Meet Leaf, Your New Favorite Rapper And Feminist Icon

"Every time I don’t fit in, I feel like I am doing something right"

Photo by Kaspar Haycock

It's hard to put a label on Leaf, New York's latest rap prodigy and producer, but that's exactly how she likes it. The 21-year-old says she's sick of being categorized, whether through comparisons to other artists or being called a "Female Rapper," as if she were an exotic species of some sort. 

Really, Leaf belongs to a genre all of her own, and it only takes a listen to understand why. The artist is becoming known for feminism-charged tracks that are as empowering as they are catchy, from the motivating "MONEY" to her recent Lil Yachty collab and DGAF anthem, "Nada." But Leaf doesn't stop there. The Brooklyn, New York, native also runs her own fashion label and all-female creative collective, MBM (which stands for "Magnetic Bitch Movement" and "Money Before Men," if you were wondering).

If that's not enough to get you hooked on all things Leaf, read on. The burgeoning star stopped by NYLON recently to talk phobias, Lil Wayne concerts, feeling like an outcast, and her upcoming album Trinity, which comes out this fall.

What's your earliest memory of music?
I used to write songs in my diary when I was, like, six, and I would sing Britney Spears songs and freak out in the mirror with brushes. I think we all did that. I was obsessed with the Spice Girls [movie]; I would rewatch it and rewatch it. I was so obsessed that I got one of those sequin tops that they would wear, and I would wear those all the time.

How has growing up in New York influenced you as an artist?
I think it gave me the platform to be whoever I wanted to be. And at the same time, it gave me hustle and perseverance. I feel like growing up in New York, even though being a weirdo is highly accepted, I still felt like an outcast. It gave me a lot of backbone as an artist.

What was it that made you feel like an outcast?
People never really understood me style-wise, because I was always the girl who didn’t dress like anybody else. And there were people who didn’t understand me music-wise because I’ve always made kind of alternative music. I sang opera, and I’ve been in a punk band. In high school, I didn’t have a lot of friends, and there were so many weird cliques in my school that I didn’t fit into. It’s difficult growing up, as a female, and I think just as a person in general.

How do you feel now?
Growing up, I just always felt like, “Shit, I’ll never be anything. I’m a fucking loser. No one gets me, no one understands me.” I gained friends, then I lost friends, then I realized that I’m not supposed to fit into one crowd. I’m not supposed to be comfortable because then I wouldn’t be able to make the art that I make. I think that’s a lot of artists, and a lot of powerful women, too.

Even throughout that period of feeling like an outcast, did you always know you wanted to be in music?
Yeah, definitely. My entire life. When I was 13, I put together a whole show at a venue for all these local bands that I knew. I’ve been throwing events since I was really young, and I didn’t even realize back then that I was really young doing this. I started throwing teen parties at 12. It never clicked with me until I turned 18 that most kids aren’t doing that. I was always a hustler, from the age of, like, nine, I would gather up all my clothes and sell them on the street.

How did you get from there to here?
I started putting my music on MySpace at 12 years old. Then, MySpace got lame, so I went to Facebook [laughs].

Hold on, I have to ask you this one question here. What was your MySpace page song?
It would have had to be Lil Wayne. I was obsessed with No Ceilings and all that shit. I was so obsessed with Lil Wayne, I had a poster of him in my bedroom and I would kiss it every night. [Laughs] I had never seen Lil Wayne live, and then I went to a Nicki Minaj concert four or five years ago, and I didn’t know [Lil Wayne] was coming onstage. As soon as he came onstage, I just started crying. It’s so embarrassing. Honestly, he’s one of the reasons I started rapping—him, Nicki [Minaj], Azealia Banks.

So back to your story.
I was Facebook famous because I was the girl who was always throwing the dope parties on Facebook. After that, my music started picking up a little bit. I started getting, like, 75,000 plays on YouTube. A year later or two years later, that’s when Fool’s Gold found me. That’s where it all started. It’s not finished yet, though.