Rapper Leikeli47 on What’s Underneath Her Many Masks

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“47 has been around forever, but you guys are just getting to know her,” says Brooklyn-born rapper, Leikeli47—pronounced Leh-kay-lee, or just 47 for short. The musician is currently in Los Angeles recording the followup debut album to her 2015 self-titled EP, and is good natured, but resolutely elusive when it comes to prying questions about her nom de plume. “I will say that it’s special to me, but I don’t need to share the reasoning behind it. I’m a big believer that the focus should be on the art and I don’t want the meaning of my stage or real name to stand in front of me expressing that. Art, after all, is what I’m here to do.”

Of course, that’s part of it, but the other reason for the adoption of a pseudonym is that it offers someone who’s shy and has stage fright (two things 47 has a long history with), something to hide behind. Those emotional factors combined with her dedication to not letting her private life effect her music are the reasons why you’ll never see her without one her signature ski masks, which cover her face entirely apart from a thin slit at eye level that allows her to see. “It’s a beautiful thing because together, the name and my mask have allowed me to overcome all of these personal obstacles whilst protecting my inner, shy self. They make me more talkative and excited to meet people. Without them, I’m just an introverted homebody, too afraid to ever perform on stage,” she confesses. The mask also has the added benefit of protecting 47’s skin, which she says is “smooth like a baby’s,” ever since she started wearing it.

Leikeli spent much of her childhood singing in church choirs, and had already started amassing a wardrobe of masks when Diplo and Skrillex discovered her self-produced Lk-47 pt.II mixtape through SoundCloud in 2014. At the time the duo were mid-way through their collaborative “Jack U” tour and had some remaining dates left to play in New York. Leikeli had already bought a ticket to the New Year’s Eve date at Madison Square Garden when Skrillex gave her call. He asked if she would be interested in performing on stage with them at the same show she had a ticket for. It would be her first-ever openly public performance at a sold-out venue most musicians can only ever dream of stepping foot in. Nervously, she accepted and come January 1, 2015, photos of her were all over social media. ‘Who was the masked rapper?,’ people asked. Her phone began to ring.

From there, the offers kept coming and 47’s career quickly gathered pace. Within a few months of the show she signed a deal with RCA Records, put together her EP, got a manager, and invested in a number of masks bearing much heftier price tags than the average black, knitted ski fare. Her fate was sealed when Jay-Z made her infectious anthem F**k the Summer Up number one on his Tidal playlist in 2015 and she got another push when Santigold invited her to be the opening act on her North American tour titled “Buy Gold,” earlier this year. “It was crazy, because I never had any intention of pushing to get a record deal at the time everything kicked off for me,” she reflects. “I was just doing what I do and dropping tracks as and when I was ready. I had a little buzz from word of mouth and a few people had approached me with some opportunities, but it wasn’t the right timing or the right thing.”

Apart from her dance-inducing beats (which she still writes and produces 100% on her own), and her clever lyrics (read the song Miss America), 47 puts her success down to her spiritual reverence for music, which is authentic in a way that can’t be faked. She’s not pretentious when talking about it, but her belief in what she’s doing and why she’s doing it as untainted and as close to pure as it gets. Our hunch is that this genuine regard for music as art is also why she’s already won the respect of so many of her own idols—and keeps it to boot. “I feel like I was born to do this,” she says. “Not in an egotistical way, but in a humble way. It’s a gift to be able to create and I feel blessed everyday. I don’t think that I’m all that, but I live for music and I’m forever grateful that people like what I do.”

47 also hopes that as her presence as an artist increases, she’ll be able to change the discourse around female performers and women in general—so don’t expect her to start discussing her weight or personal appearance any time soon. “Listen, I’m a girl and I like cute clothes that can be part of my work as a performer,” she states as a disclaimer. “I like to think that I’m the chicest tomboy out there, but I feel like we woman have so many hurdles and my biggest goal in this universe is to serve my purpose as a musician.” To which she adds that her dream for her upcoming album is that it will inspire women to lovingly demand respect from men and from each other, so that all people—irrespective of sex or color—can rise up together and peacefully “kill the negativity game.” To some, it might sound like an overly-idealistic notion, but in times of uncertain politics and morally reprehensible social injustices, the power of music as a means of unification shouldn’t be overlooked.

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createdAt:Thu, 27 Apr 2017 18:57:36 +0000
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