Last year, Coi Leray’s confidence level was low after her first album, Trendsetter, debuted at No. 89 on the Billboard 200. With a rough opening week, a residue of doubt seeped into her career and caused the affable star to hit the pause button. Despite her dismal debut, acts such as 50 Cent and Nicki Minaj lent support and encouraged her to stay positive, because they knew success was near. Fast forward nine months later, and Leray is smiling again, thanks to the success of her blistering Hot 100 hit “Players.”
“I’m 25, and sometimes you don’t know everything,” Leray says inside the Billboard LA offices on a balmy Friday afternoon. “I look at constructive criticism, even in a negative way. I try to figure out how to learn from it — just taking it and bringing it back even better. You don’t know everything. I learned the power of listening is key.” Leray’s bounce-back is a testament to her assiduous work ethic. Upon completing her Billboard interview earlier this January, she zipped to France for Paris Fashion Week, where she glowed in her see-through ensemble at the Yves Saint Laurent fashion show. Then, she hit the studio to work on new music with Pharrell.
Leray’s resurgence comes via her Grandmaster Flash-sampling single “Players,” a modern-day spin on the 1982 seminal hit “The Message.” Leray’s sing-songy hook and clever quips (“Applebottom make em’ wanna bite”) are TikTok gold, and blasted the record from social media sensation into Hot 100 territory. “Players” also received a jolt from a few remixes, including DJ Saige’s mashup of Busta Rhymes’ 1997 classic “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” and DJ Smallz’s Jersey Club remix. Thanks to the bevy of remixes, “Players” sits comfortably at No. 54 on the Hot 100 this week, a new peak for the hit record.
“This lifestyle is so unexpected,” says Coi while petting her dog Brixx, who accompanied her to the interview. “Being in the industry, it’s so unexpected. You never know what you’re going to wake up and do tomorrow. I have paranoia like, “F–k, what’s next?” You gotta think positively. If I had positive paranoia, it would be good.”
Billboard spoke to Coi Leray about making “Players,” her newfound confidence, Diddy’s influence, her love for the female rap scene and more.
You put out Trendsetter last year and it had some hits. Looking back on it, what grade would it get and why?
I would give Trendsetter like an 8.5. I think the project was amazing, honestly, because “Blick Blick” was such a big moment for me. I feel like we put the focus on that song, and I really wish we could’ve catered to other songs — because there were so many other amazing features and songs on the project that I think are amazing.
I’ve been recording music for three years now, and a lot of those songs were scattered within that time with me being ready to drop. Me being so versatile and doing so many things, I don’t want to take the focus off the music — so I always thought it was important for me to drop so, people don’t get lost in the sex appeal or the dancing or the cooking or whatever it is.
I read an in old interview that you refer to yourself as “the big dog.” How has it been being the big dog for your family and your people?
It just feels like my mom tells me that I’m breaking generational curses. I’m standing on that. I love my family, I love my team, and I love everyone that supports me. And that really helps me where I need to go mentally, emotionally — don’t have to be necessarily physically or financially. I just know I got a lot of people that love me and I gotta go hard for it. Not only for myself, but my loved ones. It feels good.
For Trendsetter, I think about certain records like “Hollywood Dreams” or “Paranoia” at this stage of your career. How do you deal with fame knowing that your star power continues to get brighter by the day?
Just God. I’m surrounded by great people. I’m with the same two people. The same two people I actually sat in a room just like this with and signed my deal with Monty. When you got good people surrounding you, it’s little small s–t even if you got paranoia or anxiety, you got somebody that will be able to keep you on your toes. And God, of course. Then I got Brixx — my little baby. He helps me deal with a lot of paranoia.
You’ve always had a certain level of confidence but now I feel it’s A1. Where did you develop that confidence to now you’re blocking out the noise?
I’d say in 2021. The year I dropped “No More Parties.” That was one of my biggest years. It was so great, but it was also one of those years I got hated on so much. I feel like after that, there’s nothing that could really stop me.
When I walked into this game, Monte [Lipman], Republic [Records], they loved how confident I was. They loved how true to myself I am. After I went through that year, it kinda confused me about myself because that’s when it felt like the world was against me. That’s when I questioned myself if I was doing the right thing. I had to turn around and realize every single time there’s somebody on my back trying to put me down, I’m leveling up. I just went up on every hater and got through that whole thing and there’s nothing that nobody can do. Outside of this industry, I’ve been through some s–t. I’ve been on my own since I was 16.
A little birdie told me you’ve been taking dance classes. What made you decide to take those steps and up your performance game?
It’s just how serious I am about this s–t. When I came in, I always wanted to be one of the biggest female performing artists. I feel like I’m an entertainer. If I could level up my skills, whether it’s dancing, vocal lessons or acting, I’m gonna do that. I’m in the business — why not? I could’ve went to school or college and played sports, and I guarantee everything would’ve been about that. Now that I’m in music, everything is just about that.
You did the “Players” record in one take. How did that come about and do you normally do your records in one take?
Yeah, so that session, It was me Johnny [Goldstein], [Worldwide] Fresh and Feli [Ferraro] in there. Johnny’s the producer and Fresh and Feli are two amazing writers. I started working with more writers towards the end of last year. I worked with writers in the past, but I remember I was a little stubborn — like, “I don’t need nobody to write for me.” My pen game is amazing but this year is the first time I learned structure to a song. Like the verse, pre-chorus, bridge, hook…
“Apple bottom make ’em take a bite.” That might’ve flowed to me, but Fresh might have been, “Wanna bite.” When I went in there. we spent an hour and 20 minutes on that song. I go in there and cut all my melodies. I gotta bring the writers into my world. We sat there for an hour and 20 and came up with a singy hook and we came up with not that. I was pissed — like, I hate wasting time. I use my lockout session to do at least three songs a day. I said, “This not sounding right. It’s too generic. Let me go in there and try something else and do some straight rap s–t.” I’m always gonna do some melodies, but this time, I said, “No f–king melodies.” I hop on the mic and it just flowed: “Girls is players too.”
I been hanging with Diddy and we been partying. Diddy loves me. He thinks I’m so f–king talented. He believes in me so much, and that whole swag just came from that. I got fresh from the parties and vacations with them, and I’m back in the studio and it just flowed. We still got the reference. Even, “Apple bottom make ’em take a bite/ I just want to have a good night,” that’s me just staying in monotone. I felt like at this moment, we knew this was it.
Now, when I leaked the record in Miami, man, I did three songs that day in the car. We made three videos in the same setting. “Players” was one and two other unreleased ones and “Players” was the most lit. F–k it, I wanted to leak music. I like being little rebellious sometimes too. [The label] be like, “Wait!” Nah, f–k it. I get this instinct and I need to let it fly. I dropped it and I’m still numb to this day. It streamed 800,000 streams yesterday on one platform, and that’s the most any of my songs have ever done in a day.
I did see Grandmaster Flash gave you the co-sign. Did you have any intimidation knowing the story behind “The Message” trying to live up to it?
Honestly, it’s like hip-hop politics and we like the rookies. I was born in 1997, and as the rookies, you can’t question that. I have a family member in the [industry]… I feel like there’s certain things you shouldn’t talk about or touch on and just have fun with it. I feel like, if anything, this record was to connect the new with the old and bring us together. There’s been a lot of rah-rah music lately. There’s a lot of older cats and OGs talking about TikTok and the sound and it just feels good to bring everybody together. Whether you’re 10, 2, 80 or 30, everyone’s bopping, and those are the moments I love.
Flash, he’s so funny. I would’ve thought I’ve known him. I felt like I was in a time machine when I met him. It’s like he didn’t even age. I feel like, “I’m meeting you back in the ’90s.” If that was a movie, that’d be fire. Going back in time and I’m like, “What’s up?” He’s right here and he was so present. He got so much energy, he’s so healthy, and he looks so good. This guy, he can give me a lot of knowledge if you really think about it. That song was so big and I do know how much that it impacted hip-hop. I thought it was dope how humble he is. He’s very positive and I love positive energy.
Obviously, the record got flipped again by DJ Saige for the Busta version, and you showed respect him after it dropped. Why is it important to pay homage?
When you doing these samples, it’s one thing to do a sample and you blow up — but it’s another thing when you give credit when it’s due. I feel like a lot of people don’t do that. Even producers and writers, there’s so many people who don’t get their credit in the industry. The least you could do is give it to who created the motherf–ker. It shows respect.
When you’re in the game, they don’t have to let you use their song. They might not even own the publishing, but that’s still f–ked up. When I become a legend and someone wanna sample my song, I wanna be a part of that. I wanna know how it is. I don’t wanna be in the radio and then hear my song and not know what the hell is going on or not know who the artist is. I feel like that’s a connection that would change my life again, just off the simple fact I love hip-hop.
The fact you chose my song and you was showing me love, that’s just another prayer for me. I need people to pray for me. As long as people pray for me, I’ma be blessed forever.
I wanna go back to talking about your pen. Obviously, you take a lot of pride in that, especially when the whole leak thing happened with Latto...
And I had no clue that she cut that record.
Knowing that your pen is your pen, how are you able to allow writers into the mix and say, “Okay, we’re gonna do this record,” versus saying, “I got this.”?
Because I don’t have to do nothing I don’t want to do. I kinda look at it like a collab. It’s like if Gucci or Moncler wanted me on the cover wearing their stuff, and I like the stuff, then if I don’t like it, I don’t have to wear it. It’s the same thing with that song. If you play me a song and I think I could kill that s–t. I’ma businesswoman — not only am I talented, I’m also about my business. If that s–t’s a smash and I’m like, “All right cool, let’s do it,” I have the option to change whatever I want in the song. I have the options to tweak or do whatever. Once you give me the song, you can’t tell me what to do. You could give me advice and I’ma cut it.
Even when we did “Blick Blick,” the hook was already cut and we did the verse together. That’s why the verses sound different. I heard Latto’s version and the verses sound different but the hook was there. A lot of great music hooks are written and I don’t know — it’s a formula. I’ve only been in the industry for four years, and now I’m at point where I feel like I’m breaking superstar status and I’m learning that formula. I’m gonna be at a point where I’m making those f–king songs for the biggest of the biggest just off the simple fact I learned the formula. I didn’t learn it on my own, I had to be in the studio with these other amazing creatives to be like, “Alright, this is how this works.” But if you put me in the studio with any one of these b–ches I swear they’re not seeing me in any way. They’re not coming out with no hit. And I say that in the most humblest, friendliest, loving, and friendly competition way.
Do you still have that competitive fire?
I don’t have competitive fire. I don’t compete with them, because you just can’t. At the end of the day, I do know that it’s a competition. If I ran track, I’m trying to get first place. I don’t give a f–k if we go to the same school or are on the same team in the same jersey. If they said, “Yo race Coi down the street!” You don’t think I’m not about to try to dust her? This is my sister! Girls with the same energy, it’s like, “Oh you fire? I’m fire and I’ll see you at the top.”
The best thing about this industry, there’s room for everybody. That’s why it’s no competition. B–ch, I could be here and you could be here right with me. At the end of the day, even if we at the top of the mountain, I’ma be Coi and you gonna be you, and we could trade places or I could become someone else. I’m gonna determine my greatness, my destiny, and my future. What’s for you is for you, while we’re at the top together. Steel sharpens steel.
Some of my favorite female artists out right now that I truly love — like, GloRilla is my favorite. I like Ice Spice, I like Cardi and I think Nicki [Minaj] is one of the greatest artists of all-time. I like Meg and I think Doja [Cat] is one of the biggest artists and best female artists as well. Flo Milli too. Lola Brooke is fire. I love her cadence, voice, and energy. There’s so many fire women out there to the point where I love it.
I hope everybody continues to get their flowers. When I’m focused, I’m focused on me and when we run into each other, hopefully we collab and make a lot of girls come together and show unity. What’s the thing where Miley Cyrus was singing with Rihanna? You remember when they was all on stage? It was like Beyoncé, Shakira, Rihanna, Fergie, Miley Cyrus. It was one of the best moments in female history. It was just unity. All the fire top b–ches on stage singing at the time same time. I’ve never seen that in the past eight years.
I’m curious about what collaborations you might have on deck because your last album was so star-studded. Is that something you want to continue or do you want to give them more of yourself?
I’ve been in the studio locked in by myself. I feel like, at the time, I had so many features because I was so on the move. I was up-and-coming and I’m standing now … I’m just like, “Yo, I’m in the city, let’s link!” Get in the studio and make songs and then I think those songs are amazing so I’m like, “Put these on the project.” I’m more just focused on myself, and I’m 25 now. I came in and I was 19. I want to have kids one day and have a family one day. I’m focused on the assets, the longevity and the bigger picture part of things.
I feel because I made it about everyone else these past couple years, this is the year I said I’m being selfish. I do want to collab with so much more artists. I’ll still drop a 15-track project with 30 million features — I don’t give a f–k. I love music and I love different music. I love hearing a verse, hook, and then somebody comes in on the second and changes the whole vibe. It’s like, “Oh s–t.” Then we back to the hook. That’s great music. Everybody used to collab back in the day. We’re like changing. Technology went up so now everyone’s stuck up their ass. I feel like everybody should just chill and have a good time.