Rapper Leaf: “People Are Still Getting Drawn in to the Mystery.”
Rather than pen a basic Top 40 hit for teenagers to gush over, she wants to deliver something meaningful. In February, she released her three-track EP which drew the attention of dance-music superstar A-Trak. Tracks like “Drama” and “Slick” paint a picture of a woman who isn’t afraid of wrestling with the big boys. She’s vying for superiority in the hip-hop game. So far, she has garnered positive feedback. This month, she’ll be heading to SXSW and will be performing at Green Label Live in Austin on Wednesday.
When did you fall in love with music?
I really feel like I was born with the love of music. Literally, from probably four years-old to like six years-old, I was just like in my mirror singing and writing music. Like I never wanted to do anything else in my life.
Who were some of your influences coming up?
Well, obviously, I watched a lot of MTV growing up. So, I guess MTV really inspired me. Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears—like all of those huge artists at that time, as well as Prince. And also, a lot of hip-hop.
But my biggest inspiration through all of music has always been Jimi Hendrix.
I found out about Jimi when I was like 13, 14 and instantly I wanted to play guitar. I wanted to see Jimi Hendrix every single day. (Laughs) He was just one of the heavy hitting influences in my life. I picked up the guitar that year and it completely changed my style of music and everything.
I bet you probably saw his biopic with Andre 3000.
I actually didn’t see it because I was worried about the fact that I love Andre 3000 so much and I love Jimi Hendrix so much that I didn’t wanna go watch it and it would be badly put together. I was hearing bad reviews. So I was like, “Let me just not.” (Laughs)
I hear you. You didn’t want your image of Jimi and Andre to be tainted.
(Laughs) Yeah! I love them both too much! I just don’t know. You know, sometimes, you see artists act and then it’s like, “Eh. I don’t know how I feel about that.” It’s already controversial for me to think about anybody playing Jimi Hendrix. You know? I was just like, “Let me just leave that alone.” (Laughs)
I’m very curious about the origin of your name. Where did the name Leaf come from?
Well, everybody always ask me this question and I know they’re really hoping for some interesting answer, but it’s actually my government name. (Laughs)
Wow. Do you know why your family decided to name you Leaf?
I asked my mom one time and she was like, “I had a dream.” And then, she didn’t really elaborate on it. So I was like, “OK.” (Laughs)
How did you find your own and identity musically?
I honestly don’t even feel like I’ve fully come into my sound yet. When I put out [my EP], it was really just a collaboration between me and my girlfriend, who’s a producer. So we came together and we just clicked. Like literally all of those songs took us probably two hours to make. We just went in and went out. We didn’t think about it too much. We just let it flow out of us. So as far as my sound, I think my next project will be really clear as to who Leaf is to everybody in the world. Right now, people are still getting drawn into the mystery of what Leaf is.
When I first heard “Drama” and “Slick”, I got a Drake “Worst Behavior” type of vibe. Am I bugging?
Nah. (Laughs) That’s actually the first time that I’ve heard that. But I definitely appreciate it because that’s like one of Drake’s biggest and best songs. Like I really love that song. So I think that’s great. I’m glad you said that.
I was saying to myself: “Damn I hope she doesn’t kill me for saying this.”
Nah. (Laughs) I’ve actually gotten a lot of comparisons to Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea. I really feel like that is not representative of who I am at all because it’s not really the music that I listen to. However, I definitely listen to Drake. So saying that makes a lot more sense to me than anything else that I’ve heard.
You just touched on it. How are you trying to distinguish yourself from Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea?
Well I think that one thing that no one is doing right now is supporting other [women]. I think that’s one thing that separates me from these other girls, you know? I think that Beyonce is really the only person who has tried to put out other [women]. Even as big as she is, she really hasn’t been able to do it right because I think that females are so into competing with each other that they forget that being the best is not always the best if you don’t have the best around you too. So I always try to find the best females and the dopest females in my area and try to bring them together to create some real art. What I think that’s really missing from music is kind of like how in the ’90s there was like [Lil] Kim, Aaliyah, and Missy [Elliot]. They all supported each other. They all knew about each other. They all recognized each other in the game. They didn’t think of each other as competition because there were so many different lanes at that time. Missy was doing her thing and she did it well. Aaliyah was doing her thing and she did it well. Faith did her thing. Kim did her thing. Of course, with Kim and Faith, there was that issue with Biggie and all that. But, at the end of the day, girls weren’t fighting each other just to fight for that one spot. I think hip-hop has really made it that there’s only one spot for females at the moment. We got Rihanna, we got Bey [Beyonce], but there’s no girls on the come up supporting each other and really just making music and making art. It’s a lot more technical to me.
How did you link up A-Trak and Fool’s Gold?
His brother actually found me. Then A-Trak hit me up and was like, “Hey. I like your music. We essentially wanna sign you to Fool’s Gold. We think you’re really dope.” Then, it all kind of just happened from there, which was awesome to me.
What are your expectations moving forward with A-Trak and Fool’s Gold?
Leaf: I just wanna keep expanding this whole movement that I’m doing. I just want it to become like a worldwide, like girls everywhere wearing stuff and supporting each other. Like intelligent [women] on the rise kind of thing. You know? I want my music to continue to become like timeless. I want people to raise their kids on my music. So that’s what I’m really focused on right now. Letting people know what [my movement] is and continuing to make the music that I make.
Can you elaborate on your movement?
It will be revolutionary. (Laughs) But it’s nothing to be scared about. It’s really actually super positive. I created it when I was 17. I just been continuing to find out what it means more and more. But [my movement] is a girl who attracts what she wants for her life. So it’s really just taking responsibility for the fact that you are a magnet. Every single person on this earth, no matter what they do in life, projects what comes into their minds and it comes into our lives essentially. So it’s taking responsibility for your life.
You’re gonna be performing at Green Label Live at SXSW. What can the fans expect from you out there?
I feel like nowadays people just stand on stage and think people are supposed to pay them money. (Laughs) I come from a place where I’ve always loved performances. So I admire people like Usher, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, and Prince because they go up there and give you something that no else can give you. So I wanna do that in the same way.
Image: Tiana Anderson