lady leshurr doesn't back down for anything
Ahead of her upcoming Australian tour, we revisit our conversation with Lady Leshurr and get to know the Brummie rapper who took the internet by storm.
Lady Leshurr wears Jacket Absolute Vintage. Top and skirt Alexander Wang. Choker model's own. Necklace Stephen Einhorn.
Lady Leshurr has a theory on roulette, her preferred pastime when she's not clocking up 80m+ hits on YouTube, turning down six-figure deals from a multitude of record labels, or collaborating with diverse aural-agitators such as SOPHIE and Protoje. "I love the casino and I love gambling, but I don't go to win. If you go to win, and you lose, you're just gonna be more hurt," she points out in her beautifully broad Brummie accent. "I just go to have a good time, every time, and I usually end up winning." It's the perfect metaphor for Leshurr's own career that has seen numerous highs, lows, almost hits and near misses. Currently clocking in at over a decade (or two if we count her very first rap, age six, a freestyle over Sister Nancy's Bam Bam for her mum's voicemail) it's by refusing to chase the impossible ghost of success in favour of plain old fashioned fun that's led to Leshurr winning at rap, winning at YouTube, winning at life. In 2014, after a tough few years, Leshurr let go of ambition and expectation and introspection. She decided to slow her flow and have some fun. She dropped a freestyle called Queens Speech. It was shot in a carpark and referenced Snapchat, Chaka Demus & Pliers and featured a barrage of brilliantly imaginative putdowns including, 'You're the type to poo on the street, and wipe your bumcrack with a leaf'. It was shared on Facebook and went from 10 views, to 10,000 to 100,000, so she followed it with Queen's Speech 2. The series, now on Episode 5, currently stands at over 50m combined views, has been synced on a Samsung advert and won her facetime with one of her favourites, Timbaland. "He was so quiet, I didn't even know it was him, until he started playing me music and then Timbaland came out ". Earlier this year her "number one bae" Lil Wayne invited her on tour, although it was cancelled due to visa issues.
"I actually don't know how I done it," she laughs of Queens Speech's viral success, made all the more impressive that it was done DIY with a tiny team. "I think, it was just organic and I don't let it get to me. I just carry on doing me because I'm still coming up. There's always higher levels to reach."
Melesha O'Garro comes from, by her own admission "a very violent background." Born and raised in Kingshurst, Birmingham, her dad was a tough man, refusing to listen to Leshurr's pleas to do music, ordering his children to pick jobs out of a hat - quite literally - and follow that path. "I was the only one that didn't do it. I got beatings that day, but it's because I've always stood for what I believe in, always," she says. "I don't back down for anything."
She began to pour all the influences she'd soaked up around the house as a kid - jungle, Drum & Bass, hip-hop, UKG, dancehall, reggae - into a vague idea of an artist, despite the fact that Brummie rappers were few and far between, let alone female Brummie rappers. What came out made some sort of sense though; here was a fast-paced, sharp-witted, deliciously accented rapper. She was also incredibly prolific. Between releasing her first mixtape, 2009's The Last Second, and 2012, Leshurr put out a further eight releases, worked with Lethal B and Orbital, and acted in 1-Day, a morbid crime thriller set in her home town. Online, she was becoming something of a success; her 2011 version of Chris Brown's Look At Me Now found its way onto controversial hip-hop hub WorldStarHipHop.com and racked up a couple of million hits; similarly her dazzling Z.Dot produced SBTV freestyle added to the YouTube momentum (and subscribers). She was booked to play in far-flung lands such as Vietnam, Singapore, Sweden, Turkey, Finland and Rome. She went to America and was offered countless deals, including one with Atlantic Records, which she turned down after they tried to encourage her to diss Nicki Minaj. "I couldn't do it. I believe in God, I believe in karma and I believe in energy." She returned home to Brum, broke, and disillusioned. By 2012, she was, she admits today, "struggling".
"It was hard, I'm not gonna lie," she remembers. "I had to sign on, I was barely eating because the majority of my money was going to my studio sessions. I'd be walking around with nappy hair, I didn't have the nicest of clothes..." She moved to London and kept on going, kept on rhyming, kept on trying, kept on uploading her freestyles to YouTube, did magazine features including one for i-D alongside Jessie Ware and Charli XCX, jumped on remixes, took odd jobs at Subway ("I was the best sandwich artist in the world"), finally moved full time from Birmingham to London. "I just took a suitcase to London and never looked back - that was one of the hardest struggles of my life. But I knew I had to move to benefit my career." 2013 to 2014 were the toughest and she took a year out. That's when the idea of the Queen's Speech series came to her, and she fought her way out of the darkness. "I started thinking, you know, I wanna come back to music because this is all I know. It made me realise what I actually wanted to be. To be able to overcome it and be here now, I'm just… proud of myself," she admits with an easy shrug and crooked grin." Earlier this year she signed to Sony, ready to receive the help she needs in the places she can't get to. "I knew I couldn't do it on alone for the rest of my life. They can put me on a platform that I know I can't reach on my own. They add to my value," she adds, "they don't take from it."
Nowadays, she's in the studio full-time, leaving few hours for her beloved roulette. If she's not in London she's in LA, recording with hip hop heavyweights Bangladesh and Deputy. She's booked for Glastonbury, will surely be a shoe-in at the MOBOs, deserves a Brit, no question. A new album will follow soon, but she's taking her time. She's seen a lot over the last ten years, and knows that anything can change, at any time.
"I'm happy with the place I am and where I've got myself but I know I can be so much higher and sometimes I do get distracted, I do lose focus," she admits. "I go through personal issues. This is my life, so if someone plays with my life, I have nothing left. I have to be very careful."
I just go to have a good time, every time, and I usually end up winning. She's happy in life, right? A grin. "Yeah, in general I'm quite happy," she decides. "I've held out for so long. I've put my ground work in, I've stayed true to myself, I've never sold myself short. And I never will."
Lady Leshurr is touring Australia this month with the support of Handsome Tours, Astral People and i-D as media partner. We are giving away a double pass to each show across Australia. Email your name and city to firstname.lastname@example.org for your chances to win.
February 10 at Perth Festival, Perth
February 12 at Howler, Melbourne
February 14 at Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
February 16 at Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane
February 18 at Splore Festival, Auckland
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Olivia Rose
Styling Jack Borkett
Hair Nicole Kahlani at The Book Agency using Bleach London
Make-up Danielle Kahlani at The Book Agency using YSL Beauté
Photography assistance Rowan Hall.
Styling assistance Caio Reis