Music

Rap Sensation Le1f on Growing Up and Coming Out

Music

Rap Sensation Le1f on Growing Up and Coming Out

If you don’t get at least a little tingle in your privates when you watch “WUT,” the newest music video from Le1f, bad news: your genitals are broken. Featuring a ripped, shirtless dude tied to a chair wearing a Pikachu mask and copious amounts of man-on-man grinding and voguing, the message is clear: we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re talented as hell. I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, furry, or whatever Tom Cruise is (gay), Le1f is undeniably hot. To quote one of the Youtube commentors from the video, “This bitch is fierce!”

I recently spoke to Le1f about his journey from insecure gay kid to hipster rap sensation.

Tell me about the inspiration for the music video “Wut.”  What were you going for?  
I wanted to be a banjee hoodrat with a Manifest Destiny attitude. I personally was most inspired by Lady’s video “Yankin.” The team and I watched a lot of glossy ’90s hip-hop videos and wanted to have that fun, colorful flavor. Sam Jones, the director, was watching a lot of Diddy & G.Dep videos. The penrose triangle was all Emma Mead’s idea. I like to think of it as a symbol of impossibilities made real.

What is with the Pikachu mask on the topless white dude?
I was having daydreams of sitting on a hot white guy’s lap while rapping my verses very nonchalantly. The guy always had on a horse head or Pokemon mask. I enlisted Dentist, an ambient musician, to be my sex slave/video hoe.

Ugh, I want a video hoe!  Who were your favorite performers growing up?
Missy Elliott was my favorite rapper, followed by Busta Rhymes and Bone Thugs. Those were people who were experimenting with what they were given and making their voices a real instrument.  As a little gay kid, I had a weird voice and I really wasn’t okay with it. I would try to record things and it would make me really upset to hear my own vocals, so I would just not finish recordings. So it was really encouraging to hear people like Dizzee Rascal, people with weird rap voices.

How old were you when you realized that you were interested in rapping?
I was 15 when I realized I wanted to rap and I started performing in 2007. I had a lot of older friends in the music industry, so I was really wary of overexposing myself before I developed, which is why I waited so long to make this mixtape. I turned down all the record deals and went to college instead and hibernated for a while.

You turned down record deals to go to college?
Yeah.

OMFG, why?
When I left high school, I really wanted to develop myself more in terms of my physique and my dancing as well as my music composition. I just knew I wasn’t ready to record singing and do intricate dance routines, which is where I want my career to be.

Did you get something out of Wesleyan?
Definitely. It was an awesome community. I was in this society called Eclectic that people from Das Racist and MGMT and a bunch of other projects were in, so for me it was really awesome to be a part of this artistic community. Which is how the “Wut” video came to be. Half those people are Wesleyan friends.

Were your parents supportive of you wanting to be a performer?
My parents are separated. I think my dad just has to come to terms with it. I’m not really sure how he feels about it right now. But there was a point a couple of years ago where he didn’t believe it was me. I should backtrack. It’s culturally unacceptable for my caste in Senegal to be performers, because it’s a lower class job than what my family is. So at first he was really disappointed when my mom put me in ballet classes and let me do all this performative stuff. But I think he’s come around to it. I think he’s kind of shocked at how successful I’ve been with it.

How does your ethnic background, being half Senegalese, affect your music?
I wasn’t culturally raised Wolof, but it’s a real possibility that my nasally voice is more a product of being West African than having a gay accent. I also have this innate love for fast, percussive music that could be explained that way.

How did your parents react when you came out?
My mom didn’t react. She didn’t care much at all. It was awesome. I never told my dad or the rest of my family just out of laziness. I let Google tell them.

Were you always so comfortable with yourself sexually?
No, I had a lot of problems with it. I hated it, I hated it for so long. I went to a boarding school in Massachusetts for high school, so needless to say I was around a lot of prejudice and discrimination.

Massholes?
Yeah. I wasn’t around a lot of gay people. I was one of only three out gay people in high school.

Wow, that’s so brave that you came out in high school!
Yeah. I came out in sophomore year of high school. One of my closest friends was my gay, black friend in high school. And people thought of us as “cool kids” because we were so weird. And we were also very fun to be around compared to everyone going to Hollister and Rugby practice. I was comfortable being myself, but it made it awkward because I wasn’t exposed to a culture where I was actually accepted.

Are you comfortable being embraced and popular in the gay community?
Yeah, I love that. My ideal fantasy of great success would be to have a very diverse crowd, like a mosh pit of everyone; gay, black and Latino. Just the whole spectrum.

You can follow Rose Surnow at @rosesurnow.