Leikeli47 Does Her Own Thing At The Mercury Lounge: Live Review
Young rapper Leikeli47 occupies a lane of her own. She announces this on her song "Miss America" ("I am an individual, I live in my own world") and she backs up the big talk. While most rappers ignore politics, this one does not. Many artists have tried to build a buzz by keeping a low profile, but when it comes time to take the stage, they jump into the spotlight that they wanted all along. Leikeli47 remains covered with a ski-mask.
She emerged last year with LK-47 Pt. II, a striking and varied mixtape. Leikeli tried her hand at raw, stomping rap-rock on "Hold You Down," and sinuous, bass-heavy swagger on "Drums Too Clean." "Miss America" fought against traditional gender roles, opening with a snippet of dialog from a young girl wondering why she's only supposed to wear pink when the boys get to wear all sorts of colors. Also included: a morsel of Leikeli singing Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home," a sample from The Dark Knight Rises, and a bit of Mystikal's early '00s hit "Shake Ya Ass."
Considering the bubbles that formed around M.I.A. (in the mid '00s) or Run The Jewels (more recently) and helped expose them to a larger audience, it's strange that Leikeli isn't more popular. She's got bruising beats, an explicitly political (if occasionally vague) agenda -- at a show last night, she invited the crowd to "join this revolution, before it's too late" -- and attitude to spare. Cue the press avalanche, right?
Her show at the Mercury Lounge in New York City on Tuesday, May 26 -- the start of a short five-date tour -- began unsteadily. But this wasn't Leikeli's fault: the performance was scheduled for 8 PM, early by most standards. (The New York R&B singer Mack Wilds was there even earlier, so add him to the list of Leikeli's famous fans.) The Mercury Lounge is also mainly a venue for indie rock. Leikeli had a solution: she grabbed the microphone, asked everyone to get another drink, and requested that the DJ queue up Nicki Minaj, Rae Sremmurd, and Fetty Wap. This -- plus the arrival of more people -- helped loosen the room by the time she returned to the stage.
After the opening track, "Miss America," two dancers -- also wearing ski-masks -- jumped up to flank Leikeli, accelerating the loosening process by nimbly acting out her rhymes. Then it was time for a digression: the rapper paused her own music for a moment and joined her dancers as Ghost Town DJ's "My Boo" blared through the speakers. The amusing transition and the classic track did the trick; the crowd was hers.
Once she had everyone's attention, Leikeli didn't waste it. She launched into "Elian's Theme," a roaring, incredulous track about a man who's living off her and wasting all her money -- a neat inversion of a pop trope older than the blues. Every time she got to the hook ("He asked me if I'm hungry, with my own money/I smacked the taste out of his mouth with a couple of hundreds"), her dancers moved fluidly and gloriously from pretending to deliver that smack to making it rain.
"Elian's Theme" has the visceral impact and sculpted architecture of a hit; before wrapping up her quick set, she performed two more similarly-impressive tracks. "Heard 'Em Say," all whirring synth and quivering bass, would fit easily on the radio. And while everyone else is trying to land the song of the summer, "F--- The Summer Up" offered more proof that this rapper prefers to do her own thing.