NYC Rapper Le1f Talks Hating His Voice & Holding Back on Political Rap

NYC Rapper Le1f Talks Hating His Voice & Holding Back on Political Rap

FUSE TV - NYC Rapper Le1f Talks Hating His Voice & Holding Back on Political Rap

Former Das Racist beatmaker and current "Wut" ass-shaker Le1f just dropped his second mixtape, Fly Zone, and is prepping to unleash his third, Tree House, a collection of Jeremih-esque songs that he wants "people to have sex to."

Fuse sat down with the New York rapper to talk about wanting to be more like "Beyonce than Gucci Mane," his hatred of performing and why the openly gay rapper decided to pull politics from his material... so far.

First and foremost: Whose face is on your necklace?

George Costanza. My friend Maxwell Velocity, who is a rapper, made this for me when he used to work at Goodwood. It’s my good-luck charm.

You did the beat for Das Racist's breakthrough track "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell." Did you want to be a producer before you wanted to be a rapper?

When I graduated high school I knew I already wanted to be a rapper, but I had performed a little bit and I hated it. I was at the stage where I was picking up a mic, saying something into it, hearing how sh*tty the sound was and then leaving. But eventually I'd do small-ass parties with [Das Racist rapper] Himanshu’s roommate as my DJ. So I used to crash on their couch and we would just smoke weed and watch commercials until six in the morning. I remember Himanshu had a MySpace with these two awesome funny songs on it, one of them is called "Thug Handles." I gave them a bunch of beats [for that stuff] because I thought that I would never use them. But I’ve always wanted to be a rapper. I just didn't like my voice when I was younger. 

How did you get into the New York hip hop scene?

I was in boarding school before in Massachusetts. It was fine, but I definitely couldn’t find a crew of people freestyling on the street anywhere who were my age. So my emergence into rap was hanging out with these older cats in New York, artists that were already working who I looked up to. Basically, anyone that was cool and willing to hang out with someone underage. I started when I was 16; My mom took me to this New York bar to go see my favorite band at the time, Kudu, perform. Then soon after that, [I started hanging with] Sylvia from Kudu, Shannon from Light Asylum, Black Crocker, Bunny Rabbit and Tha Pumpsta. They were these queer rappers from Brooklyn that threw parties. And Himanshu and Victor [Kool A.D. from Das Racist], those are the people that took care of me. And I just never went home again.

Did you change your voice when you started rapping?

Someone once told me Lil Wayne had said he had a moment where someone told him to rap crazy, to choose a voice and rap crazy. And then I was like, "Oh yeah, I’m just being really soft and not attacking this situation. I need to confront this microphone and figure out how my voice needs to sound." As I got older my voice did drop a little bit, but I also I realized that there's actually a huge range to my voice, not just some tiny, mute gayness to it. So I just had to explore it. And Dark York [his first mixtape] was, for me, an exploration of what me and my voice could do if I had a little confidence behind it. I never want to make two songs that sound exactly the same. When I get a beat and I’m like, "Oh my God, this is amazing," I always imagine the character that needs to attack it: How their voice has to sound and who I need to channel. 

What kind of characters do you imagine creating with your voice?

All kinds of characters, like Fem Robots, 2 Chainz... you know what I mean? It’s all over the place. I guess the videos are a good example of that. Those are the kind of characters for those songs, they're definitely banjee bottom crazy.

So there's a Pikachu mask on the oiled-up guy in your 'Wut' video. Did you come up with that randomly?

No, I actually had a dream—a legitimate dream, not even a daydream. You know Tyler, the Creator’s video "Yonkers," where he’s sitting on a stool with his shadow silhouette? I was imagining that it was me and I was sitting on the lap of a guy wearing a frog mask and that just kind of morphed into my head. At first I wanted it to be a Squirtle mask, but it wouldn’t look as wet and sexy 'cause it had to be paper mache. So we just went with the Pikachu mask.

What's your writing process like? Do you start with lyrics or beats?

I usually like to have the beat first to have the full idea of the song. Usually I’ll hear a beat and come up with a hook or some lines and then go through my Google docs and patch things together that make sense. There's tons of notes in my phone that are just partial stanzas and things that need to get finished based on the right beats. I don’t freestyle. But sometimes weird things happen and they just come out. Like "Wut" I did drunk and it has one or two vocal takes. That’s why it sounds mixed so poorly 'cause I was just [makes slurring drunk noises]. But most of the time I have a whole song written even before I go on the mic. Or at least what I think is going to be the whole song. And I record all the parts five times and then go back and pick and choose. But sometimes not—I’ve been getting better and better at not being so nit-picky with it. 

Do you sing at all?

I do Auto-Tune, so no.

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