One of the most prominent artists in a new vanguard of alternative New York rap, Le1f’s experienced a rapid ascension into the global eye since the 2012 release of his debut mixtape, Dark York. LACHLAN KANONIUK gets the low down ahead of his appearance at Slanted & Enchanted on Saturday, December 7 at The Bakery.
“I think it’s been exponential,” Le1f says, charting his musical growth since the release of Dark York. “In some ways I do still feel amateur, which is nice. I’ve had a lot of room to explore, being an unsigned artist. I feel like I’ve been able to find more voices and get more confident in terms of songwriting. It’s exciting; I’ve been able to play within a lot of worlds and styles in rap, R&B and electronic music.”
Though Le1f has more than established himself as an idiosyncratic solo artist in his own right, there has been some sense of community surrounding his rise, working alongside Das Racist and their Greedhead label. As Le1f’s style has grown and developed, so has his range of collaborators. “I definitely have my friends here, and they’re doing cool things around me. But it’s beyond just working with friends now, sometimes I don’t even know the people I’m collaborating with – finding a beat on Soundcloud, or people seeing my show and handing a CD of beats. Sometimes the collaborations and sense of community comes from that place as well, it’s digitised.”
After gaining prominence with the mostly self-produced Dark York mixtape, as well as producing for others, Le1f sourced beats from a range of different, but likeminded rising producers. “I guess Dark York was me trying a formation of everything I like – other people produced things, I produced, just all the beats that I thought would be good… after that I just wanted to push myself as a vocalist by working with other people’s beats,” he says.
“I started to make Tree House just after Fly Zone because I wanted to make love songs. Or at least attempt to, because that was a daunting and scary thing for me to do. Trying to find these warm, luxurious voices was really frustrating. I had five good songs and like 12 annoying ones, so I had to make Fly Zone out of those songs that didn’t fit the concept of a romantic album, that were too aggressive, or too airy and not sexualised. That’s what Fly Zone came out of, my frustration at trying to make Tree House last year. It’s a whole trilogy of experimentation.”
While sex has been intrinsic to pop music throughout its history, it’s often treated with a large degree of humour to allay a semblance of confrontation with the listener. Tree House is overflowing with sex, compounding lush R&B production with no-nonsense bedroom-ready slow jams. “For Tree House, that was the entire goal. I was very inspired by Jeremih’s Late Nights mixtape last year. The fact that he captured this ‘90s sex R&B vibe, all that music that I loved but isn’t necessarily rap – like Aaliyah, SWV, TLC. Talking about sexuality blatantly, in the same way as an R. Kelly record that you might have sex to, but at the same time, the production and the mixing and the vocals were so futuristic, so progressive. Like the song (Jeremih’s) Fuck You All The Time, I’ve never heard a song like that, even if the words weren’t about sex,” he states.
“That’s where I was coming from with Tree House. I wanted it to be heady and conceptual in production, but all songs to make love to, or songs that are love songs in some regard.”