The following feature appears in the May 2017 issue of NYLON.
Leaf wakes up at five o’clock every morning, meditates twice a day, and, on the sunny Sunday we meet at a vegan restaurant in West Hollywood, politely declines to order from the menu because she’s in the middle of a juice cleanse. It’s not the lifestyle you might expect from an up-and-coming rapper, singer, and producer, one whose recent single “Nada” features Lil Yachty and whose debut album, Trinity, is due out on Fool’s Gold/RPM MSC on August 18. However, this 22-year-old isn’t one to follow convention. For starters, her rapping evolved from poetry, which she began writing at the age of eight and was mostly about “nature and love,” she says. “I was like, ‘I’m just gonna take my poems and I’m gonna learn how to flow.’” She uploaded her first song to YouTube at age 17. Shortly after, she caught the attention of Chromeo’s Dave 1, who bent the ear of Fool’s Gold founder (and his younger brother) A-Trak, who then signed her to his label. Now her songs—which are characterized by dark skittering beats, danceable bass lines, and sublime vocals, as demonstrated on her debut EP, 2015’s Magnet Bitch—are about everything from sex and money to turning up with your girls and calling out fuckbois. And they’re all infused with her staunch feminist ideology. It’s one of the reasons she got in the game in the first place. “Hip-hop and rap have always been something I’ve loved, and I just knew that I had to do it because I felt like there wasn’t enough female rappers,” she says. “That was a voice that I wanted to create for myself.”
In fact, Leaf (whose given name is Mikala Leaf McLean) is sort of like the contemporary Oprah of rap, encouraging and uplifting by repping intersectionality, lauding owning your sexuality, and considering the self-esteem of girls to be her number-one priority. In addition to her music, Leaf created the Magnet Bitch Movement, a lifestyle brand, newly launched music label (which will release a female-fronted mixtape in June), and, more importantly, a collective of feminists who encourage others to rebuff haters and “magnetize what they want into their lives” by visualizing their biggest dreams until they achieve them, she explains. Using the word “bitch” to describe it is no accident, either. “Words only hurt if you give them power,” she says. “That’s what I want girls to know. I want them to take their power back, and I want them to scream at the top of their lungs because they love themselves so much.”