The Unflinching, Bold (and Gay) Rapper Le1f Asks “Wut”
Just because Frank Ocean felt it was time to tell fans that he'd fallen in love with a man over the July 4th holiday -- a move that for the most part was met with open arms -- doesn’t mean that homophobia has disappeared from hip-hop. Case in point: the disgusting (and sadly predictable) blog and twitter reaction to rapper Leif’s music video for the rather awesome “Wut.” (World Star Hip Hop: "This Is What Happens When Rappers Start Admitting Their Gay?" [sic].) But for the most part, the New York-based rapper -- who’s never been shy about his sexuality or sticking up for himself -- was undaunted by the taunts and attacks. This is still what hip-hop world is like right now, but Le1f isn't about to let that stop him from doing what he does and being who he is.
“Wut” is a near-perfect example of what Le1f (real name: Khalif Diouf) does so well: Taking a slightly sinister and at times abrasive beat, rapping over it in his distinctive guttural voice (one that can flip from a leisurely stroll to a full sprint instantaneously), and turn out something fun and danceable. It’s like first-wave grime, but accessible. The video for the song captures this feel well, with Leif booty poppin,' posing like he’s “in a manga,” and sitting on a shirtless, Pikachu mask-wearing man’s lap. Like Le1f, it states in all caps exactly what it’s about.
This is the common thread that runs throughout Le1f’s first mixtape, “Dark York.” He hurtles through the record's 21 tracks with wit and bravado. Released this spring, the mixtape proved a hit with the indie-leaning section of the blogosphere. “This is a tape that feels like a census of right-now sounds,” Pitchfork’s Hari Ashurst wrote. Fact Magazine’s Alex Macpherson: “Le1f’s made his statement, a formidable one – and a potential blueprint for the future.” It was an audacious debut from an audacious artist. But good internet press doesn’t mean much, and hip-hop in particular is judged for its mainstream potential. For the time being, Le1f sexuality robs him of that. But he could be one of the people to to break through these barriers.
Through the last few months, Le1f has proven himself to be a rapper with a distinctive voice, one whose talent should override any possible description of who he is as a person. While he’ll never hide his sexuality, he wants to be known as a rapper first, and has the skill to do so. “I am gay, and I’m proud to be called a gay rapper, but it’s not gay rap,” he told Fader. "That’s not a genre. My goal is always to make songs that a gay dude or a straight dude can listen to and just think, This dude has swag. I get guys the way straight rappers get girls. I’m not preachy. The best thing a song can be called is good.”