HEATING UP DaniLeigh, born Danielle Curiel, moved to Los Angeles with her mother and little sister at 16 to break through as a dancer and singer. She was part of a duo then, performing with a close friend under the moniker Curly Fryz. But when the pair broke up four years later, DaniLeigh kept working: “I felt like I wasn't good enough to [continue] by myself because I couldn't sing like Beyoncé or Whitney Houston.”
SEAL OF ROYAL APPROVAL Before she went solo, Prince selected the then-18-year-old to direct and star in his 2013 music video “Breakfast Can Wait.” Two years later, she put her first compilation online, but only after sending it to the pop icon first. “He was like, ‘Make sure whatever you put out as your own music is just as dope,’” she remembers. “That always stuck. If a legend is telling me I’m dope, I must be dope.”
DONE DEAL In late 2016, DaniLeigh played her music for Tuo Clark, senior vp A&R at Def Jam. He wasn't interested. “She came in and was playing pop music and shit -- definitely not my swag,” recalls Clark. Two hours later, when producer Yanni coincidentally played Clark new beats that DaniLeigh was singing on, he knew immediately that pop wasn't her lane. By April 2017, she was signed.
DANCING QUEEN Since releasing her debut LP, The Plan, last November, standout track “Lil Bebe” has reached No. 26 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. “It’s got Rihanna vibes,” says DaniLeigh, “but you can’t be like, ‘That’s Rihanna.’ It’s somebody new. It really shows me off.” As a dancer, it was important that her track be easy to move to. “Back in the day, it was Aaliyah, Ciara, Beyoncé,” says DaniLeigh. “I don’t feel like there’s really someone locking that in [now]. I’m trying to make that my aim.”
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 12 issue of Billboard.