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Tuesday night served up a whole plate of redemption after a particularly taxing day at work, through the discovery of Le1f’s latest EP. Hey, released under Terrible Records, went live yesterday and guarantees a musical experience of bursting vibes and clever, pioneering rap like no other.
Following on from previous mixtape releases, Hey brings together Le1f’s distinctive and playful take on the rap scene in a short 5 song EP. Whilst lasting just over 15 minutes all in all, you are not left disappointed by the New York rapper, as his queer-crafted lyrics and fierce yet downplayed vocals leave you grinding in your seat.
Away from the music, the curse of Le1f means that reviews of Hey will pretty much all unilaterally mention his sexuality within the opening paragraph. It’s a potentially belittling association that risks reducing the ingenuity and fresh beats of the EP, but is an almost unavoidable point of note given Le1f’s groundbreaking, queer-friendly presence on the rap scene and his messing with gender ideals in his work. “I’m a pretty nigga, I’m a sphinx, I’m a forest nymph, I’m a water sprite.”
His cult video to ‘Wut’ is an epitome of self-expression and a fuck-you-im-just-going-to-dance attitude in contrast to the usual macho rap fare. I love it.
To label and restrict Le1f as “a gay rapper”, however, is destructive. Le1f is not a paragon, he is not a political figure. He’s a fresh and unrepentant voice on the rap scene with a killer pair of legs.
His astute lyrics play with this automatic connection, and borderline fixation, that his style is met with through the resounding line “Ask a gay question? Here’s a black answer” in ‘Hey’. Sexuality is not the defining feature of Le1f, it is not the key to Hey, and it is not his inspiration. Le1f’s queer outlook just makes the music that bit more resonant, glam, and necessary. It also allows for moments like this:
And yet, despite the fierce stylings, Le1f is aware of the state of play. His lyrics both set him apart from any illusion of being a gay rap messiah, yet situate himself within a musical legacy rife with homophobia arguably in need of one. To the unmistakable sound of a reggae klaxon, ‘Boom’ sees Le1f rap the island chant “How many batty boys can you fit in a jeep? How many batty boys can you fit in a jeep?”. It’s a historical precedent and current reality that still fuels a number of artists and their fanbases, with figures such as Sizzla showing an unrepentant adoption of homophobia in their music.
Le1f’s lyrics on Hey note the problem, but do not seek to provide any easy answers or anything that could be adopted for political means. The music and queer outlook speaks for itself, promising to put an alternative take on the genre firmly within the popular consciousness and normalise it as an accepted and skilful addition to the scene.
All said, these arguments of reinvention and subversion of rap machismo are a distraction from Hey itself. The haunting opening of ‘Hey’ with its addictive clap-beat, the synths on ‘Buzz’, the boom of ‘Boom’ and the surprising, yet striking inclusion of 2012’s ‘Wut’, make for an incredible journey . While ‘Sup’ fails to inspire in comparison, it shows a hint of a potential tangent as Le1f’s vocals are put over a more traditional hip-hop beat, one that has more than a few shades of 2pac underpinning it. Hey proves that Le1f can take inspiration from the cornerstones of his predecessors and set about rebuilding the whole damn castle.
The EP is a welcome and bouncing addition to Le1f’s catalogue and really shows him to be an accomplished rapper who can craft beats that will get you moving wherever you are. Buy it now and your day will undoubtedly get better. Wut.