alexander Wang jacket. Remember the one he did for Opening Ceremony in 2008? I kept that jacket—I’m not giving this jacket away—and thank God I did because he came out with the ten-year capsule and that jacket was in it. I was like, “Ahhhh!” I’d say that’s one of my favorite pieces I’ll always wear.
Wang is definitely at the top of my list. Also, I have his wool and leather cape. It’s in the “Two Times A Charm” video. I love a lot of his pieces. And McNairy—I think he’s so fun. I love that he doesn’t take himself seriously at all. Aside from the obvious street wear brands that I’ve been wearing all my life—the Supreme and 10.Deep. I’ve always been heavily into those. Just mixing them up and playing with them. I like the Lazy Oaf stuff. They’re really fun and cute. I play around with all of them. To be honest with you, they’re all of my favorites.
Do you have any favorite places to shop in New York?
I think Opening Ceremony is a one-stop shop. Here, L.A., oh my gosh. The one in L.A., they’ll call me. They’ll say, “We have some new jackets, some new varsities.” Yeah, so that’s one of my favorites. I want my home to look like Opening Ceremony.
I’m going to give you some real New York now. Atrium was always my style. Any real New Yorker, you gotta know about Atrium. I still go in there from time to time. But I’m really easy, to be honest with you. I’m not very picky or overly styled. I just strongly believe in being your natural self, [embracing] your personal style. I still go get my jewelry in downtown Brooklyn. I’m that girl. So, I like to have fun.
If you weren’t in music what do you think you’d be doing?
I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I grew up really shy, so I didn’t know how I’d actually be able to attack it until one day this guy said, “You know, if you keep holding that in, God’s going to take that away from you and give it to somebody else.” Music actually helped me to open up and be more personable. Yeah, I’ve never had a Plan B. I’ve never wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, a stylist, a whatever—it was always this.
All images taken exclusively for Milk by Andrew Boyle. Creative Direction by Paul Bui.
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