Leikeli47 has a tell when she’s happy. Her eyes begin smiling approximately half a second before her mouth curves into a grin. She speaks vulnerably, and her wisdom can be felt at the end of every sentence as she arrives to conclusions without missing a step. Her music is as complex and witty as she is a person, zooming in on the experience of the Black woman living in low-income situations and exploring their sanctuaries. Her imaginative playground carries many mysteries, and her aesthetic makes her an enigma that many seek to understand. She wears a mask, but that doesn’t matter.
Her 2017 debut album, Wash & Set, introduced the Virginia and New York native to the scene through the safe haven for Black women, the salon. She followed that with last year’s critically acclaimed Acrylic, which explores the power of the nail shop. Now, she’s planning to release a third album in the near future, Shape Up. MTV News set out to talk to the ethereal emcee, catching up with her at Pharrell’s Something in the Water festival last weekend.
MTV News: How did the vastly different environments of New York and Virginia affect you musically growing up? Do you feel a stronger attachment to either scene?
Leikeli47: I’m a proud hybrid, but this is definitely home first, definitely where it all started. A lot of my musical influences, just my musical ear really, started here. Going up and down I-95 made it just expand more. Living in New York, it’s such an eclectic place. Honestly, it was no different than Virginia, as far as musically, because everyone has their own preferences and you can learn from everyone and everything. That’s what I did. I took from both and created my own name, my own sound, and so far, it has been working for me.
MTV News: What has changed for you in the five months since Acrylic was released?
Leikeli47: There’s a lot of work, a lot more shows. The workload has definitely increased and I like to think that that speaks to this album. I leveled up a bit — a lot a bit. I always want to level up. And I’m grateful for it because these are the things that I worked long and hard for. A lot has come my way. That’s why you have to keep working, got to keep putting music out. Just seeing the response to Acrylic, having people respond to the growth, it brought me endless opportunities. I mean, right now, I’m at Something in the Water. It brought me so many new supporters, so much love. These moments have been fun.
It’s beautiful to have sold-out shows and hearing people sing your lyrics back to you. But to go in the street and see that there’s work to do and hearts to still capture, that there’s still people to grab — those were my favorite shows. I had a lot of fun! You’re going to hear that from me a lot. I suggest the same to you. Just have fun and go after your purpose. If I’m not having fun, I’m not doing it.
MTV News: What do you think that it will take for the U.S. to recognize and uplift Black women as much it does aspects of the culture associated with them? Long acrylic nails, name-plated earrings, and more have become runway accessories.
Leikeli47: We have to stop asking for it. We don’t need your acceptance. We don’t need you to get us, because we already see that you get it. Our style is all across your magazines and it is all across your neighborhoods. We don’t need your permission to be accepted! This is what we do. This is how we grew up. This is our culture. These are our haircuts. These are our shape-ups. These are our braids. Don’t get me wrong, love us – it’s a human thing. But at the same time, respect the culture as we respect yours. It’s going to take for us to keep stepping up and being bold and not caring about the acceptance that they don’t give us. It is what it is. Let’s just embrace each other. Once we cut out the chatter about what we want and just walking our purpose, walking our boldness, and walking our Blackness, they will follow and they will understand just what it is. The world will catch up.
MTV News: You released Wash & Set in 2017 and Acrylic in 2018, with the third album of the set, Shape Up, supposedly on the horizon. What can we expect from it?
Leikeli47: I might come to your barber shop and have some conversations. I want to have some fun with my kings. I want the people to understand what goes on in the Black man’s world. Our world. I’m excited to explore that album and finish the creation of it. I started it a long time ago and, to be honest, it was done a long time ago. But the closer you get to an album, you always have to poke your holes and make sure that the story is still there. I want people to know that, especially with our Black men, we love you all. We need you all. The same way that we’re protecting you, we need that same in return. That’s another way that humanity will understand the power and start uplifting our Black women. Just talking to you right now, I’m getting more inspired for other things and to talk about more stuff. So I can’t tell you everything, but we’re going to start there and I’m excited to tell the story and have fun with it. And I hope you guys love it as well.
Growing up, I didn’t have a dad. I had my grandfather and I was fortunate enough to have my great-grandfather. They were amazing men because saw the way that they took care of their wives. I saw the love in the household. I felt it. I want to speak to that and I want people to understand and know that’s what happens in our culture. Because a lot of the time, when they think of Black men, they think that they are absent. We have kings in our community. We have educators, we have dads, we have doctors, we have graduates, creatives, photographers, journalists, writers. That’s what I want. To touch on that and have people digest and understand it.