The Nest – Wednesday 8th July
After a series of attention grabbing mixtapes, it has now cometh the hour for Khalif Diour, aka Le1f (pronounced Leaf), to hit 2015 with an album. The New York rapper, signed to XL, has maintained a relatively high-profile between releases. His hilarious and often enlightening Twitter feed has kept fans ticking over, in addition to a reflective op-ed piece about the Justice for All march for The Fader last year, they both hinted at a more political outlook for the upcoming record.
The other impression that is discernible from Le1f’s Twitter feed, as well as quotes from interviews, is a cynicism towards the ‘queer rap’ label which has stuck like glue on to the artists that were unceremoniously branded together when it exploded a few years back. The label’s inherent ignorance seeks to marginalise the nuanced sounds, messages and personalities in this wildly creative and divergent ‘scene’. Tonight you can see why this a sticking point for Le1f. His appeal is much greater than a gay audience. The club-ready bangers on display tonight deserve to be heard by the masses, not pigeon-holed by other people’s expectations.
It’s the more pop friendly tracks from his latest Hey EP that get the crowd buoyed up to begin with. ‘Boom’ does exactly what it says on the tin, whilst a breakneck rendition of ‘Sup’ bounces round the basement club, whipping the crowd into a state of near-euphoria. ‘Damn Son’ just about floors everyone. The intimate club setting does well to build the energy in the room however the stage is disappointing small which means the audience miss out on Le1f’s legendary dancing prowess (see the ‘Wut‘ video if you need proof). His mic is a little low in the mix too, which is mildly frustrating, but when he’s in full machine-gun flow, he’s so spirited and brimming with personality – flitting between coy and frisky, militant and possessed – it’s beyond captivating. You can’t take your eyes off him.
Of the three new tracks previewed, it’s the second slice that really turns up the temperature. Not a million miles away from the hyper-active beats made by SOPHIE, its a kind of happy hardcore-meets-grime hybrid. It’s brutal and sickly – like an upper-cut to the oesophagus whilst sucking on a lollipop. He could of played it three times in a row and it still wouldn’t have been enough. The gig as a whole doesn’t give too much away but what Le1f does demonstrate is an assuring display of showmanship and a plethora of tunes to back it up. By the end no one is any doubt about how special this debut could turn out.