It’s Coi Leray’s World, Get Used to It
I’m nervous before I speak to Coi Leray, paranoid I won’t be “cool” enough, ask the right questions, or make her feel comfortable. But I’m at ease almost instantly when she comes on camera, present and warm, giving of her energy as she sits in a makeup chair getting a beat down before shooting a cover. We’re speaking ahead of the June 23rd release of her sophomore album, Coi. A self-titled album is decidedly declarative, an implicit announcement to the world of who an artist is and what matters to them now. The now part is critical; Coi Leray is open to evolution, careful to accept herself for who she is at a given moment personally, musically, and stylistically—see her shift from the iconic “Coi Leray braids” to an elevated, high-fashion aesthetic co-signed by brands like Saint Laurent, whose Summer 2023 collection—inspired by the delicate sheaths worn by performers in choreographer Martha Graham’s 1930 show Lamentation—the rapper sports here, along with the brand’s new Jamie 4.3 Chain bag.
It’s powerful to define oneself on one’s own terms, especially as a Black woman, and especially for Coi Leray, who is often at the receiving end of a lot of criticism, with haters taking digs at her for “looking like a kid” and mocking her slim figure. But it’s “Coi’s world,” as she explains to me. “You can’t please everybody, you know what I mean?” It’s a message I let linger after speaking to her, and something worth holding from a 26-year-old hitmaker who has already charted five songs in the Billboard 100 and gone certified platinum just five years since dropping her first mixtape Everythingcoz on SoundCloud. Weeks before her new album drops, she and I got on Zoom to discuss her love of the wilderness, her early brushes with trap music, and whether or not she’s really a player.
GLYNN POGUE: Hi.
COI LERAY: Hi!
POGUE: Oh my god, you look gorge. I just took my braids out, so I’m looking crazy.
LERAY: No, babe. Your glasses, it’s sickening.
POGUE: Thank you, girl. How are you feeling today?
LERAY: I feel good. God woke me up this morning, I’m here about to shoot a cover. So a couple blessings right there.
POGUE: And you just celebrated a birthday. Happy belated!
LERAY: Thank you. Yes, my 26th, Big Taurus.
POGUE: I was going to ask you about that. They say Taureans love luxury, indulgence. Do you subscribe to that? Are you into the soft life?
LERAY: What’s the soft life? I’m into the wilderness. I’m like Tarzana.
POGUE: So you find peace in the outdoors?
LERAY: Yeah, I like to do things. I like to go fishing. I like to swim. I like to go camping. I like to cook outside, inside. I love animals. I love food and fruits and natural things, so herbs and anything that’s from farms. I’m very adventurous. I love outdoor stuff, all the stuff that I really can’t buy, but that you can go get right in the world of nature.
POGUE: I love that. So your sophomore album Coi is coming out on June 23rd. Why a self-titled album?
LERAY: Because I feel like this time around as I record, obviously, I record through and write through experience. Trendsetter, my first debut album, you’ll notice there’s a lot of pain. I went through a lot. It was a big Coi hate train at one point, and it was just so much that I went through, outside of music and in music, and you can really hear the pain in my last album versus this album. [Now] it’s giving, “fuck everything.” It’s all about me and my happiness and my story because I’ve been recording and it’s been great times, great vibes. I’ve been top 10 UK, top 10 global, just that right there alone proved to myself and the world I always just level up the best way. It’s showing you, “Bitch I’m here to stay.” I’m showing you why I leveled up and I’m also getting vulnerable and I’m telling my story and just showing you Coi.
POGUE: Heard you. I went back and I was revisiting “No More Parties” and I was like, “Wow, there’s a lot of pain in that song.” And in it, you’re saying that you’re searching for peace and for people around you to really hold you down, to support you, to advocate for you. Do you feel like you found that?
LERAY: Yeah. I mean, I feel like no, yet at the same time, I always have my team and I have the people that genuinely, truly care about me. You can’t please everybody, you know what I mean? And at that time, sometimes it feels like it’s me against the world, but you’ve got to remind yourself “it’s my world,” it’s Coi’s world.
POGUE: I love that message, that’s something I need to hold onto. There’s a song you did with Metro Boomin for the new Spider Man called “Self Love,” right? How do you define that, self-love?
LERAY: When it comes to self-love, it’s just really just accepting who you are. I don’t want to change nothing about my body, for example. A lot of people call me skeleton, skinny, little roach, little ant, or whatever the fuck they can call it. Yeah, I’m thin, but when I put on these looks, when I go into Saint Laurent I’m like, “You know what? [this is a look].” I don’t want to wear high waist pants because I might not have hips, but I’m going to wear low-waist pants because these shits look good and they compliment the hell out of my curves,” and I wouldn’t want to know another way. So I always just find what works for me without having to change anything. You know what I mean? You don’t have to put the clothes on, you don’t have to sing the songs, you don’t have to listen to them, you don’t have to support me, you don’t have to follow me. Everybody has a choice. This is America, right? At the end of the day, it ain’t going to make or break me because I’m that girl and I’m always going to be that.
POGUE: Period. So, if there is hate online, how do you deal with it? Do you block people? Do you just choose not to engage? How do you keep your sanity?
LERAY: Yeah, I block people. People get blocked every day, definitely. I don’t even got time. As I get older and develop into a young woman, you realize no response is a response sometimes. I find myself getting into whole debates when I respond. I could sit here and argue all day just as much as they can, but at the end of the day, for what? It doesn’t really lead to nothing. And nine times out of 10 it knocks my energy off. So why pay attention to it? There’s so much love and positivity that overshadows all the negativity.
POGUE: Absolutely. And speaking of positivity, specifically body positivity, I love the new song “My Body.”
LERAY: Thank you.
POGUE: It’s sickening. Tell me more about the inspiration behind it.
LERAY: Bless you. I was just in the studio and we’re just always creating. And of course, I wasn’t thinking about, “Oh it’s my body…” I’m like, “Had to dub him once, had to dub him twice, even dubbed his friend,” you know what I mean? “Got ’em all hooked like it’s time to go fishing.” It’s just really on my player shit. But of course, me being one of the girls that went through a lot when it comes to body shaming, it has a double meaning for sure. But it’s definitely, fuck nigga free, you know what I mean? Like Glorilla. It’s on some singy melodic shit, like fuck these niggas.
POGUE: So do you have a rotation? Are you really a player?
LERAY: I had player ways, you know what I mean? I feel like everybody has and had player ways. As you get older you just, “I want to have kids one day and I want to get married one day and I want to be a wife.”
POGUE: What does it take for someone who wants to date you to get your attention?
LERAY: I really pay attention to the way people carry themselves. If a guy carries himself like a player, like a boss, just smooth, I like that. I like a guy who’s just really confident, real masculine energy, but also fun and outgoing. I hate boring guys. If you’re not trying to go outside and camp with me, you’re a dub. I can’t get jiggy with that shit.
POGUE: It’s you and the camping, I never would’ve seen that.
LERAY: I like to get my hands dirty.
POGUE: But at the same time, you’re super glamorous. I’ve been loving this style evolution that I’m seeing.
LERAY: Thank you. You want to know what it is? When I first came in, I was 20-years-old. My first Instagram I ever made for Coi Leray was October, 2017. And when I came out I had my natural hair. I didn’t wear makeup, I just had braids. And I just didn’t really care. It was just all about the music. It’s always been about the music. I was still cute and I still had sex appeal, always, but it was a lot more masculine then. I grew up with all boys. So I guess it started when I got the budget for a makeup artist and I got budgets for nice clothes and shit or whatever. I’m like, “Yo, this shit is amazing.” And as you get older, when you put that wig on, you feel fucking beautiful. You put on that long hair. I love my braids, but when I take the braids down and I straighten out my hair, I’m like, “Oh my God, I feel like a woman,” you know what I mean? And that’s a different feeling, because, people always try to make it seem like I look young. But don’t try to play me. I’m 26. They always be like, “What? I thought she was 16.”
POGUE: I don’t think people know what age looks like.
LERAY: They don’t. Nobody knows what age looks like. But I feel like life is better that way. If you don’t know what age looks like, that means that you’re open to people just being who they are.
POGUE: I just have to mention your braids. I was telling my hairstylist that I was going to speak to you and she’s like, “you got to ask her about how she made the box braids with the curls on the ends. She had the girls in a chokehold.” You set that trend for everybody.
LERAY: The Coi Leray braids are so specific. I wanted them this way. My mom always had short hair, I always felt like the shoulder-length just always fits my face frame.
POGUE: What’s the process of creating an iconic look? Are you pulling pieces?
LERAY: So first of all, I am a hundred percent the creator when it comes to just how I want to look now. I’m very specific and I’m a very detailed person, so I’m like, “Yo, I want to have my ass out. I want to wear jeans, I want sparkles. I want to have a bandana on.” I’ll go all the way and tell them what I want. We’ve been going so crazy in the fashion industry, from just Saint Laurent, custom Kenzo for Something In The Water, and even the Fendi campaign, my first campaign. So I admire the fashion industry and I just can’t wait to become that fashion girl. And Lil’ Kim is one of the inspirations for that because she was one of those girls in hip-hop that was in that Chanel with Karl Lagerfeld, doing all that, pushing those boundaries. And Missy Elliot as well.
POGUE: There’s that natural intersection between hip-hop and high fashion, right? Especially for black folks, we have always been tapped into that.
LERAY: Yes. We are the blueprint. You want to know what I love about the fashion industry? That there’s a lot of people in the fashion industry that know that, and admire all ethnicities, all races. They’re like, “Yo, that’s the culture,” you know what I mean? A lot of fashion stems from the culture and I admire that.
POGUE: Absolutely. Let’s go back to music. You have a song called “Bops.” I’m curious, what do you think are the essential elements of a bop?
LERAY: Hmm. I just got into the studio and everything’s organic. But I could tell you, as I’ve grown as an artist and I’ve been locked in, and as I’ve been working with a lot of amazing people, I’ve learned a structure that a lot of artists don’t know. And when it comes to longevity and timeless music, you’ve got to really focus on that pre, that post, that bridge, that chorus, the verses, the moments, the chants, and then it has to come from the heart. I feel like hits have to come from the heart, bops have to come from the heart. When I wrote “No More Parties” and “TWINNEM” and “BIG PURR (Prrdd)” I did what I wanted to do from the heart and whatever I was going through that day and I just put that shit on the mic so I wouldn’t overthink it.
POGUE: And what about all these amazing samples you’ve been getting recently?
LERAY: It’s a blessing to be able to work with some amazing producers. And producers, they create, they’re also artists and when they’re making these beats and they hear certain things, they’ll play it. The samples will be on the beats. You know what I mean? The sample is now a part of the beat, basically, and it also helps make the song. And that’s why producers are very important. Also, songwriters as well. And shout out Johnny Goldstein and Uptown Records or Public Records. When it comes to the music, there’s nobody better than me in the studio, I’m telling you. I recorded my whole album. I got it all on film. So they’ll see, they’re going to see I’m a fucking beast.
POGUE: Do you do really late nights in the studio? When’s your favorite time to record?
LERAY: Yeah, I used to be in the studio ’til three o’clock, four o’clock in the morning. But now it’s a thing where I go in early and I leave a little later. ‘Cause I’m on the road and I’m constantly busy, so I’ve got to just maintain my health and make sure I’m getting my rest. So instead of doing an eight to three o’clock in the morning, I’ll go in there from three to 11, three to 10.
POGUE: There’s that allure of being in the studio ’til the sun rises and I’m like, “Y’all got to be tired.” It seems like you like to experiment with genre, like you have a dance track with David Guetta on the album.
LERAY: When I first signed my deal, the first song I shot was called “Big Bank Roll.” I have a full lot, a band in the video. I’m in a garage and I’m like on some rock shit. And also, Disney Channel had the hits, you know what I mean? Like Hannah Montana and all that and Nickelodeon and all them intros. Those was pop intros, people got to understand. And I’ve always been a fan of music. And also, I’m a trapaholic. Growing up my favorite rapper was Jadakiss. J. Cole was my Jadakiss back when I was a kid. And Lil’ Wayne from No Ceilings. And then eventually when Chief Keef and the whole Chicago wave came, from G Herbo, Sosa, Durk, Rondo and L’A Capone, and Katie Got Bandz. It was all these Chicago artists just drill, drill, drill, drill, drill. So I had to mix up everything. And then GarageBand came out. It was RockBand, remember? And that’s how I got hooked on Bon Jovi, Dead Or Alive, then Maps.
POGUE: Oh my god, I love Maps!
LERAY: Yeah man. So music is everywhere and I always just loved music and still to this day I’m playing. Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and Maps in the car. It’s one of my favorite songs. I’ll sing it from beginning to end. Or even Twilight, the whole fucking soundtrack. Once the movie dropped, I couldn’t get enough.
POGUE: I feel like some people might be surprised by that. What would you say another common misconception is about you?
LERAY: I feel like people put me in categories with other people, and I just feel like people just need to just appreciate and accept me for me, without comparing me to the next person. I feel like if people stop trying to compare me and make me out to be who they want me to be, then it’ll be a lot easier for the haters to just accept what I’m doing. Because I know that I’m talented. The numbers don’t lie. The campaigns don’t lie. The shows don’t lie. Everything that I do and I go 110% and I put all my energy into it. I just want them to be able to appreciate that, that’s all.
POGUE: Do you think about leaving a legacy?
LERAY: Yeah, I feel like I’m breaking generational curses and I feel like I’m creating generational wealth. I feel like I’m the only Coi Leray in this industry. And I feel like there’s only one Drake. There’s one Beyonce, there’s one Kanye, there’s one Jay-Z, there’s one Nas, there’s one Rihanna. There’s only one of ones. And I’m one of one, for sure. So I feel like I am going to leave a legacy. That’s the goal. One day, I want to be the inspiration for a lot of the girls. Just like when I do my mood boards now and I’m looking back at the nineties and early 2000s, I want to be a part of that. And it’s going to happen for sure, not just in music, but in fashion, giving back, foundations and creating fundraisers and schools and businesses and real estate. This is just the beginning. This is my fourth year, my second studio album, and it’s really only the beginning. So everybody’s just got to just stay with me and stay tuned in.
POGUE: Get on the ride. If they’re not on it now.
POGUE: Well, thank you so much for your time.
LERAY: Thank you so much. It was so nice talking to you too. I feel like this is dope. I haven’t been doing interviews and stuff like this, that really get in depth, with people getting to know me, so I really appreciate this shit.
Hair by Nikko Anthony at GKG Management
Makeup by Mimi G at GKG Management
Nails by Rhayne Lodevico
Photo Assistant: Carlos Darder
Production Assistant: Dion O’Joe
Shot at: DFLA Studio