LeahAnn Mitchell, who performs under the moniker Lafemmebear, doesn’t want to be tokenized for being a black transgender woman; she wants her work to speak for itself. The 31-year-old New Jersey native left her home in Plainfield to pursue her first love: music. Mitchell became a music producer and engineer in Los Angeles working alongside musicians such as Boyz II Men, songwriting duo The Jackie Boyz (Madonna) and producer Polo Molina (Black Eyed Peas), to name a few.
From the outside, it appeared she was living the ultimate dream; yet more than anything, Mitchell wanted to live in her full truth. When she came out as a queer, transgender woman in 2013, she was blacklisted from the music industry despite a well-rounded résumé that included work with major-label talents from Sony. Disenfranchised, the young artist positioned her setback as a setup for a comeback.
Today, Lafemmebear is calling the shots and making music on her own terms.? The artist isn’t just the Jackie of all trades; she’s a master of most. Not only is she a rapper-singer-vocalist; Mitchell also mixes masters, produces and engineers all of her music. In early 2018, she shook the table with a self-titled EP, an eclectic collection of soulful and rhythmic afro-beats mixed with hip-hop and jazz.
The multifaceted artist also starred in The Red Shades, a transgender, superhero rock opera? that sold out showcases at several venues across San Francisco and Oakland. Lafemmebear fans have called her music a fusion of artists like Imogen Heap, Ellie Goulding, Dr. Dre, Brandy and Timbaland, among others — explaining her mass appeal.
Billboard caught up with the burgeoning queer artist to talk about her influences and to premiere her new music video “Shut Up!”
What inspired you to be an artist?
Music just feels so close to and a part of the definition of me. I have been writing songs professionally for labels since I was 13 years old. I begged my G-Ma to take me to the Guitar Center so I could spend entire days there learning every piece of equipment I could get near in the pro-audio section. I needed to get the sounds out of my head. The voice, my voice. Singing was the gateway to it all. Late nights singing at the top of my lungs in the dark; playing the piano at my [grandma’s] house, just pretending I was onstage with Brandy, Jill Scott and Meshell Ndegeocello. Meshell’s black queerness was so amazing to me at a young age and the musicianship made me feel like learning every instrument I could. Brandy is where I learned my technical vocal chops from; running up and down every song on Never Say Never and Full Moon. Lately I’m into Gabriel Garzón-Montano.
I guess to answer the question, all of this led to me being the artist I am today.
What is the message you wanted to convey through “Shut Up,” and who is your intended audience?
It’s a message about being a part of the LGBTQ community and the pains of finding your place in it when you don’t fit an exact mold. [It’s about] learning to listen to those who love you truly while not letting the voices outside and inside your head cheat you out of your self-love and the love of those who show it to you. I suffer from severe mental health [issues] and I worked tirelessly to be honest and loving to myself while still pushing to meet my goals. But the voices get loud in my head and the music is where I put that. I would not be alive today without music.
What would you like for titans of the music industry to know about QTPOC artists?
We make incredibly complex, diverse, professional, raw, amazingly polished art. You should really see about us; but real talk — we coming either way.