If you follow any teens on their native platforms then you might have seen “All my bitches look like models/Drinking Henny out the bottle…” captioning quite a few pics of girls with their squads. Those lines come from Brooklyn/Lower East Side rapper Leaf’s new track “Nada” which features rap’s rambunctious eccentric, Lil Yachty. Much like the Atlanta rapper, Leaf has the eccentricity and priorities that are a love letter to the ideals of Generation Z and could score her a spot on next year’s Dazed 100 list. A fangirl of self-sufficient women, anime, and Scarface, Leaf embodies, in both aesthetic and attitude, a new-age reimagining of a Tarantino vixen.
You know something is better than good when Fool’s Gold Records calls you. This is exactly what happened to Leaf in 2015. She was signed after A-Trak’s brother Dave 1 of Chromeo found her on Instagram. A very modern tale that happens to almost no one. Following her 2015 debut EP Magnet Bitch on Fool’s Gold, Leaf cut through the SoundCloud clutter in 2016 with singles “Money,” “Plate” and “Nada.” Each one features Leaf as a defender of the principles she’s lived by that put her on the fast track. As Leaf told me “I’ve always wanted to be an action figure. Like this badass girl who’s super hot, takes out her gun, she kills seven people and is then like “Oh my bad.” What they don’t teach you in school is how to fend for yourself, but Leaf taught herself as all strong women do.
Coat by Adrienne Landau, Feather Shawl + Bodysuit + Pants + Necklace by Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Earrings by Chrishabana, Bracelet by Alexis Bittar
As an artist, Leaf has climbed rung by rung to the top. Surviving on a daily meal of chickpeas and grapefruit juice and breaking up with your boyfriend in order to focus on your career is not for the faint of heart, but it is how you stop scrolling through other people’s Insta lives and create your own. Now that she’s landed a campaign with Calvin Klein and is about to put out her full length debut Trinity, has Leaf had a moment to catch her breath and let her progress sink in? “I’m such a perfectionist and overachiever, so I don’t really think it’s going to sink in for me until I’ve won ten Grammys or something. If you ask anyone around me, I’m always looking for better things. I just did a big fashion campaign, and literally right after I walked off the set I was like ‘I’m really upset right now.’ The people I was with asked me what’s wrong and I was like ‘I don’t have any emails in my Gmail right now, and I just feel like I’m not doing anything.’ … I don’t know how to stop working. I love working. It’s my passion.”
I asked, hustler to hustler, do you ever get burnt out? Leaf was clear with me and said, “I mellow out every night. I have to make sure that I keep myself in check. I love bubble baths. I love to watch anime… I work hard and I play hard. I think it’s important to keep that balance.” As Leaf is telling me this she sounds like a pedagogue with nothing to gain from trendy millennial self-help content in her newsfeed. She tells me “It’s a process. I think as working women we never realize how much we need to pamper ourselves. Doing small things like getting your nails done, going to get your hair done, sitting in a sauna, or getting a massage are things we need to do to maintain our sense of mental stability.” She continues, “I was never one of those girls where I wanted to be all pretty and pampered, but now getting my nails and toes done is like luxury. I’m so happy I get to sit in a chair for 30 minutes and not think about anything. You got to give yourself those moments. We, as women, overwork ourselves and then we ask ‘Why do we feel like this?’ and it’s because you haven’t done your hair in like seven days and you’ve been sitting behind a computer for a week. Get your act together.”
With her new found fame, what’s been the biggest adjustment for Leaf? “Honestly? Partying less. I use to party so much when I was younger. Now being a young adult I have a small handful of friends, and I go out when I can. I party for work, so when I’m not partying for work I try to stay inside. When I was young, I’d want to be out all the time doing things. I’ve had to adjust my life and my sleep patterns, but it’s been a good adjustment. I’m happy about it.”
Money. It’s definitely a big topic on Trinity and it’s a topic that’s essential in any productive conversation about women’s empowerment. On “Plate” Leaf claims “All my girls thick like we eatin’ good/All my girls breaded like fried chicken would/All my girls makin’ what they fuckin’ should/From the east to the west, we gettin’ out the hood.” No side eye, but this is a much different dialogue than the flaunting of multiple mansions, personal jets, and a me, me, me and mine mentality that I’ve become jaded by. From Leaf’s point of view, “Young people look at money like it ‘makes you.’ You have to be real about who you are. If you don’t have money just be like ‘I don’t have money.’ More importantly though, in rap songs it’s always about taking someone’s bitch or having the most expensive shit, but that doesn’t make you cool. Why are you trying to be somebody you’re not? Talk about who you truly are. Don’t talk about what you don’t have.”
Vest by Adrienne Landau, Bra by Zana Bayne, Pants by Namilia, Top necklace Leaf’s Own, Earrings + Bangles + Necklace by Ashley Pittman, Big Bangles by Alexis Bittar
As she quickly approaches the tricky responsibility of influencing impressionable tweens and teens, I was curious to know what Leaf would want young women to see in her. She told me, “I want young women to view me as someone who just appreciates being myself. I want young girls to see me and be like ‘Wow, Leaf is so cool because she just loves being herself.’ That’s why I preach self-love so much with my songs. I’m constantly trying to empower women. It’s important that young girls just love being them. There’s so many outlets telling you to be like this and be like that, and I think girls need to be a little more rebellious and be like, ‘Fuck it. This is who the fuck I am,’ and keep it moving.”
After our time on the phone together, it’s clear Leaf deserves more than just the buzz phrase “rap queen” attributed to her. She projects an entrepreneurial mystique that’s so singular, it’s endearing. The catalyst of her superhuman work ethic? “I think for me the fear of never becoming an artist, and never being able to perform at Madison Square Garden is so vivid for me. I’m so afraid that I’ll never accomplish my goals, but I work so hard to get there. Every single moment of the day, I’m thinking ‘Oh my god, why am I not there yet? Why am I not at Madison Square Garden?’ I know people listen to me and I know people love me, but it’s just not good enough for me yet, and I think it’s that fear that drives me more than anything.”
I would love for Leaf to start a podcast, or a vlog or, hell, a mentorship program. Maybe in time. This year we will be gifted with her debut album Trinity, and it will be your soundtrack for venturing out and getting that m-o-n-e-y.
Coat by Adrienne Landau, Head-peice + Top by Screaming Mimi’s Vintage, Dress by Mimi Prober, Boots Stylist’s Own, Rings + earring by Chrishabana x Gypsy Sport
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