Oslo – May 12th
Uncanny, huh? In the same breath that sees Grace Jones’ seminal album Nightclubbing reissued, the XL Recordings-signed Manhattan rapper Le1f arrives back in London. The resemblance is obvious. Tall, dark and handsome? Flat top died at its ends? With the ability to rock a party and feed off a packed club crowd with sexually-charged, if gender-ambiguous, motives? And an alien-like set of bendy showman moves that would impress a pole dancer? Tick. Tick. Tick. And tick.
Watching Le1f – or Khalif Diouf as his mum calls him – tower over the already lubricated crowd from a sparkling new Oslo stage allows plenty of opportunity to watch his head go one way and his body the other. When he loses the hoodie – and later the sweat-drenched t-shirt (I’m wearing polyester here, he explains with a naughty smile) – he assumes the role as a gyrating onyx sex object and theatrical shaman in a single stroke.
The songs? And his skills? It’s a less convincing package, frankly. Partly because he leaves himself a lot to do: dance, rap, sing and entertain – all while relentlessly hyping the crowd. Assisted by backing tracks loaded with him singing his choruses, he’s at least got a little help pushing the songs along and giving him time to recharge before spitting the next verse. Often, they’re half sung, half choked out to raise the dramatic tension. Elsewhere, he hits more of a grime tip with a convincing bark as he prowls the stage.
It all links up well on opener ‘Mind Body’ as he parades around doing the ‘body’ bit while knocking off some quasi-cerebral lyrics from his well-educated twin lobes (he did attend the prestigious liberal arts Wesleyan College in Connecticut to study ballet and modern dance, after all). As his set unfolds, he finds time to reference both conservative radio shock jock Rush Limbaugh and pioneering black film-maker Spike Lee. Despite their abstract nature of the songs, they inevitably suffer from being a bit low on narrative. That is, something other than saying he’s good looking, which he mentions plenty of times in a variety of thesaurus-twisting ways. He’s the number one panty dropper too, yeah? But recognise – the gay rapper likes the smell of money most, he says. His habit of toying with the familiar clichés of the rap game would be more enlightening if there was a conceptual hook to hang them on.
Fortunately, Le1f saves the best for last with tunes ‘Boom’ and ‘Wut’ which raise wry smiles from him and fully unleash the crowd. The ribcage-rattling bassline of ‘Boom’ and his visceral “puff, puff, pass” chorus hits the sweet spot as his high-speed growling and macho lyrics perfectly fit the physicality of the beat. And if you’ve seen the staggeringly gymnastic video for ‘Wut’ you’ll know how he can wiggle, all while imploring the crowd to shout: “wut, wut”.
Le1f’s got stage pizazz and a magnetic presence and in small doses it’s good, dirty fun – just how Grace Jones preferred it in New York City nightclubs more than 30 years ago.
BUY: Le1f – Hey EP