Khalif Diouf ‘s (Le1f) music is truly a representation and expression of his complex identity. Le1f grew up in New York City, surrounded by progressive music and ambitious peers. He frequented “Balls,” lavish dance room scenes and drag shows, a part of NYC’s LGBT sub-culture. He experimented with producing and making electro beats for various local bands. And then he went to Wesleyan University, met a lot of creative and aspiring artists, made connections, and quickly evolved into a captivating and provocative rap artist. Le1f has garnered considerable Internet-buzz, critical acclaim, and intrigue for his debut 2012 mixtape, Dark York. He’s earned eclectic responses from a hip-hop community that isn’t entirely sure how to respond to a proud, expressive, gay rapper with skills that fit tightly into the progressive world of modern hip-hop.
The creative clash of hip-hop and ball culture is what makes Le1f so fascinating. He studied dance through high school and college; undoubtedly his experience as a performing artist informs his music and his live shows. While in dance companies he was busy producing and sending beats to up-and-coming bands and local NYC hip-hop acts. Naturally he began doing vocals for himself, writing half verses, experimenting with poetry. At Wesleyan he quickly gained confidence in his writing and performing, and began to shape himself as a musical artist. He looked at aspiring acts like Mykki Blanco and Das Racist, friends from New York, for support and guidance in a competitive and judgmental culture of rap.
THE BOMBER JACKET spoke with Le1f for five minutes after his short show at Skidmore College’s Falstaff’s venue last month. He rapt the audience so much so that two songs into his performance, people assumed Le1f wanted them to dance on stage with him. He politely shooed them off, assuring them they can come up for “Wut and stuff.” “Wut,” Le1f’s bloged-about, 800,000-plus-viewed video has created considerable buzz for his confident flamboyance, quick cutting lyricism, and booty-popping prestige. Le1f is an ambitious, dynamic rap artist with full intent of expressing his compelling complexities. He’s willing to shake the status-quo of hip-hop’s hyper-masculine, homophobic culture. Dark York proves he has the ambition and lyrical skills to fits tightly into the expansive world of hip-hop.
THE BOMBER JACKET: How’d you get into music? How’d you start producing and rapping?
Le1f: I was producing since I was like 15 years old. That’s when I started. I would make records and doing vocals for myself the whole time. It eventually turned into writing half verses, like poetic things. And then I just got more comfortable with it.
How does your background in dance influence your music?
When I started making beats too I was in a dance company at my high school, that was the reason I went to that boarding school, because it was a real good dance program. I spent a lot of time also producing for bands like, producing for Happenings or for like dance things.
Did that influence the music you listened to?
Yeah. Yeah. In high school particularly a lot. That’s when I really got into like Bjork and Animal Collective and indie music, actually. Through bands, through modern bands.
In terms of your Wesleyan connections, how did your time at Wesleyan develop you as an artist?
I just had a lot of friends there.
Well I know you’re signed to Greedhead, and obviously with Heems…
I knew them before that. Just from New York.
What about Sam Jones (Wesleyan ’10) producing your videos…
And all the crew from the video was a lot of Wesleyan kids. Just connections that have helped me out.
Where did the music and the lyrics from Dark York come from? Was that stuff you had been doing, or was that new stuff?
That was just like a best of. Some of it was like three years old. It was all like the best stuff I’d thought I made up until that point. I had most of it like six months prior and then just dropped it.
What’s it like being signed to Greedhead and what’s Heems like running a label?
I’m not really signed. It’s kind of just loose. Just lets me do my own thing. It’s been cool. It’s been fun, playing shows with them. He’s a good manager, surprisingly good manager…well not surprise… but he’s a good manager.
What about the music for Liquid and getting linked up with Boody?
Boody’s someone I’ve been working with for a long time. He runs the blog Palmsout like it’s his, and we’ve been making music together since like ’06, ’07, at least that’s when we started playing shows and doing things together musically in some capacity, not what it is now, but yeah.
You shout out Mykki Blanco in one of your songs, what’s your affiliation with Mykki Blanco?
He’s a good friend from New York. I used to go to his shows when he was in that band “No Fear.”
So you’ve known him for a while?
Yeah. He’s really cool. So the fact that he’s one of the up-and-coming people, similar artists, is cool.
That video for “Wavvy” is dope as fuck.
I like “Haze.Boogie.Life.” better.
Does your identity as a male-bootypopper influence your preference for briefs over boxers?
Is that like a hyphenated phrase? Male-booty popper? [Laughs] Well actually dance is like that in general. But yes, very much so, I haven’t worn boxers in like, a month.