"I cannot get on a stage and halfway do anything,” Leikeli47 says to Phoenix New Times. “I don’t know any other way than all out.”
Leikeli is talking about the tour in support of Acrylic, the second album in a trilogy of releases surrounding the theme of beauty. After a return trip to SXSW, she began a four-week venture across the United States, bound for the West Coast. This string of dates follows a collection of high-profile performances in 2018, including a spot at Boston Calling introduced by Natalie Portman. But the Brooklyn rapper makes it clear that the fanfare is the furthest thing from her mind when she is on stage.
“I can never do that,” she continues. “I have to give my all at every single last show. It speaks to the performer in me. My soundchecks are lit.”
In movie trilogies, first entries tend to focus on exposition and setting events in motion, while sequels go more personal, revealing key backstory that leads to deep levels of connection with our heroine. These truths ring loud and clear with Leikeli’s sequel to Wash & Set.
“It’s a revealing moment,” Leikeli47 says. “I was a lot more honest and a lot more open, speaking on the places I’ve grown up — different aspects of black culture, period. With Wash & Set, I spoke to not looking like the things you are going through. But on Acrylic, I wanted to highlight the things I come from.”
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After welcoming the listener to a walk-in appointment on the intro, Acrylic’s title track hits you in all your senses. “Walk in and smell the acrylic,” she repeats on the chorus, before detailing a familiar police run-in on the verse. “I’m not the criminal, you and I know,” she raps. “It’s no coincidence how you come show up in my hood, up to no good.”
Acrylic is painted with these types of vignettes — daily experiences that shape a person, harden their outlook, and make them who they are. “I want it to color and paint different,” Leikeli47 says. “I wanted to do this juxtaposition, where Acrylic is the ghetto. It’s Brooklyn ... East Virginia. I wanted to take this dark place and shine the light on it.”
Leikeli47’s faithfulness to her roots and to herself has made her vision attractive to both listeners and licensers. Most notably, she has been featured on all three seasons of Issa Rae’s critically acclaimed HBO comedy Insecure.
“It’s funny that a lot of people discover me through film, because film is another love of mine,” Leikeli47 says. “It’s cool, because they all play hand in hand. To be honest, how else would anyone know about us if not for these different platforms? I welcome it, I enjoy it.”
Leikeli47 takes a similarly multifaceted approach to her live performances, known far and wide for their energy and unparalleled execution. “It’s all vision,” Leikeli47 details. “I have dances [where] we act it out — one of my dancers actually acts as [a] caller and requests that new Leikeli47 ‘Wash & Set.’ It comes for me first in the booth. The lines for me across entertainment is blurred, because for me, they go hand in hand. It’s about getting into that character. [Performing] comes easy because we’ve already done the work. We already know the emotion. Then, it’s just super-fun.”
Halfway through Acrylic, Leikeli gives us an incredible social media psychoanalysis in the form of “Post That.” Here, nodding to the portraiture excellence of pioneers like Annie Leibovitz and Bill Cunningham, Leikeli47 gives us a tour through the uncanny valley of online beauty and lavishness at breakneck speed.
“For me, I have to give my authentic self,” Leikeli47 says. “Social media today doesn’t allow a lot of people grow up honestly because they look to social media to define who they are. I’m grateful that I’m conscious and aware of myself and my surroundings. And I’ve always wanted to get out and explore and be quirky and be weird and be whatever … That’s what I want people to take from whatever I post. It’s a very scary world, but you can inspire people to be their shameless self.”
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What’s next for Leikeli47? “It’s time for me to walk on the moon,” she says. “It’s time for me to be placing some steps up there. To put those big thoughts and big ideas as an artist, to put those ideas out into the universe and attack them straight ahead.”
Already two steps ahead, Leikeli focuses on continuing the endless grind of excellence and personal exegesis. For her, there’s no finish line — just another level to break through on her way down the road.
“Some people just jump into this thing to just play with people, but that’s not me,” Leikeli47 says. “I want to shift and shake the culture. You can color this game in your way. Just as long as you are doing it with love. Keep your intentions pure and level up. That’s what I’m about.”