ABOVE: LE1F IN NEWYORK, JUNE 2014. JACKET: MARC BY MARC JACOBS. TANK TOP: AMERICAN APPAREL. EARRINGS: LE1F’S OWN. NECKLACE: CHANEL. STYLING: JESSICA DOS REMEDIOS.
Le1f, born Khalif Diouf, stands a lean, muscular six feet three inches tall, and spits double-time lyrics like “Fantastic since Scholastic, amongst dudes stiff like Mattel,” over glitchy, trap-influenced electronic beats. His references range from high (Louboutins, Evian) to low (Snuggies, Lean Cuisine) to totally unexpected (My Neighbor Totoro, 1988, Realtree camouflage apparel). Onstage, he accompanies all this with complex two-steps and sinuous body rolls informed by two decades of ballet and modern-dance training. So Le1f is an understandably intimidating presence—at least before you talk to him.
In conversation, the 25-year-old rapper constantly lets loose a warm, sonorous laugh, whether he’s talking about his childhood (“I was taller than my first-grade teacher, actually”) or his dance practice (“That’s my goal, to really get my Janet Jackson schedule on”). Growing up in Hell’s Kitchen, he took classes at Dance Theater of Harlem and was a self-described angsty teenager: “Of course, a gay, African 15-year-old is going to be the most emo person ever,” Le1f says. “I just thought that I was going to be a very poor dancer in New York; being a rapper on XL [Recordings] was a fantasy to sleep to.”
At his high school dance program, he became interested in Animal Collective and Björk. Thanks to Myspace, he both discovered new music and started to disseminate his own, which led to club nights with new friends, including designers Telfar Clemens and Hood by Air’s Shayne Oliver, and members of Das Racist, Light Asylum, and the Brooklyn record label and DJ crew Trouble & Bass. While still an undergraduate at Wesleyan, Le1f produced Das Racist’s infuriatingly catchy “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” Since graduating in 2011, he’s released three mixtapes and two EPs, with a debut full-length due early next year. It’s “gonna be dark,” he promised on Twitter. Hopefully, Le1f says, it will perpetuate the uncanny-erotic vibe of songs such as last year’s “Hush Bb,” the video for which features Le1f and a friend slowly pouring Axe Shower Gel into cocktail glasses. “I want everything to be kind of off like that.”
GROOMING PRODUCTS: MAKE UP FOR EVER, INCLUDING AQUA LINER IN DIAMOND MULTICOLOR BLACK AND MOISTURIZING LIP BALM. HAIR PRODUCTS: R+CO, INCLUDING ONE PREP SPRAY AND JACKPOT STYLING CREÌ?ME. HAIR: JOEY GEORGE / ARTLIST. MAKEUP: MORGANE MARTINI/ARTLIST. SET DESIGN: HANS MAHARAWAL. SPECIAL THANKS: FAST ASHLEYS