lady leshurr: the unstoppable realist
Lady Leshurr tells the honest truth about racism, sexism, and grime going global.
Lady Leshurr is living, breathing, rapping proof you can be both the class clown and the smartest person in the room. In her career-making Queen's Speech clips the artist prodded us and poked fun at certain affectations of modernity — "why you Snapchatting in the club for? Just dance, man" — with a knowing wink, admitting she was guilty of it all too. They were always destined to go viral thick with her of-the-moment references. Queen's Speech Ep.6 managed to namecheck Young M.A, Birdman, Pokémon Go, Donald Trump, Kat Williams, Becky with the Good Hair, Simone Biles, and Frank Ocean in a tidy three minutes.
In conversation, Lady Leshurr's exhaustive cultural awareness is just as sharp, but she's less focused on what's going on online, and more attentive to the realities of her life as a successful woman of colour. While touring the east coast with Astral People, she takes a morning out to talk about the key to a great live show, how she feels about American artists doing Grime, and the spectre of industry sexism.
I wanted to talk to you about being self-made, because it feels like lately we're been seeing more and more great artists make it independently. Did you always think, "I'm going to do this on my own?"
Well I've always been a rebel, and I've never thought I need someone to get me anywhere. I learnt the hard way; in the past I've had people get me down. Because of that I've always said, "if you want something done, you have to do it yourself." With music, I've always thought, "I'm going to keep doing my thing and hopefully people like my sound. I'm different, so hopefully they catch on." Fortunately, they did.
Do you remember where you were when Queen's Speech Ep.4 clocked a million views?
I actually cannot even remember how it got to where it is now [39 million views at time of publishing]. I do remember it hitting the first million and thinking, "Oh my gosh, this has actually gone viral!" I didn't know what was going on. It all happened so fast and I didn't have a clue what to do.
Did you feel any pressure coming in to write episode five?
Not then, but when I finished episode three I was like, "Oh my god, I don't actually know what to say after this, I'm running out of ideas." But lot of people inspire me, especially haters: the people making it known that they don't like me. For example, a guy was tweeting me at about nine o'clock in the morning one time, being really negative. When I woke up and went on my computer because that's what I usually do, and I saw his tweets. I tweeted him back and said, "You've come online at nine in the morning to diss me and you haven't even brushed your teeth yet." And that's exactly where the line "brush your teeth" came from.
Speaking of Twitter, a couple of weeks ago you posted a 2010 tweet about wanting to win a MOBO — and now you have!
Yeah, that was a moment for me. As a young girl, I always wanted to be in the room, not be even on stage, I just wanted to get in the room and watch. And eventually I got to do that, in 2012, but I was actually seated really high up so I couldn't really see anything! That kind of inspired me more: I wanted to get to sit at the front at a table. And then a couple of years later when I got nominated, I was at the front at a table. Everything that I was saying I wanted was just coming true, so I thought, "I wish I could win one." Then I won it. That was a massive moment. A MOBO is just such a positive reflection on the type of artist you are, and the people who listen to you.
How do you feel about grime going world-wide?
I think it's a breath of fresh air to finally see that the world understands British music, you know, raw, gritty, UK music. It's amazing to see it on an international scale. On the other hand, sometimes it can be a kind of culture vulture thing — people are getting on it now and exploiting our sound a bit, trying to make it their own. I'm happy that it's getting out but I think some artists and some people are just jumping on the wave. That's what I don't like.
Are you open to working with American artists so long as they respect the history of grime?
I'll work with an artist if I think it works, but I'm not going to work with any American artist just because they're popular. I'm always about what I feel inside, not what someone else thinks is good for me.
Given you've been playing festivals practically non-stop, tell me some of the acts that that have really impressed you live.
I really like Novelist. He's a great performer, and not only that, he also has a really good DJ. And I think that's key: you have a DJ that's got the same energy as you. That's very rare to find. Another great live artist is Dynamite: he's the kind of performer that would be in a really small room and still have the crowd going crazy. And Jurassic 5 are also amazing, they've been doing amazing things.
Have you found comparisons to other female artists — unfortunately par for the course for emerging women — have petered off after your successes?
I mean, we're always going to get compared to females in general, because there's just not a lot of female artists in the music industry. So when there's a new fresh female out of nowhere, they're always going to get compared to, let's say, Nicki Minaj or something depending on the colour of their skin. But that's not ever going to change — of course it's something that I would love to change, but I don't think it will.
There's still a lot of people in the media that have those biases.
Yeah, there's so many sexist people in every industry. I don't know, I think it's just something that's not going to go away. It's like racism, racism will never go away. There's a lot of ignorance in the world, it's just how the world works. It's how humans work.
Photography Agnieszka Chabros
Creative direction Sinead Hargreaves
Makeup Rob Povey for MAC Cosmetics
Hair Xeneb Allen