Photo credit: Yael Malka
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So this is what happened. I've been on the road with Raphael Saadiq, so in order to keep to our weekly schedule with you guys, I met up with Frannie in New York to tape a couple of interviews, and then I got stuck on the Turnpike trying to come in from Philadelphia. It took four hours y'all can you believe that ?
So she interviewed Leikeli47 by herself. Leikeli has a ton of talent and she's radically generous with it. She wears a mask all the time and keeps her name private. But in this interview, she opens up about why she's made that choice and what it gives to her art. She's also very clear about how she believes shes been mischaracterized and how that's felt. I hope you get as much joy from listening to this as we did from making it.
FRANNIE KELLEY: This is Microphone Check. I'm Frannie Kelley.
LEIKELI47: And I'm Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Nah, I'm Leikeli47.
FRANNIE: Yeah, we're fucked up cause Ali can't be here. He's on the turnpike.
LEIKELI47: And we miss you.
FRANNIE: Yeah, man.
LEIKELI47: I definitely wanted to shake his hand.
FRANNIE: Well, maybe he'll roll up at the very end and dip in.
LEIKELI47: One day. I mean, hopefully. And if not, one day.
FRANNIE: Yeah. But we have to push on, and I'm really really glad that I get to talk to you.
LEIKELI47: I'm so happy to be talking to you as well, Frannie. Thank you for having me.
FRANNIE: I've been a fan for a long time.
LEIKELI47: That is crazy.
LEIKELI47: Yes, he is.
FRANNIE: I don't know what he's most known for, maybe writing "Ego?"
LEIKELI47: OK. We can run it down. He hates this, cause he's such a, you know –
FRANNIE: He doesn't want the attention?
LEIKELI47: Yeah, he doesn't. He's just a songwriter. He's very simple. He just does what he does. He loves what he does, and he takes his kids to baseball and art and swimming and go back to the studio. That's him.
But Harold, we're talking Alicia Keys "You Don't Know My Name." We're talking Luther Vandross "Excuse Me Miss." We're talking Janet Jackson. Of course, we're talking Beyoncé. We already said Beyoncé. We talking – I mean, the list can go on and on and on. Like, on and on and on.
And he's such a professional. He's such an amazing person to sit under and learn from. And I'm grateful that we're actually real blood. Like, that's my real cousin. A lot of people don't know that. But yeah, that's my cousin, and I'm just grateful that I have him to mentor me.
FRANNIE: So how did that – I mean, if you just walk it back, when were you like, "I know what I'm going to do, and I want to talk to Harold about it?"
LEIKELI47: When I came to – when I just moved to L.A., because originally I was – I lived on the East Coast. And I just jumped and decided to just go to Los Angeles.
FRANNIE: OK. Were there any precipitating – was it hard here? Was it about rent? Was it about looking for creative community?
LEIKELI47: You know, it was actually a spiritual thing. It was a voice. It was a voice that said, "You have to go. It's time for you to leave. You've done all you could here, and it's time for you to go. Spread your wings. You have to learn more." Just as an artist, as a person. And that's what I did. It was pretty scary, but I did actually – left with nothing. I left with not a dime and ended up spending about two days in LAX trying to figure my life out.
LEIKELI47: I knew my cousin was there, whatever, but I'm all about my own ten toes. I'm all about getting myself together first, and I was clear. It's crazy even going to L.A. It wasn't this whole music journey, like, "Yeah, I'm going to go, and I'm going to make it." It just – it wasn't that. It was time for change. It was just time for a new scenery, new everything. And I went, and I just kept going. I've been there ever since, kind of bicoastal, here, there, VA, L.A. So, yeah.
FRANNIE: Yeah. I mean, it seems like it happens more and more, not just the people moving to L.A. because there's a lot of opportunity and people collaborate a lot more. I totally get that. But the moving back and forth thing seems to happen a lot.
LEIKELI47: Yeah. Once you get out there – I mean, for those who go out there and get focused, that's eventually – it ends up that way. I learned that for myself. Because I've seen some people get to L.A. and it's like, waaah.
FRANNIE: It's just too pretty.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, exactly. It's so lovely out there, and you get caught up in that L.A. matrix.
FRANNIE: You can lose momentum.
LEIKELI47: Yes, you can. But when you go out there very clear headed, very focused, then next thing you know it, you're barely there.
LEIKELI47: You're barely there. You're back here. You're there. You're somewhere in Phoenix. You're somewhere in Canada. You're barely there. So, yeah.
FRANNIE: Yeah. But you are – you consider yourself Brooklyn born and raised.
LEIKELI47: Well, see, that's the thing, and what I love about that is that when I first came on the scene, a lot of people knew me from being from New York, from being from Brooklyn. But a lot of people also don't know that I'm a VA kid. I'm Virginia/Brooklyn.
FRANNIE: Where in Virginia?
LEIKELI47: Oh, very small. Danville.
FRANNIE: OK. Yeah, yeah. I know where that is.
LEIKELI47: But yeah, we are in Richmond. We in Norfolk. We in the beach.
FRANNIE: I used to live in Norfolk.
LEIKELI47: Oh, nice! Nice. Yeah, my cousin's in school now at Norfolk University. He's out there.
FRANNIE: Oh, cool.
LEIKELI47: Yeah. So I'm a VA kid, and I kind of shied away from telling a lot about myself when I first came on the scene, because I just wanted to lead with my music, and I wanted people to find these things out in my music.
FRANNIE: Right! Yeah.
LEIKELI47: And so that's how people even kind of got like, "Oh, is she from Brooklyn?" You know? Stuff like that. Because I gave little hints about myself, so I just – I love it when people just run with it, and – cause it's about – honestly, I want to keep the focus on the music. It's not so much about me and where I'm from and all that other extra stuff.
FRANNIE: Yeah. I think that people really really want songs to be, like, memoir.
FRANNIE: And I wonder if something maybe about the way you think of yourself as a songwriter? And also I was thinking about maybe the way that Harold – in terms of writing songs for other people. This is not what's actually happening in the real world. Songs are not autobiographical, but you're also saying that there are hints of you in your songs.
LEIKELI47: Absolutely. There's hints of me in my songs. There's hints of my friends. There's hints of other people's conversations. There's hints of train rides. There's hints of plane rides. That's just what I am. Leikeli47 is strictly for the people. This is something created for the people. It's fun. It's mysterious. It's strictly – it's magical. It's for the people.
I take a lot and I learned a lot from Michael, Stevie, D'Angelo. My favorite artists always had that level of – it was just a film of mystique around them. And when you listened to the music, you got certain things. I loved reading about them, more than them telling – you know, "Oh, I'm this and I'm that," and it's just like – you know?
So I'm just one of those type of artists. I just keep it all in the art, and if you keep listening, you'll learn more and more about me.
FRANNIE: Is there one song that you think – that you would want people to start with?
LEIKELI47: It's too many.
LEIKELI47: It's too many, and then –
FRANNIE: Cause I feel like it's more an aggregate. That's who you are.
LEIKELI47: Yeah. Honestly, it's all in the music. You just gotta press play, dance, and figure it out. I feel like we're in a day where information comes at you just so much. It's just too much. And when I came out, I did not like that – I'm not even that person anyway.
FRANNIE: Wait. So when you came out, that's like '13, '14? Is that right?
LEIKELI47: I originally – I've been doing this since eight and a half. Well, all my life, but –
FRANNIE: Oh, I meant years. But sorry.
LEIKELI47: Oh. Years?
FRANNIE: But eight and a half?
LEIKELI47: Yeah, I've been doing this since a child.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, I've been doing this since a child, and I've been blessed to just stay at it. I thank God for crates. I thank God for the records. I thank God for Stevie Wonder, for Prince, for all of those guys. But that – Harold. Those are the things that I just came up around. I came up around that. I was always intrigued. I loved the magic of it. I loved it, and that was what I wanted to do. But I'm extremely shy. Like, super shy. And this mask is – it helps me to kind of be loose and –
FRANNIE: Be yourself in public.
LEIKELI47: Yeah. Talk. Cause outside of it, you see me – well, you probably won't even see me. That's how shy I am. I'm like –
FRANNIE: At home.
LEIKELI47: "Don't look at me. Don't look at me." But –
FRANNIE: I can relate.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, yeah. But now I've been doing this since I was kid. As far as when I started masking up, it was early in the 2000s I'll say.
FRANNIE: Oh wow. OK.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, very early in the 2000s. And it really wasn't that accepted.
FRANNIE: Right. I can imagine.
LEIKELI47: People didn't really get it, so there were times where I would get discouraged. I was allowing people's fears to just jump on me. So I'd rip it off, put it on, rip it off, put it on, rip it off, put it on.
And then there was a moment where I dropped a tape around '08-ish, '09-ish, something around there, and even with my music with SoundCloud, you have the ability to turn it on, turn it off, turn it on, turn it off. And that was me, because I'm just like, "I don't think" – I would just always – I would kind of doubt myself, because people didn't get what I was doing. It was like, "Oh, a girl? What does she – who wants to see that?" And no one really –
FRANNIE: People say shit in the worst way – like, the most hurtful way possible.
FRANNIE: It's like, "How do they know?"
LEIKELI47: Yup. So I had a lot of, "You'll never make it. You'll never make it. You'll never make it that way. You'll never make it."
And then I remember sitting at my friend's kitchen counter with another friend, and I played a song that I recently did, and he was just like – and I wanted to add it to the tape that was up. And he's like – and I was just like, "Yeah, I got some stuff out, but I don't think I'ma do it. I don't think people are going to like it." And he was like, "Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Nah, you gotta – put that tape out. You gotta put that tape out."
And I'm not even gon' lie, after that conversation, I never turned the off – I never shut –
FRANNIE: Pulled anything down again? Wow.
LEIKELI47: I never turned the off switch off again. And from there it just started picking up. Then I started seeing masks, and – you know?
FRANNIE: Wow. Yeah.
LEIKELI47: Then it's like, I started seeing people actually becoming anonymous artists themselves, and I'm just like, "Oh. OK." But I was still quiet. No one knew who I – It was more so the industry, the behind-the-scenes, the "if you know you know" guys. And then it just kept going. It just kept going, and now I'm sitting here talking to you.
FRANNIE: Yeah. I remember that moment. I edited a piece actually about it. Andrew Matson wrote it for NPR, and it was like, "Why is this happening?" But I think your thesis was basically that musicians are feeling very vulnerable.
FRANNIE: It was this time when streaming hadn't picked up yet –
LEIKELI47: Yeah, no.
FRANNIE: – but sales were off. And the way that crowds were interacting with the performers, with like phones and everything, that was still very raw to people.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, absolutely.
FRANNIE: To me, really interesting about it is the way it forces the listener – well, there's a lot of things that are interesting to me. But it forces the listener to consider the musician as a human being.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, and that's all I ask. And that's important. That's why – cause before, when I first started, I wouldn't sit down with anyone. I barely sit down with people now. But when I got the call from you guys, I said, "Yeah. On the plane. I'll see you."
FRANNIE: Shut the fuck up.
LEIKELI47: No, absolutely. Actually, yeah. I got on the plane for this. In the middle of working on my album. I said, "Everything stops. Let's go."
FRANNIE: I've like – I'm so honored to hear you say that. I also do want everybody to know that so did I.
LEIKELI47: Yes, yes. We both stopped everything. And that's so crazy, because we came – we probably – knowing us, we probably was on – no, we weren't, cause I would've saw you.
FRANNIE: Oh, the same flight? Yeah.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, I would've saw you. That's happened to me so many times –
LEIKELI47: – where I'm on flights with people and they have no clue it's me.
FRANNIE: Oh, yeah! Wow!
LEIKELI47: And I'm like, "Oh shoot. That's such-and-such. I just talked to him yesterday at South By." Or, "That's such-and-such. I just saw him in the studio." "It's her." Whatever. And it's just like, they have no clue.
FRANNIE: I'm constantly airport, like, head down. I don't want talk to you. I don't know.
LEIKELI47: See, I'm so glad. I don't have to do that.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, I don't have to.
FRANNIE: Yeah, you are – you figured it out.
LEIKELI47: I sure did. Early. Real early. Yeah, I'm a very private person, very shy person. I'm trying – honestly, I'm trying to get out of that shy thing. I want to know what it feels like to be that, "Heeeeey!" You know?
FRANNIE: Well, you are a performer too. On stage – you played Afropunk – was it last year or the year before?
LEIKELI47: The year before.
FRANNIE: The year before.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, I believe it's the year before.
FRANNIE: And that shit was fearless.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, you know what? I don't have – I have no explanation for that.
LEIKELI47: It's because anyone that's in my immediate circle can tell you, if – like Dre that's with me now, if he – talk to him after. He'll tell you how I am at the shows, right before my shows. Sometimes he has to just come and say, "OK. Calm down. Just calm down." Cause I get so nervous before every – I don't – and I'm just like, "When is this going to go away?" But I get these – it's these things in your stomach and your – ooh!
FRANNIE: It's, like, physical. Yeah. Can't control it really.
LEIKELI47: Yeah. But it's something about when you take that first step and they hand you that mic, and you're like, "OK. It's go time." And you just have fun. And when I look out and I see people, the people that I do it for, everything else just goes out the window. I want them to have a good time. I want them to dance, and normally there's people out there that don't know me, so I want to turn them on. I want them to leave here and say, "Who was that? And what did I just see?"
FRANNIE: That conversion has gotta be a crazy feeling of accomplishment, taking people who are standing still into people who are losing their minds.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, it's a – it is. It's definitely a great accomplishment, but it's nerve-wracking at the same time. Because you're –
FRANNIE: Of course.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, because when you're up there and you're doing your thing, you look down – and for the most part, I don't know. I'm thinking like, "Oh, they not getting with me! Oh my gosh! They don't know me. They're – agh." But that doesn't stop me, cause I still have to go one thousand. Matter of fact, I have to go over 9,000. Over 8,000 Dragon Ball Z fans. I think – what is it? Eight thousand? Nine thousand? Whatever that power is, I gotta go above and beyond.
But it's alway so beautiful when I get off the stage, and I've seen – it's that one person or that crowd, where I'm like, "They didn't know me. I wonder how they felt about it." Then you get off the stage and they tell you, and it's like, "I did not know you." I love those moments. It's like, "I came here with my friend. I didn't know who you were, but oh my gosh, I just downloaded everything during the show." And it's just like – it's the craziest thing.
And I actually see it. I'm like – cause I'm thinking like, "Oh no, they're pulling out their phones. They're bored." But nah, they're buying "Attitude" right there. They're – and then they – cause then they want to show me after the show. They're like, "Look! Look! I just bought it. You're amazing." So I appreciate that.
But that's why, as a new artist, any new artist that's listening, that's why when you get up there, just give it your all. Just go. Do not care. Do not think about what's going on out there, who likes me right now, who don't know me. Just let it go. Like, feel your beat and just have fun. Let that magic fill the air and just go.
FRANNIE: Yeah, because it is magical.
LEIKELI47: Yes. It's all about the magic.
FRANNIE: And this thing, that feeling – everybody's had it – where you're surprised by somebody, or you just – yeah, just something happens that you weren't – you didn't think was going to happen. And when you talk about the people that you're doing it for, that you're making music for, I mean, can you describe those people?
LEIKELI47: Everyone. It's the world. It's everyone. I don't – my music and this mask, that's what it represents. Me adoring this thing on my face, it's race-less. It's genderless. It's all about love. It's all about fun. It's all about the message. And that's what I represent. It's just not all about one set of people, or just women, just men, just this community, just that. No, it's the world. The world!
Everyone goes through things. Everyone has man problems, girl problems, rent problems, money problems, life problems, school problems, home problems. We all have that. And I just want to be the voice for everyone. That's my overall goal.
FRANNIE: You're a storyteller. That's how you would describe yourself.
FRANNIE: Can you just talk briefly about how that relates to Hardcover being the name of the label?
LEIKELI47: Absolutely. Yeah. Hardcover is the label that I'm signed to. It's a company owned by Harold Lilly. We are avid readers, avid storytellers, and when I tell you it's about the magic, it's about the magic. And you can not work around Harold Lilly and not fill that room with magic, and not get it. So it's not a long thing. That's the story behind Hardcover. We have a library in our studio. Harold –
FRANNIE: Really? What's in it?
LEIKELI47: Yeah. Oh my gosh. Every book you can imagine, from – sheesh. You got Malcolm Gladwell, of course. Who doesn't have his – but you have everything from Relentless. You have everything – what is that? Tim Grover?
FRANNIE: I don't know.
LEIKELI47: Oh yeah. One of the – that's a great book. Wait. Is that Tim Grover? I don't want to mix them up because there's so many, and I've read them. Yeah, we just have everything. Nikki Giovanni. Anything you want and anything you feel like reading is in our studio. I believe that when you read more, it helps you. It assists in your storytelling.
LEIKELI47: It assists in your magic.
Because again, everything that I sing or write or communicate about, I don't personally go through. I mean, I'm a musician. I'm an artist. I paint. I draw. And I have dear people around me that go through things, and that they talk to me about. And again, like I said, I do this for them. So I have to write his song. I have to write her song. I can't leave them out.
So I have things about me as well, but I like to kind of create a little gumbo with it. I piece it all together. I make it all relatable to where it's though I have something for me as well as you, and we can all share in this.
FRANNIE: OK. Yeah, yeah.
LEIKELI47: And say, "Yo, this is amazing."
FRANNIE: Are there any techniques that you use to make people's stories work together?
LEIKELI47: It's crazy. Harold and I have a pretty cool technique. I'm not a big talker. I'm always the quiet one in the studio. So when we're in the studio, of course, he has such a great personality. He's so easy to talk to. So getting people to talk is nothing. We will know your business like that. We will know your business in an instant. That's the gift, and that's the gift in Harold. He knows how to pull the right story out, not just – because we all have stories, multiple stories. It's a lot going on in our heads.
FRANNIE: It's not the story that you've been telling a lot recently. It's the one that you're thinking about.
LEIKELI47: Yeah. And he knows how to pull it right on out. And I just sit, and I'm the observer. So as he – they're getting in the, "Oh my gosh, and my life, and the" – and I'm just sitting back eating it like, "OK."
FRANNIE: Eating it. Yeah.
LEIKELI47: I'm eating it up.
FRANNIE: I like that.
LEIKELI47: And then from there, the magic happens. Normally that's how – when I'm asked to write for others, that's how it goes. Or again, if I'm just writing, if I just need to get in a space where it's time to get something – it's time to get some new conversation out there, that's how it is.
And again, that's the beauty of being the studio and being around some really good people. Great songs just stem from conversations. "Girl, let me tell you. Why did he" – you know? You get that, it's like, "Uh oh. I got something." And then you get a guy in there. "Man, I don't know I'ma do." And it's just like, "Uh oh. Got something." So yeah, it's – that's how it goes, as far as the creative process with myself or whatever.
So it's fun. I love it. I absolutely love it, because it keeps it about the people. I think today we're forgetting about the people.
FRANNIE: Do you mean – who's we? In politics or music, business?
LEIKELI47: Everything. Music, politics, everything. But I'll keep it music. We're for sure – not all of us, but a lot of us, we're getting away from the people. We owe the people more. The fan experience has changed. It's like, I don't – I just can't get with that.
FRANNIE: Well, a lot of people make music without imagining how it might be performed.
LEIKELI47. Yeah. Nah. I've been clear on my vision since I was a kid. I've been clear on the way I've wanted people to sway in the audience.
FRANNIE: Oh wow.
LEIKELI47: I've been clear on the tears I've wanted to see on what song. I've always – I've just been clear.
Because again, just even being a shy person, I just always just had an – I've always been in tune with people, just being quiet and observing them, on the bus and this. And it's just like – I can observe – even the most quietest person on the train, you could just look at them. And you just look, and from the way they nod their head, maybe the way they get off the train, you just – you can pull from that. You can get a sense of, "Damn. He gon' through something. Man, she happy as hell."
FRANNIE: Right, right.
LEIKELI47: And that's how inspiration hits me. That's how it hits me. And I use all of it. Everything around me is music. It's about the music, nothing else. That's it.
FRANNIE: Yeah, I rode the train today for the first time in a while.
LEIKELI47: Oh! OK, OK.
FRANNIE: And I was like – yeah, you can see – basically, truth is stranger than fiction.
FRANNIE: But also, just people are fascinating.
LEIKELI47: They are.
FRANNIE: And they don't even know it.
LEIKELI47: No. You can see hope in them.
LEIKELI47: You can see fear. You can see, "Dammit. I just got fired, and I'm on my way home." You see it all in people. You see it all, and it's amazing to be able to draw from that. Cause I'm clear that everybody can't do that. So I thank my higher power that that's something that's in me. And I know it's something from the higher power, because if it was up to me, I'd be a shy kid in college right now. I'd just be continuing my school, doing what I'm doing.
FRANNIE: Yo, same. If I had a million dollars, I would just go back to school.
LEIKELI47: Yeah? Man, let me tell you something – well, school is for me. I'm not going to give you – I'm not going to give you too much, but I'll just say school is for me. Go school. Yes. Am I in school? None of your business. What school I go to? I don't know. But yeah.
FRANNIE: Frannie's going to find out.
LEIKELI47: Oh, I know.
FRANNIE: But that's the thing about your songs. So after Harold told me about you, and then I checked you out, and a lot of different people wouldn't even say your name to me, but you would be on a playlist or somebody would play – I was on a work trip with somebody recently, and she just put your song on in the car, and I was like, "You know her? What?" And she was like, "Yes! Yes."
LEIKELI47: That's so crazy. I'm often – when I walk into places, I never think anybody knows me, ever. I'm always on guard like, "OK. I gotta go prove myself. I'm going to meet some people that don't know me." And then of course, I'm like, "Uh." But it's always shocking. I walk in and it's just like, "Hey, how you doing?" Or whatever. And I'm like, "Good." So initially, I'm thinking, yup, they don't know me. And then we'll be walking, walking, and then it's like, "Yeah. I love your song." And I'm like, "What song?" And then they'll just start with some –
FRANNIE: Us fans are so awkward.
LEIKELI47: You know what I like? You guys are my supporters. That's what I call it, man. I ain't got no fans, man. You support me, and I support you. That's – like, we friends. I'm not a rapper. I'm not a singer. I'm a communicator. I'm clearly here just communicating with my people. I'm here for the people, and that's it.
If anything, I'm more of a fan. I'm the fan up there. You guys are supporting me. And I love it, and I'm just so grateful for it.
FRANNIE: You're clear that not everyone can do what you do.
FRANNIE: And who do you feel responsibility to take care of in the way that you do?
LEIKELI47: Again, with this kind of gift, the responsibility, again, it's – I'm not going to change. It's strictly for you guys. It's beyond me.
FRANNIE: Why do you feel – why are you giving this to us?
LEIKELI47: Because you – it's – you deserve it. Because you deserve it. That's why. I can get in here and get on that drum set. I could play this guitar. I can go in there and record myself. I can make the beat I'm about to do. But what good is it in here? So, I'm going to make all this music. I'ma beat this drum, and I'ma wah wah wah. And then, what? After it leaves here, it goes to the people. That's why it's about you. You buy the songs. You watch the videos. You relate.
And most of the time, you can't – and I say this with love, but a lot of people watching don't have the ability to get up there and a bust a note that Beyoncé just went off on, whatever. But what she poured out through that microphone in this studio made you believe that you could. So when you're ironing your shirt, you are going to work, "Drunk in love!" You know, you're gone. You're going off.
LEIKELI47: Because you are drunk in love, and you really believe that you can hit, "Aaaaaaah." Like, you really believe you can hit that note. OK. Y'all. I really don't sound like that in real life. But I'm just saying.
So yeah, that's why it's for you guys. What good is it going to do in here? We gotta hit that stage for you. You buy our tickets. If you're not there, who's watching me?
FRANNIE: It's just – you're just so not a businessman. You know what I mean? There're just ways that people operate in the world. And some people are very individualistic, and some people just aren't.
FRANNIE: And I don't think that we talk enough about how – some of it I think is kind of your personality or whatever, but some of it really is a choice.
LEIKELI47: Yes. Absolutely.
FRANNIE: And it's not an easy choice. There are some sacrifices involved.
LEIKELI47: It's a lot of sacrifices that come with this, man.
FRANNIE: Like what?
LEIKELI47: Oh, man. I know for me, I eat, breathe, sleep this. I can't do anything outside of this. So even down to the simplest things, baby showers.
FRANNIE: What do you mean?
LEIKELI47: You can't go. Weddings. You can't go. Birthday events. You can't go. Sometimes graduations. Now this year I stopped it all. My sister graduated. I said I ain't doing nothing.
FRANNIE: Congratulations. Damn.
LEIKELI47: Yes. Go girl. And it's just like – but those are some of the personal sacrifices we make.
FRANNIE: Because you're in the studio, because you're –
LEIKELI47: All day. Yeah, you're in the studio. And when you're clear on your vision, you're not just in the studio. You're doing – you have other ideas. You have – it's so much going on in your brain, because as your recording and writing, you're also thinking about that video. Like, "Yeah, I gotta dada." And then you gotta write that treatment. Then you gotta produce it. Then you gotta direct it. Then you gotta – and I know for me, I do it all.
LEIKELI47: A lot of people don't know that, and I kind of keep that to myself, but since we're talking about –
FRANNIE: Why? Why do you keep it to yourself?
LEIKELI47: Well, it's just – cause it's just a part of the – for me, it's just a part of the job. It's what comes with it, and especially today. This ain't 2001 when you read that treatments were coming to guys, and Hype Williams was over here killing it over here, and – and he's still killing it to this day of course, but the times have changed so much.
And information done got out that we know how to do it.
FRANNIE: Right. Right!
LEIKELI47: So –
FRANNIE: Somebody told somebody.
LEIKELI47: Yeah. Ooh yeah. Somebody done let the cat out the bag, and now it's like, "You got it."
LEIKELI47: So everything is, "You got it. You got it."
And I know for me, I'm OK with that, because I love it. Like film, that's my – that's a passion of mine, being behind the scenes and producing and directing.
FRANNIE: And what's cool is your videos, there's a coherence to them. It's not like you just hired Hype and then you hired Paul Hunter. You know what I mean? You were like – it comes out of your team at the very least.
LEIKELI47: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. And I wanted to keep it that way. As far as aesthetically, I wanted to keep it that way, so you know that you're looking at a new artist, and this is what comes a new artist.
So videos are shot in my house, in the backyard, around the corner.
FRANNIE: Is that your deli?
LEIKELI47: No. That's not my deli though. That's a deli – that deli is in Crown Heights, I believe. But that's not mine. That's not my deli. See, and that's the thing. I couldn't go to my deli, cause then it's like, "I know her!" "Oh shoot. No. Shut up. Shut up."
FRANNIE: I miss delis, man.
FRANNIE: My deli guy knew everything. I always said that if I got kidnapped or murdered or anything, the first person that was going to realize it –
FRANNIE: – would be my deli guy! Like, "I haven't seen Frannie today." He knew when I was going on a date. He'd be like, "Your hair looks good," or, "Fix your hair."
LEIKELI47: Wow. Yeah.
FRANNIE: He knew when I was drinking too much. He knew everything.
LEIKELI47: Of course. Yeah, your local deli always knows. That's the truth though. You walk –
FRANNIE: That's why I really love that video, cause I was like, "That's meaningful."
FRANNIE: That space is a big deal.
LEIKELI47: And I worked with such a great crew of people on that. Honestly, those were probably some of the bigger productions. Like "Miss Me" and "O.M.C." and "2nd Fiddle," I had a hand in that, but that wasn't all me. I had – oh, man.
FRANNIE: You gotta delegate.
LEIKELI47: Oooh, we had some killers on that. They want to remain – they want to stay anonymous and all of that, and I respect it –
FRANNIE: I guess you have to.
LEIKELI47: But they – I'm talking about the greatest people, from production to the directing, everything. I co-. I was co-, but the main director, I learned so much on just those three – and we shot those videos in three days.
FRANNIE: What? All three of them?
LEIKELI47: All three. We shot "Miss Me," "2nd Fiddle," and "O.M.C." in three days.
LEIKELI47: Non-stop, early call times, just, you know – but I was glad that – when I got the schedule, I was so happy, because it's like, "OK." It teaches you. It's like, "Alright" – it was another – it was a learning experience. It teaches you how to be a professional. It teaches what to look forward to. And if you want to go big, this will be your life. Yeah, this will be your life. So it was amazing.
My guy, he would call – "OK. Approve this shot. Check this shot." And I'm behind the camera and I'm feeling all – I'm in front, then I'm coming behind. You know, we on all kinds of big big stuff. So it was amazing. It was super super dope.
And I would say, those three, like I stated earlier, doing film and being behind the scenes, production, that's my thing. So doing those three and having – being blessed to be around that type of work environment, it really was like, "Oh. I need this. I want to do this forever."
FRANNIE: What do you mean by – oh, because it was a visual media.
LEIKELI47: Yeah. No, well, OK, so why I'm grouping those three away from the other videos that I do with my partner Dana is because when I do my videos, it's just me and my partner Dana. We're one, two – we cast. We do it all. And he's well accomplished himself, so I'm learning. I get to learn hands-on from him. But when I was able – when I had the ability to do the other three, I met new people, and it was new people that I knew of, but I'm meeting. And it's just like, "Wow." And it's of course – that was on some, like –
FRANNIE: The scale.
LEIKELI47: Yeah. You're working with a whole 'nother team. You work accordingly. So it was just a beautiful thing to see – to level up and see how it – I'm like, "Oh, this is so amazing. I feel like Will Smith! Gosh, I got a trailer?" Like, my bathroom is my trailer. If we going to be real. If we going to be real.
FRANNIE: That's how you know.
LEIKELI47: Absolutely. So that was amazing, and it definitely put a little – that film bug, that, "Get your first movie, documentary. Do it, girl." So yeah.
FRANNIE: When you say – I think the words you used were "big time" kind of, when you make it big, this is what it's like, is that what you want to do?
LEIKELI47: This is my life. So it's only up and up and up and up and up.
FRANNIE: OK. Yeah.
LEIKELI47: And the further you go up, it's going to be more life lessons. There're going to be more industry lessons. There's going to be more people. There're going to be more things to learn. And again, I'm super professional with my own time, but when you're on someone else's time, it just – it keeps you even sharper. So that's what I mean by – not saying that what I do is so little, but it's me. It's me doing me.
FRANNIE: It's just one person. Yeah, I get you.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, it's me and my partner, so I'm doing it all. I would go to Target. I do my own props. I do it all. So of course, it's night and day when you're doing everything yourself, and then you get to these kind of sets, and it's just like, you see how it goes. I mean, of course, I've been around that before for other people, but to have it for myself was just like, "This is it."
FRANNIE: It's really awesome to hear you not be daunted by it, to be just be ready.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, no. It's the most humbling thing ever. Yeah, I'm ready. Absolutely. I've been ready. I've been ready since the womb. I've been ready since 8. I've been ready since yesterday, this morning, and I'm always going to be ready.
FRANNIE: I wanted to ask you about originality and creativity and how you preserve that, even in a major label system and what you're talking about moving into. There's a lot of commercial pressures and legal shit, project managers and things like that. So is that daunting to you at all or do you have –
FRANNIE: You understand how to manipulate that to your advantage.
LEIKELI47: The great part about my situation is I don't have to manipulate any of it, because they allow me to be myself.
LEIKELI47: No one is stopping me. No one says, "Don't do that. This ain't the one." There's a complete trust factor. We're partners. We're complete partners. I thank –
FRANNIE: I aspire, man. Fuck!
LEIKELI47: Yeah. But it was hard getting here though. This is a lot of years. This is a long time. This is a lot of noes. This is a lot of, "You don't fit the mold." This is a lot of, "You're too dark." This is a lot of, "Uh-uh. I ain't with that. Ain't nobody" – this is a lot of nah, nah, nah, nah. And then you – you just gotta keep pushing, keep pushing, keep pushing, and you get to that moment, and voilà! You know?
FRANNIE: So you had to prove to other people the value?
LEIKELI47: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I don't even know if it's more so – I don't know if I proved it or not. I just know that I was doing my thing. So it was just like, if you with it, you with it. If not, oh well. Because I'm gone.
And I thank RCA and Peter Edge, Keith Naftaly, just everybody over there, they got it. We're talking legendary radio. We're talking legendary A&R. And these are things, as an artist, you should notice when you're going into your label. Who is behind what? And I know who's behind what I have going on. I have real music guys and real – they were in the studios, and they were – so they know what it is to be artists. So they don't stifle me. They don't do none of that. They allow me to completely be myself, and I'm grateful for that. One trillion percent.
So I'm able to be as original as possible there. Originality just across – on the outside, when it comes down to this creative role of artists and – it gets a little wicked. It gets a little fuzzy.
FRANNIE: How do you mean?
LEIKELI47: I feel like today you have to fight so hard to be original.
FRANNIE: Is that because people have access to stuff really early? Why is that?
LEIKELI47: I'm just going to say that I feel like we're in a day where nobody knows how to truly be themselves. So they'll just –
LEIKELI47: Yeah, they'll jack. They'll take a bit here. They'll take a bit there. And then they level up off of you, and then now you the girl who done started it all, but when they post you, it's a bunch of owls in the comments, "Who? Who? Who?" And you – you laughing Frannie cause you know it's the truth. And then with somebody like myself, I just gotta keep going, keep going, keep going. So I think my originality fight, it's not within my label, not with the label heads. It's more so out here.
And I think that's also a lot of the reason why we revert back to the early days and the golden days of the '99s and the 2000s, because there was a day where everybody was original. And you knew – it was just so much diversity.
FRANNIE: Well, people would get called out for biting.
LEIKELI47: Oh yeah. Today? Nah. I'm talking about they'll go on Instagram and slam you. Like, you're the originator, Frannie. No Frannie did that first. And it's just like – it's almost like there's no more documentation.
FRANNIE: Yeah, they just erase you.
LEIKELI47: Yeah! There's no more music historians.
FRANNIE: Which is weird because all of the information is free.
LEIKELI47: Oh my gosh! It's the – exactly. And it bugs me out too cause I'm like, "How don't you guys know this?" If I could even be more transparent, I've been called the black Sia.
FRANNIE: Oh, fuck outta here. Really?
LEIKELI47: Yeah! I've been the called the black Sia. Or, "Oh yeah, that's the girl – you're like the H.E.R. girl." Things like that. And it's just like – shout out to these women, amazing women.
FRANNIE: Sure. No doubt.
LEIKELI47: But can you understand how someone like myself feels? It's like, "I've been doing" –
FRANNIE: Predating all of this.
LEIKELI47: Right. Yes!
FRANNIE: And obviously accessible to everybody saying that.
LEIKELI47: Yes! It's like, "Nah, I've been here."
Yeah, so I think – again, just going back to the whole originality thing, it's more so within us. It's within the community of artists. We gotta learn how to respect each other, and not – there's plenty of things that I've done and thought of or whatever, and I could've thought of it first a long time ago, but when you come out and when you see another sister or another brother already doing that, I'm one that's more conscious and I'm just like, "If my higher power gave me this one, he could give me another one."
FRANNIE: Right, so you just let it go.
LEIKELI47: You let that person have that. That belongs to them. I would never – and especially knowing the struggle it is in today to be original. It's crazy.
And I also want to touch on something else. That's why I also hate when people compare me to Missy Elliott.
LEIKELI47: I hate it. And I'm going to say why I hate it. I hate it because how dare you compare me to a legend? You know? Let's just start there. How dare you? This is why I preach on magic so much.
FRANNIE: Like, on her behalf, you're like, "How dare you?"
LEIKELI47: Yeah! How dare you? How dare you? And then top of that –
FRANNIE: She does not get her due.
LEIKELI47: Bruh. And then we're two totally – like, I'm me, and I want the world to understand: there's one and only one Lekeili47, the way there's only one Missy Elliott. So I'm glad I'm here today, and I got to say that.
FRANNIE: That's crazy. I don't even –
LEIKELI47: I hate it.
FRANNIE: The most similar thing – maybe the saturation of color in your videos, I can kind of see that.
LEIKELI47: That's it.
FRANNIE: But so they're just – it must just be aesthetics.
LEIKELI47: I think honestly where I see the comparison is – and this is a lot of reason why I shied away from talking about my Virginia roots early on.
FRANNIE: Oh sure.
LEIKELI47: Because everyone knows me.
FRANNIE: I was thinking that earlier.
LEIKELI47: Absolutely. So that's why I kept the focus on my Brooklyn home.
LEIKELI47: Because today people just don't know to take in the new and take it for what it is. They want to compare. They want to do this, and it's just like, you can't do that. You're talking about a woman – first of all, we don't nothing – like, musically, we're so far apart it's not even funny.
FRANNIE: I actually have tears in my eyes right now. I can't –
LEIKELI47: I'm sorry. Yeah, don't do that. Cause then you're going to make me cry.
FRANNIE: Continue. My bad.
LEIKELI47: Cause then you're comparing this woman has not only done it for herself, she's done it for others.
FRANNIE: Many! People!
LEIKELI47: It's like, I'm not there yet. And she's still doing it. So if you're listening out there, all you beautiful people, I know you love us both, but I'm going to need you to embrace that sister for who she – that's a legend. That's an icon living. It's no comparison. I don't sit in that seat. I don't want that seat. I got nothing to do with that seat. Like, nothing. I do nothing like that woman. I'm a brand new artist that just wants to be heard and seen for who she is. Let me – sometimes I feel like I just – those are the moments when I'm just like, "Ugh. What should I be" – like, "What am I doing?"
FRANNIE: Damn. Yeah.
LEIKELI47: Why am I doing this if – I love her. I love her. But it's just constant comparisons. Or, "Nah, that's the black Sia." Or, "Nah, that's the girl like H.E.R." Or, "Nah, that's the this." And it's just like, it's really hard. So for everyone that's listening when you hear new artists or when you see the Sias and the H.E.R.s and when you hear our legend, our queen Missy put things out, take that and appreciate that for where that is. Don't go comparing – don't do that. I find that to be so disrespectful to everyone involved. These are women who are phenomenal. Let them be phenomenal.
And that's why we have such a hard time living and co-existing with each other.
FRANNIE: Oh wow. Cause it puts you guys in competition.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, you're just putting everything together. And then we already know how hard it is just for us women. It can only be one. It can only be this. It can only be that. And it's just like, "Don't do" – let us live! Let everybody be free. Let everybody do they thing, and take their story for their story. Their story's not my story. I grew up totally different. The things that I went through in the industry, totally different. My lifestyle, everything, totally different.
So I just want everybody who's listening to just take that into account. You know what I mean? Cause we're human. We make this music and we create it, and I hate hearing it. I've never said it, Frannie. Because I never wanted anyone to take it the wrong way, cause you know today people take things the wrong way. So I just want to be clear that I hate it because it's not fair to her, and it's not fair to me. I can't – I can't fill them shoes! I can't do any – I'm nowhere near that.
I get it. We both – we chocolate creators from Virginia. That's it! That's it. But that's it. That's where it stops.
FRANNIE: I'm really glad that you said that, because I think people really need to hear you be vulnerable about that, how deep it cuts.
LEIKELI47: It does.
FRANNIE: Because people would think that it's like, "She should just be complimented," or whatever. And you're like, "That's not really – I understand that you're just lazily thinking right now." And I've been guilty of this in some ways, especially when I was an editor and I'd be like, "OK. You need to introduce this person to a new audience and to an audience that knows nothing. Think about a way – in the pantheon of artists that people know, can you give them a quick way in, just situate them."
And I now think that that was just wrong. And that writers, myself definitely included, should actually be thinking much more about the musician than the reader. Because the reader is going to be fine.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, they are. Life goes on for the reader.
FRANNIE: But for the musician –
LEIKELI47: Oh no. We stuck with it all. And I know for – even just being new, just being – and being around for a minute, cause let's be clear, I keep saying I'm new, but I'm not.
LEIKELI47: But I know I'm new to some people. I get it. The world don't know me yet. So that's why I keep saying I'm new. I haven't done anything. I'm new. I ain't sold a record yet. I'm new. So I get it. I know, Frannie.
FRANNIE: I'm not resisting, but –
LEIKELI47: Nah, I get – you know what I mean by it. The whole industry and everything. But me, I respect it. That's how much I love this game. I know you got to wait your turn. I know it comes or whatever. But you gotta allow us a turn. You can't – I can't get my turn if you constantly boxing me over here with this and putting me over here with that and comparing me to that. That's not fair to me.
Because again, I'm nothing like these – these are some brilliant minds. They're freaking brilliant. They're writing for like – I ain't wrote for Rihanna, ever. Sia did. Leave her alone. I ain't write for the industry. Missy did. Leave her alone. So don't – so those of you listening, I'm not the black Sia. I'm not H.E.R. twin. And I'm not Missy's doppelgänger. You know what I mean? Like, no. I have nothing –
I'm me. I'm Leikeli47, and I like to have fun. And I'm here for you.
FRANNIE: I will pretty much die to have a dinner party with you and Sia and Missy though.
LEIKELI47: That would be so cool! Can you imagine? Like, you can't see anyone.
FRANNIE: Can you imagine all the hidden microphones I would have? And everybody would be trying to –
LEIKELI47: Oh my god. I think that would be super amazing.
I think for the record, let me just go on and say, Sia is one of the most phenomenal artists of our generation. She's pretty ill. I respect what she did and her decision to turn that thing off, and say, "You know what? I don't want you to see me anymore. Listen to me." With the girl H.E.R., I think it's beautiful the way her light is completely shining. She's getting – it's her time, and I'm glad how that happened for her. And as far as Miss, come on. That's – that's my hometown hero, so I'm always gon' ride for that. But I do want you guys to respect that woman.
And again, that's where I'm coming from with it, outside of me, cause I got time. I'm here, and I'm just making my little way. But she here, been here, still doing it, and she could do it for me. So Missy if you listening, and you got some songs in the can, I'm fine. I'm OK. Come play them for me. You know what I'm saying?
But that's the industry. So let these creatives be creative, and please let me create. Let me be me. Please get to know Leikeli47. Know me. You can't get to know me comparing me. You just can't.
FRANNIE: So I want to ask you as a last question, I know that you think of your audience as everybody and super universal and everything, but as a white woman, I think it would be really important for you to say what it means for you to do what you do for black women.
LEIKELI47: Oh, man. This is – first –
FRANNIE: Cause it's my black female friends who put me on to you the most.
LEIKELI47: Yeah. First and foremost, I'm a black girl. And what I do is strictly for my black girls.
LEIKELI47: Let's just be clear. I am definitely one that wants to touch the world, but if you – yes, I'm a black girl that does it for the black girl. My conversation is black girl. My hair is black girl. The way I get up in the – you know what I mean? The things that I'm faced with, I'm faced with black girl issues, black girl problems, black problems period. So everything that I do is for my community.
Hence the titles of my debut album, Wash & Set. That's around the corner. That's something that all me and my black girlfriends do. My Dominican sisters, we do. And those – and then that place, that's – in our little safe haven, that's where we get our conversation out. That's where we have – that's where we discuss our gripes. That's where we talk about that no-good such-and-such or this girl who was talking crap about me behind me. And even into my second album, which I'm working on, it's titled Acrylic. Yeah. And we all know, for me being a black girl, when you smell acrylic, you know where you at.
And that's – that's what I – of course, it starts with my community. It can't – I'm bringing – and that's what I mean by the world. I'm bringing my world to the world. I want you to understand where it is I'm from, how I grew up in Virginia, how I grew up in Brooklyn, what happened when I lived in Jersey. These are – this is where I'm from. And that's just pretty much what it is. I'm here to bring my blackness to you.
And I love that the world celebrates when I'm on the stage and I'm performing at Pride or I'm performing at Osheaga or Afropunk. I'm so – of course, Afropunk they all gon' get it. Like, that's our black Coachella, hello. But when I'm at Osheaga, I love when I could look out and see people singing the words back. Or if I'm over here – or, like I said, at Pride, and you just hear – they talking about being ghetto in they Prada jeans and whatever. They patting they head or whatever.
Nah, but I love that. I love that people love where I'm from, and from pressing play they want to know more about where I'm from. You want to go to the map. You want to visit where I'm from. You want to know what nail – you want to know where I got my wash and set. On Broadway. I go either to East New York or Bed-Stuy.
But yeah, everything that I do is black girl first, cause that's what I am. I'm a black woman. I'm a black girl, and I can only talk about my black girl problems. I can only bring you my black girl magic. When I speak on my magic, it comes from here. It comes from these chocolate fingers, this chocolate brain.
So yeah, that's where it starts, and that's home. And sometimes I feel like because of the music and the message, half the time I ain't gotta say that, because my girls know what it is. Braids to the floor. You know? All of that. "Attitude." Like, "Attitude" was inspired solely by Issa Rae. Her mirror freestyles, "What? Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh." I had a day myself and said, "You know what? Let me bust this down like Iss."
So yeah, everything that I do, all my music, my musicality starts from black music. I'm heavily inspired by Bobby McFerrin, D'Angelo, Pharrell. Pharrell and D'Angelo are the reasons why I even produce – and Bobby McFerrin of course. And Michael Jackson, Prince, Janet. Black music is what keeps me grounded. It's my motivation. It's my pregame.
But again, I am also an artist. I am a musician. I'm an artist, and I love music all around. So it starts with Stevie, and then it go into the Beach Boys though.
FRANNIE: Right right right.
LEIKELI47: It go into Brian Wilson though. It goes into Bowie. It goes off or whatever. Yeah, I guess that's why when I'm talking and I'm speaking on music, I'm like, "Nah, everybody." But we know where it starts. It starts home. It starts home. For real. All day, every day. It starts here.
FRANNIE: Thank you so so much.
LEIKELI47: No, thank you, Frannie. I'm so happy that I got to meet you.
FRANNIE: I'm so happy. Get the fuck outta here.
LEIKELI47: Jumping on the plane was well worth it. Mr. Ali Shaheed Muhammad, I hope you hear this. You are one of my favorites. You produced one of my – first of all – Jesus. The list can go on with him, and I already think we –
FRANNIE: We can call him.
LEIKELI47: Yeah, we don't even have time, but, ah, what was his solo album with the – oh no. The – wait. I'm drawing a blank. His solo album.
FRANNIE: I don't know the name of it.
LEIKELI47: Shaheed? I know it started with his name, and then – agh! I feel so bad. No!
FRANNIE: It's OK. We can call him. Don't even worry.
LEIKELI47: But he knows what I'm saying. He's going to know what I mean. He's going to know exactly what I'm saying. Everything you have done, sir, from Tribe to Lucy Pearl to your solo stuff to D'Angelo, everything, I just want to say thank you. I didn't get to meet you, but thank you. Thank you, sir, so much.
FRANNIE: We're out.
LEIKELI47: We're outta here.