Lady Leshurr Is Proving The Crossover Success of British Grime

Her major label debut is on the way

Photo courtesy of RCA Records/Sony Music Entertainment.

If Lady Leshurr's "Queen's Speech Episode 4" sounds familiar, it's highly likely that you've heard it in a Samsung Galaxy commercial. But long before the Birmingham, England, native could be heard rapping in the background of the ad, she took her music career into her own hands, self-directing a number of music videos for her own songs, including her freestyle series, Queen's Speech. As a true testament to the power of social media for up-and-coming artists, she's caught the attention of RCA and is now signed to the label, thus further cementing the crossover of British genre grime to the United States. With her first single “Where Are You Now?” already making waves, Lady Leshurr (pronounced "Lee-shur") is remaining true to her vibrant self and continuing to avoid discussing heavy topics like drugs and violence in her songs, instead focusing on simply being real. Here, she hops on the phone to tell us about how she got her start, schools us on the similarities and differences between American rap and grime, and shares her opinions about Caribbean influences in contemporary music.

When you started the Queen’s Speech videos, did you ever imagine that they would catch the attention of a label?
No, I didn’t, really. I knew that the series was going to do something. I had taken a year off [from music] to plan this project. So, I knew within myself that if I have a plan, and I prepare what I want to do, then something’s definitely going to happen because no one’s doing this right now in music, so it’s definitely going to catch attention or support. I never thought I’d get signed from it or I never thought there’d be labels interested. You know, I never really thought that far.

RCA wasn’t the first label to reach out to you, though. What was it about them that convinced you to sign with them?
Well, I never wanted to sign a label in general. I’ve always kind of stayed away from that because no one ever gave me a reason to be with them. But, you know, I met one of the A&R’s way before Queen’s Speech really, really took off and I just liked the fact that he was very interested in signing me from the get-go, basically. And he never gave up on me. And I liked that. And I like fighters. I like people who believe in me way before everyone else jumps on the train. And I just thought he was really cool, so that’s why I signed.

It seems as though your hesitation with the other labels was the lack of creative freedom you were being offered. To what extent has that changed?
Five years ago, I [was approached by] Atlantic, and that was just based off of “Look At Me Now,” so I didn’t really have anything else to stand by. I didn’t have a machine. I’ve kind of built my machine from the ground upward now, and my machine is very powerful. I have my own YouTube. It’s got half a million followers. So now, compared to then, I didn’t have as much power. So I was still new, and they were telling me what I need do, whereas now I have the ball in my court. I’ve got creative control. They are plenty of things that can put me on a bigger platform and just add to my brand instead of take it away or try to change it. So that’s the reason why I never signed. I’m very passionate about integrity, and I knew what was right. I don’t know, I just got a feeling in my heart that it wasn’t right to sign at that time. And I’m grateful. I’m blessed. Because everything would have been different.

Yeah, you can even see it in your video for “Where Are You Now?” and how it still stays true to your style. What was the inspiration for that?
It’s directed by Carly Cussen. I think the main inspiration from that is just the old-school videos, like [those by] Missy Elliott, Eminem, Ludacris, and Busta Rhymes that had that very vibrant and colorful kind of energy. I’m basically recreating it for a younger audience. So, yeah you’ve got inspiration from that, and also just from my personality. It’s kind of bright, energetic, hype.

Speaking of Missy Elliott, I saw that Timbaland had compared you two. How did you react to that?
It was incredible because I grew up listening to him and Missy. They created their own genre in my eyes, and just to meet somebody that I grew up listening to—telling you that he could see Missy Elliott in you—that’s a compliment that is never going to be removed from my life ever. Like that’s a massive, massive compliment, from the man himself. And just the fact that he wanted to work with me before a lot of these people tried to contact me, I just respect that.

Will you and Timbaland be working on your debut album?
I’m not sure yet. I mean, we’re just going to keep recording and see what happens. But hopefully.

How has your experience of making an album been different from working on your previous projects?
I think the album is different from what people usually expect from me because I have different genres of music. I grew up on reggae, hip-hop, grime, and a few other genres of music that I don’t even know what genre they’re passing for. It sounds very fresh, new, and exciting.

We definitely see your humorous and witty side in your work. But are you bringing any serious elements to the album that we haven’t heard from you before?
Yes definitely, because I didn’t start off being this person. This is actually a person I created. There’s gonna be themes on my album like everyday life experiences, family issues, relationship situations—things that everyone can connect with.

It kind of sounds like what we see on your Snapchat. We see you being silly, but then also getting very serious and really showing us who you are. Why do you think it’s important to be transparent in this way?
I certainly believe that you have to be yourself in order to stay sane in this music industry. I think when you are told that you can’t do this and do that, you start to lose yourself. Because I’ve been in that situation, where I’ve been told not to do certain things, and I’ve had to stop doing them, but that’s the reason why I am the way I am now. You know being told that there are things I’m not supposed to do was the reason I’ve got to the place I’m at now. Only I can define my vision. I understand my supporters, and that’s why I snap whatever I want to snap. What I want people to understand is that I’m a human as much as they are. I cry the same way you cry. I hurt the same way you hurt. And I think a lot of the supporters feel more connected to me and feel more like a family because I share with them. Other artists have a whole team that you can just tell that they’re either doing it for the money or that they’re not really into speaking to their supporters, whereas I’m the opposite. I like to speak to my supporters like family. And let them know what I’m doing with my day, 24 hours a day.

Switching gears a bit, what was it like growing up in Birmingham?
I can’t really comment on that because I couldn’t really go out of the house, so I only saw my front door, the road that my house is on, and the youth group center. That’s it. I didn’t really go to any events. I wasn’t allowed to be out that late. But at the same time, the youth group center, it really helped me with what I do now. I was rapping at a young age, and learned how to mix, master, and DJ, so that really helped, and I guess that wouldn’t have really happened if I was allowed to do more stuff that I wanted to. But Birmingham is quite quiet. I don’t really know much about it. It’s nothing like London. A lot of London artists support each other more than Birmingham artists.

Maybe you being from Birmingham and blowing up will start a movement there. Obviously, Missy Elliott and Timbaland were huge influences for you, but who were some other artists that you grew up admiring?
Okay, so, I was 12 when I first discovered Eminem, and that was when I knew I wanted to be a rapper. A couple of years later, I discovered Lil’ Wayne, so they’re my main—like my main—inspirations. And Sister Nancy—just her one track “Bam Bam,” it’s a reggae track. So they’re the three main ones, really. Other than that, Missy Elliott as far as visuals and as far as how she didn’t care and had fun with it. That really inspired me. I listened to Da Brat a little bit as well, and a bit of Tupac and Biggie. But back in the day, I didn’t really have money to buy albums—only Eminem, I bought physical copy of his album. Everything else, I recorded on TV or video tape—this is how long ago it was [laughs]—on VHS. I recorded on there, and I played them over and over and over again, and that’s how I’ve learned songs.

You clearly have some American influences, but there are differences between American hip-hop and grime. How do you describe grime versus American hip-hop?
I would describe grime as a British sound. It’s a more gritty sound. It’s 140 bpm—faster than hip-hop. Even though some hip-hop songs, you can do the double tempo over it, like Desiigner’s “Panda.” A lot of trap music now is sounding a bit like grime—I think it’s the snare that they use. But I don’t think it can ever be anything like grime because we have the accent as well. I’ve heard of a lot of Americans come over here and rap over grime and they can keep the beat. It just sounds like a trap beat, but we will spit the same tempo as the beat, so we’d do 140 bpm tempo and won’t slow it down. It’s a different culture as well.

One similarity between the two genres is that we don’t really see women a lot in the foreground. How do you avoid the frustration of being seen as a “female artist” instead of simply just an artist?
I’ve always been frustrated at the fact that people always say that I’m a female rapper or “You’re good for a girl.” I do believe that the media is the main reason why people assume that there’s only one spot for a female. I always see certain things online that don’t need to be said, but the media is posting it. And it just seems like you can’t support two female rappers at the same time. It also does frustrate me when people do go on my music videos, and the first thing they’re looking at is what I look like, if I’m pretty. Whatever they think I am, they’ve always got to say that in the comments. And that’s the main reason why I’ve done my creative vision the way I’ve done it. So I’m not showing too much flesh, 'cause I don’t want people to just watch me because I’ve got my breasts out or I’ve got my bum out or stuff like that. I want there to be a balance. I want people to listen to what I’m actually saying.

Another thing, too, that remains constant in your music is that there’s no cursing, no drugs, and no violence. Why do you avoid touching on those things in your music?
It’s not for me. I didn’t personally do it on purpose. I’ve always grew up just not talking about those things in my music and not using profanity or anything like that because that’s just not the lifestyle I live. I believe that if you are yourself, people will believe you. But if you talk about things you don’t know about, one day someone is going to pull up on you, with the things that you’re talking about, and you won’t have a response. So you might as well be yourself, and tell the truth and inspire. I also wanted to just touch on the fact that a lot of people say that music videos, or artists, or video games can persuade a person to become violent and stuff like that. I don’t necessarily think that’s true because I grew up on rappers like Eminem. He swore every three syllables, and it never persuaded me to swear. I just think it’s about your mentality and how you were brought up. I was brought up really well.

Let’s get into some trivia. What’s your favorite food?
Salmon. 

Your internet obsession?
Snapchat. I love Snapchat so much.

You’re good at it too! What’s the last song you listened to?
Tory Lanez’s “Controlla.” He killed that.

That reminds me of the Snapchat video you posted, where you talked about Tyga’s “1 of 1” sounding like Drake’s “Controlla.”
You know, so many people have sent me hate mail because of that. But the reality is, I’m just saying what people think, and as an artist, it’s really hard to say things without people putting weight on it. I saw the video, and I thought like, a lot of the rappers now are trying to take [Caribbean culture] as their own. I’m going to talk about it because I’m actually about my culture.

Your parents are from St. Kitts, right?
Yeah. Don’t get me wrong. I really like “Controlla.” I don’t think “Controlla” was even the issue. I think it’s people after “Controlla” now. There was Rihanna’s “Work,” but before that, nobody was really doing that type of music. Rihanna did it from day one with “Pon De Replay,” and she’s from Barbados so she’s got it in her blood. But then there are people who are just like, “Oh, it’s hot for the moment, so let’s do that kind of thing.” I can tell who’s really about that life and who’s doing it because they know it’s hot for the moment. I think the only thing that people should do to kind of really take that sound and put it on the next platform is start bringing in the people that created the sound. I think it might have offended [Caribbean artists] a little bit as well.

Absolutely. Okay, back to the fun stuff. What’s your favorite book?
The Secret. Though I haven’t read a book since Goosebumps, and that was, like, how long ago? But when I first read The Secret, I just started to try to put it into practice. I’ve always tried to be positive. Little things used to get me down but then I read The Secret. It’s all about laws of attraction and trying to bring positive energy. I’m always trying to stay in that zone because once I come out of that zone, I’ve noticed a lot of negative things happen if I keep being negative. So, I’ve always gone back to that book.

I’m curious about this lyric of yours: “Woke up to reality, only to chase my dream.” Why do you tweet it every morning?
I’ve been saying it ever since, probably 2009. I’m always going to post it, even if I’m Jay Z[-level] successful, I’m always going to post it because there’s no limit on success. I’m always going to be chasing my dream, chasing the next piece of success. And it also inspires people, because I see people retweet it and I’ve got a few people who have got it tattooed on their body. It’s amazing. It speaks volumes. It speaks more volumes than just posting it every morning. It’s something that I live by. I’ve been chasing my dream for over 10 years now. And every day I wake up and it’s music. So it does speak a lot to me.

What are the dreams that you’re chasing?
I’ve always wanted to do my own album, and I’m [working on] that now. That is going to be amazing. I’ve always wanted to have my own tour, and I’m going to be on my third one. But my first one was last year, so all of this has happened in a year. I’ve always wanted my own trainer line, my own weave line because I always wear a weave and I always wear trainers. I’ve always wanted to get my mom her own place. She’s going to be having her own place now, so it’s just little things that mean things to me, basically.