From an early age, Miami singer-songwriter DaniLeigh possessed a starpower so undeniable, she was able to propel her career from dancing for stars like Pharrell, Daddy Yankee and Nelly Furtado, to grabbing the mic to become the main act herself. While she consistently stayed true to her signature cozy-girl yet sultry style, confirmation of a promising career in music came for Dani at age 18, when she was personally recruited by Prince to direct and co-star in his “Breakfast Can Wait” video. Today, DaniLeigh shares the music video for her latest hit “Lil Bebe,” a testament to her triple threat ring of talents: singing, dancing and creative directing.
The “Lil Bebe” video is a carefully crafted, flawless storm of elements that represent all the things DaniLeigh holds close to her heart. It takes place in downtown Los Angeles in a sneaker shop-bodega hybrid location, as Dani dances through the entire venue filled with her friends and special guests like Trey Songz and Kamaiyah. The visual even features little “bebe” dancers from the Millennium Dance Complex, a well-known dance studio in Hollywood that frequently uses her songs as inspiration for choreographed pieces.
This summer, Dani’s career was given a boost when her infamous take on the “In My Feelings” challenge immediately went viral, nearly tripling her following and engagement overnight and earning her praise from Drake himself. This unexpected look, in conjunction with her opening act gig on Jeremih’s Later That Night tour with Teyana Taylor this summer, set up a perfectly-timed series of events to her upcoming project, which she hopes to release as early as next month.
Billboard recently sat down with DaniLeigh to discuss the new “Lil Bebe” video, her Dominican roots and the reason she signed with Def Jam. Check out the full interview below.
Billboard:The set for the “Lil Bebe” video is insane. You’ve written treatments and directed visuals in the past, so how hands on were you during the creative process process of this video?
DaniLeigh: I went to the spot with my team and just looked around and was like, “Yo, this spot is.. kind of crazy.” It was so fly! It was a sneaker store in downtown L.A. and it’s connected a bodega. Everything just represented me so well. I’m Dominican so a bodega is a grocery store in New York, a real authentic and classic thing. It even had an upstairs and everything was just a perfect vibe. The entrance even had boxes of platanos [laughs] and it just matched me perfectly.
I was very involved with the video. I definitely saw a vision. What works for me on my socials and everything and what people tend to gravitate towards is when I show my personality, style, and my dancing. Also, I don’t like videos that have so many cuts in them so I really wanted to capture a one-take type of continuous feel for the video. This video represents me because of the setting, but also people I know are in the video as well. Some cameos I had included Trey Songz, Rotimi from Power, my girl YesJulz, Kamaiyah, and more. It was dope to have my people in the video and see them pulling up for me. I wanted to bring everyone through an experience.
The concept is that I’m the owner and it’s called “Lil Bebe’s Bodega.” I sign off on an order and walk in and the first thing I do is I see the little boy all sad. I give him a shoe box with brand new sneakers like, “change your life!” Right with the lyrics. We have little kids dancing. Then, I move on to the next room and it’s a barbershop. My brother is a barber and I had him cutting Trey Songz’s hair right there. I had my co-songwriter in there and a bunch of my friends in that cameo scene.
In a recent interview on Atlanta’s 107.9, you describe yourself as “the cool new chick.” What do you feel makes you sets you apart from the rest?
My music is super versatile. It could bump in the club, but I have my R&B side as well. It really try to tap into both sides. My personality is a huge thing for my brand and also my style. I’m a more comfortable fly type of girl versus a heels and dresses. Not that I won’t do it, but I think that’s what sets me apart as well that I have that vibe about me. My wardrobe really matches my music. I’m very ‘90s influenced as well.
After attending the BET Hip-Hop Awards, you captioned your Instagram post saying you see yourself up on that stage soon. What are some other goals in mind right now?
I just want all of my work to speak for itself and get looks. I’ve prayed for it, or maybe even a “Best New Artist” type of recognition. My album is about to come out and I really feel like this album is about to break me as an artist and really bring me some respect in the industry. I think everything that I’m currently working on right now, I just pray that it goes crazy and helps me make a mark.
Your look, the way your voice sounds, and your overall vibe just reminds me of a fly Dominican woman. Do you think a lot about representing your ethnicity, or do you just kind of let it speak for itself?
Oh, I most definitely think about representing my Dominican roots. Dominicans are on the come up right now. Cardi made a big wave for us and there weren’t too many Dominican artists in the American mainstream scene. I love being Dominican and we’re so versatile in a sense, from the way we look to the way we are. Our food goes crazy [laughs] and our music is dope. We have that personality and we’re super outgoing. I definitely think a lot about representing that.
A few years ago, you were faced with the career-defining decision to either go on tour for dancing, or focus on your own music career. How did you know you were making the right decision to pursue your own music?
I definitely was in a place where I was confused about what to do with my career at the time. I’m real in touch with God and I prayed for signs. At that time, a couple of labels were reaching out to me. It was my first time taking meetings and all that type of stuff and I was lowkey scared of labels at the time and I felt like I wasn’t ready. I just told myself that I really had to make it happen and also I considered how I’m getting a little older. It’s the perfect time for me. My A&R really helped me feel confirmation on signing.
With different labels and even different producers, the thing with me has always been — you know, if I really wanted to, I could really dress it up and do the whole long hair and heels and show off my body. There’s no issue if other people do that at all, but for me, I just know that’s not my true message and I’d rather be comfortable and do what I really want to do. That was a really big confirmation for me when I met with [Def Jam] and my A&R really had the same vision as me. All the other labels were like, “You need to do pop, you need to do this and that.” That was the last label meeting that I had and it was a gut feeling, definitely.
You’ve had multiple interactions with the GOATS. From working directly with Prince to getting a sample cleared by Aretha Franklin, these are all clear signs. What has been the biggest sign recently so far that you’re on the right path?
Definitely Drake. The “In My Feelings” challenge popped off for me when I did it, perfect timing in my career, and he’s a big inspiration of mine. He followed me and after that, when I went out to Chicago, he got me and my team tickets to his show and brought us all to his after party. I got to be with him and talk. That right there was a confirmation that I’m about to do big things in the industry and I’m steadily getting recognition from all these legends.
I’m real big on “Your life can change so much in a year.” Take me back to exactly a year ago. Where was your headspace at and what were you doing?
Fall of last year, I had just dropped my first EP called Summer With Friends. That was my very first time making a solid move in the industry with my music and it was a big step for me. I needed to see if people would rock with me or not. I’ve definitely seen a huge difference in just one year and it’s cool to see the level up and everything that has happened to me. At that time, I was still grinding and the label, they rocked with me, but it wasn’t as heavy as it is with this release now. I’m so grateful for that. Also, it’s just a different type of respect. For example, going out to the BET Awards recently, everybody knew me. I’m like, “Oh snap. Okay. Now, I just have to keep going.”
And how does it feel to look back from where you are right now?
People were respecting me and they really know who I am and they were loving my movement. Every time I meet people, they tell me they like my aura, personality, and what I represent on my page. To me, that’s a win because I’m aware that most of what people know about me is through my socials. The fact that that’s the first thing most people tell me when we meet is telling me that I’m doing a good job representing that. Things have definitely changed in just a year and I’m so grateful.