Leikeli47 has been an up-and-coming rapper and beatmaker since self-producing her debut mixtape in 2012, and that career status suits her just fine. For now, anyway.
“I have a lot of work to do before The Big Break comes.” says the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist, who headlines Subterranean on Mar. 22 (and whose name is pronounced “L’kaylee forty-seven”). She does allow, understatedly, that “I’ve had some interesting moments” along the way.
How “interesting”? For starters, there was her co-sign from Jay-Z: the megawatt hip-hop icon led off his 2015 streamed playlist of favorite rap cuts with – and named the whole compilation after – a 2014 track by Leikeli47. She’s opened for dance-music superstars Skrillex and Diplo at Madison Square Garden; her music’s enjoyed prominent placement on the soundtracks of hit cable-TV series (HBO’s “Insecure” and Freeform’s “Grown-ish,” a spinoff of ABC sitcom “Black-ish”). And among her numerous featured guest-rap appearances was her 2016 collaboration with formidable Russian feminist-protest-punk band Pussy Riot, on their celebratory single “Straight Outta Vagina” (which informs the man in the White House that that’s precisely where he, in fact, came from).
When: 7 p.m. Mar. 22
Where::Subterranean, 2011 W. North
Tickets: Sold out
“I thought that was genius of her,” said Leikeli47 of group frontwoman Nadya Tolokonnikova. “Very bold, and the timing was super-dope, with Hillary in the election and everything.”
Over the entire span of her personal recording journey, from concocting mixtapes in Brooklyn’s Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood to crafting major-label projects for Hardcover/RCA Records, Leikeli47 has focused on working diligently, keeping her head level and her eyes forward while accruing ever more accolades and accomplishments. “That’s the reason why I always encourage people to, like, work like a maniac,” Leikeli47 stated in an early-March phone call.
“It’s pretty cool to see the work lead you to these opportunities.”
The rapper then noted a brand-new opportunity that had just presented itself to her: she’ll be performing Apr. 27 in Virginia Beach, Va. at Pharrell Williams’ inaugural, three-day Something in the Water festival – among a glittery array of headliners from hip-hop powerhouses Migos, Missy Elliott and Pusha T to multi-hyphenate sparkplug Janelle Monáe to durable rockers Dave Matthews Band – many of whom hail from the Old Dominion state.
They include LK47 herself, who indicated that she’d spent a good portion of her formative years in Virginia – and elsewhere, apparently – before settling in Brooklyn. “I moved around a bit, yes, and that’s how it is, y’know – kids are moved around a bit,” she said, a bit cryptically.
The rapper really prefers not to divulge any personal details at all, though she did acknowledge having familial roots in Trinidad. “I’m part Caribbean; I have that in my blood,” said Leikeli47. “Sometimes I’m hesitant [to reveal it], ’cause I’m so private, and I forget that I don’t let too much out. But then, it is part of my culture; it’s in my music.”
Patois-laced lyrics in her banging single and video “Tic Boom,” for instance (which had its premiere on an episode of “Grown-ish”), are lilting evidence of Leikeli47’s island ties. As she put it, “The West Indian in me comes out sometimes.”
“Tic Boom” is one of many standout tracks on LK47’s most recent album, “Acrylic,” namesake of her current tour, and second in a beauty-themed trilogy that began with 2017’s “Wash & Set.” And the artist pronounced herself “almost done” with her troika’s third and final offering, “Shape Up,” explaining, “I’m dissecting and building and dissecting and building, making sure the story’s still intact and righteous from once-upon-a-time to the end.”
Leikeli47’s overarching thesis for the “Beauty Trilogy” is that self-care can be deeply empowering, and that the commercial establishments offering self-care services ultimately function as refuges. A beauty salon, according to the artist, is “a safe haven in all communities, especially the black community.
“And what’s so cool about our safe havens is that we all may be going through things, but we walk out of them refreshed. Just because we have clean strands of hair or well-manicured nails, we’ve got a new outlook on life.”
“I believe in Leikeli47 because she believes in herself,” said her frequent collaborator Harold Lilly, CEO of Hardcover/RCA Records, addressing why this new RCA imprint had chosen her as its first signing. “That is her superpower.”
LK47 certainly looks the part of a superhero, sporting her ever-present mask – be it ski mask, bandana or neoprene. Her long-held rationale for her own facial concealment is that it shifts all the focus squarely to her music. As for her fellow artists who perform incognito – veteran metal-faced rapper and producer MF Doom, robot-visaged electronic duo Daft Punk and, of course, the estimable Pussy Riot? “They have their own reasons,” Leikeli47 said. “And I love being part of this little village, living in this anonymous, mysterious space.”
Moira McCormick is a local freelance writer.