Leaf Talks Female Empowerment, Musical Identity, and Alessia Cara

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Rock On Philly: Even as a fairly green artist, you’ve already shown yourself to be a crusader for the empowerment of young women. What sorts of creative risks do you take in your music to achieve solidarity with female listeners?

Leaf: I try to make songs that empower women rather then take their power away. So much of what’s out their tends to strip them of that power—what I’m trying to do is build them up. I always want girls to know they are the ones who control their own destinies—to say, “It’s my choice, it’s my life,” and to know who they are before they, inevitably, get lost in this world.

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ROP: OK, so I have to know because it seems to be such an important piece of your brand on social media and throughout your videos…what’s MBM?

L: So, MBM is Money Before Men and Magnet B**** Movement.

ROP: What is a “Magnet B****” and why is it so important to magnetize young women through music?

L: A lot of girls lack people in their lives who can help them create a safe haven. I want girls to know that every time they have doubts or insecurities, there’s always someone out there who understands, someone they can talk to. MBM is really a sisterhood movement.

ROP: Let’s delve into your Magnet B**** EP with Fool’s Gold—I can’t help but notice how on “Slick” or “Drama” your range is kind of insane and you float so effortlessly between rapped verses and some pretty killer vocals.

Who are some of your creative influences as an experimental musician?

L: I’m influenced by so many musicians, but I think, above all, I’ve really looked up to the great performers, those who have created an untouchable legacy. On one hand there’s those who represent my generation—Lauryn Hill, Gwen Stefani, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj, even Kanye and on the other hand there’s the great legends, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, and as an instrumentalist, definitely Hendrix.

ROP: You’ve been praised for your effortless and airy vocals—have you had any type of training?

L: Yes, I was classically trained in opera for four years. Music runs pretty deep in my family. My great-grandfather was a very famous saxophone player and my grandfather also played the saxophone. I sang jazz growing up as well.

ROP: What about rapping? When did you start to pick that up?

L: I started freestyling with my cousin while growing up in Brooklyn. I was twelve when I started and never really took it seriously, mostly because I didn’t think I stood a chance. There weren’t that many girls making beats. Then, people like Nicki [Minaj] came along and I felt more empowered.

ROP: What’s the hardest part about being a musician, especially a female artist in such a male-dominated genre?

L: When I first started freestyling, people were very critical of my lyrics. With women especially if you’re not the absolute best, then people are going to criticize. If you don’t sing like Whitney Houston or your eyebrows aren’t on fleek, you’re bound to face a lot of rejection as a woman in a male-dominated industry.

ROP: And if music hadn’t worked out…? 

L: I’ve actually been sewing my own clothes since I was eleven years old. If music didn’t work out, I wanted to go to FIT. I still love clothes and design for my line, MBM (named after her pro-female musical movement)

ROP: So, you’re touring with Alessia Cara—she’s really stepped outside of the box promoting authentic messages that are sadly less popular in music today.

Are you excited about this match up?

L: I am. I’m so glad she made the song “Here.” I could totally associate and understand where the entire album came from. It’s so hard being young in this generation, people become mindless with distraction and it really makes you want to remove yourself from everything. I can remember eating lunch by myself all the time in school. I really only had like three real friends. She [Cara] has shown us the importance of stepping back and becoming an observer and telling that story of feeling like you’re on the outside.

ROP: Besides Philly (of course), which cities are you most excited to visit while on tour?

L: I’m really excited to visit Chicago—I hear it’s a lot like New York. I also can’t wait to go to Detroit, it’s the birthplace of so many influential artists, like Eminem and Aaliyah.

ROP: What can we expect from Leaf in 2016? 

L: I’m really proud of my first full-length with Fool’s Gold. It’s a project that seamlessly combines my talents as a singer and rap artist—there’s not a lot of women who are doing that right now. I made 50% of the beats on the album myself. I want people to hear it and have it click. This is Leaf—she can rap, she can sing, she can get really crazy but then she can become really beautiful and sing all these pretty notes. I want to show people that you can’t put a box around me. I know this tour really is a blessing and this year it going to be amazing.

Leaf plays the TLA’s rescheduled, sold out January 23rd show on January 25th (TONIGHT) with Alessia Cara.

Check out her latest Magnet B**** EP with Fool’s Gold below!

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