Lady Leshurr:’ They wanted to pit me against Nicki Minaj- I wasn’t feeling that’

The rapper learned how to build music in a Solihull youth club now, after a false start, shes working with Timbaland and is the toast of US hip-hop. Basically, she says, Im on the up

Lady Leshurr has just come back from the US. She has been spending a lot of period there this year, she says: Weve been to Atlanta, LA, New Orleans, Miami, New York. She played a sold-out gig in the latter, the audiences enthusiasm apparently undimmed given the fact that she raps with a distinct Brummie twang: I didnt think theyd be able to understand me, didnt believe my accent, of all accents, would have traversed over like that. But they were singing my lyrics back at me. It was hilarious, hearing people with American accents saying bredrin and wasteman, all that British urban slang.

But mostly, shes been working on her debut album. Working with a producer called Deputy, who built Rihannas Bitch Better Have My Money; Bangladesh, he made Lil Waynes A Milli, and Diva and Video Phone for Beyonc. Ive got a session with Scott Storch, hes coming back now as well. And you know Timbaland?

Timbaland, the celebrated, groundbreaking producer of Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, Justin Timberlake and Beyonc? The visionary auteur behind more than 100 hit singles on both sides of the Atlantic? Im aware of his work, yes.

Well, Ive been doing a few bits with Timbaland. Timbaland is amazing. He just rang me up on my mobile one day. The daughter born Melesha OGarro giggles. Im simply working with a few legendary producers.

Here, should you want it, is empirical evidence of UK raps sudden ascent to prominence in the US, a country traditionally resistant to the charms of the British MC, and, moreover, of the fact that a lot of people suppose Lady Leshurr is about to become very famous indeed. In fact, shes already famous over the course of our interview outside of a north London wine bar, shes interrupted not once , not twice, but three times by fans. Her renown is largely thanks to a series of five freestyles called The Queens Speech, which she released herself on iTunes and uploaded to YouTube, accompanied by low-budget videos, becoming a viral sensation. Last August Queens Speech 4 racked up a fairly staggering 31 m views.

Their lyrics were both dextrous and exceedingly funny, a blur of highly original put-downs Ill upload a picture of your puppy and sell it on Gumtree and pop-culture references; they also frequently came equipped with the various kinds of hooklines you can imagine being chanted in playgrounds: Thats nasty, change your panties, Brush your teeth, Your lips definitely sounds like crispy bacon. Furthermore, they seem to have attracted a different audience compared with other UK rappers.

Ive seen videos of 60 -year-old women and men in America saying Brush your teeth and stuff, videos of a little newborn watching it and giggling, do you know what I mean? I get parents saying to me: Wow, youre the only artist I let my children listen to, because I dont swear in my lyrics. I just dont think its necessary. My mum brought me up really well, I dont swear unless Im actually, really angry.

Everyones too cool, everyone wants to be drinking alcohol in their videos and driving flash vehicles, wearing big chains. I dont wishes to do that, because I dont live that. All my music, youll never ensure me with my breasts hanging out or demonstrating so much flesh that you cant present it to your kids or things like that. Because, one, I respect myself as a person; two, I want to make people understand that you dont have to go that route to be successful. If youve got the talent, let the talent talk. Appear at what Im wearing afterwards, if you have to, but listen to me first, do you know what I entail?

In person, Lady Leshurr is charismatic and funny and smart. You can see why her new major record label shes signed to Sonys RCA imprint might guess shes a hot prospect; in the past 12 months, she has run from a hugely productive one-woman bungalow industry, of the kind thats fuelled grimes commercial resurgence in Britain, to an artist that Timbaland and co are queuing up to work with. All these major established artists reaching out, she frowns. I had people like Akon calling my phone. Busta Rhymes. Ive no idea how he even got my number. Young Money Records tried to reach out to sign me. She giggles again. Im saying it all like its so casual, but its only because I dont actually let things arouse me like that. I try to be calm with it. Im not like: Oh my God, oh my God.

Perhaps thats something to do with the fact that shes is right there, or at the least somewhere like it, before. When the Observer profiled her, in 2013, her career appeared to be about to blast off: a major label had offered her a deal, her single Blazin had just deposed Justin Timberlake from No 1 on the MTV Base chart, she was talking about launching a attire line, Friggin L, winningly named after one of her mixtapes. But then everything went wrong, of which more later.

Or perhaps its something to do with her background, which is substantially grimmer than the bubbly image she projects suggests. Before she became a rapper, she says, she started out writing poetry because I wanted to express myself. I grew up in a very strict household. My father was very strict, very violent: he had been brought up in a violent background and its probably just a cycle. But I think that was the push to try and express myself in another way. I couldnt really carry myself to him or anyone else. I was very shy, always seemed down, Id never have any eye contact with people, so I set all that into verse, writing down my annoyance, what I felt and what Id assured, or stuff written from my mums position, as if I was my mother. I started supposing, You know what? Why dont I just rap? Because its just verse with a beat behind it, really.

She learnt to rap, create, mix, master, everything at a youth club across the road from her home in Solihull. We would all be in one room with the mic, person would be DJing, the illuminates would be off, itd merely be sweaty, loads of men. No other girls at all. At first, they were like: Shes good for a girl, or Ah, shes sick because theres no other girls about there was always an excuse. So I guessed: Fine, Im going to show you that Im better than the next man , not good for a female. So it pushed me to work hard, to write the best.

She created her first mixtape at 14: I had no notion how to promote, or how to get my things in shops, so I simply used to leave Cds on the bus when I was on my route to school. Id hand them out to strangers, leave them on park benches, anywhere I supposed people might see them and pick them up.

Amazingly, it was a strategy that worked. Person uploaded its contents to a website I cant even recollect what it was called, but it was big for UK artists at the time and it get loads of makes but her burgeoning career was still hampered by her home life. I wasnt permitted out of my area. I wasnt allowed to go anywhere my friends were allowed to go to. I was always told by my father: No, youre not allowed to do this; no, youre not going to make it. There was a hour where reference is sat all the brothers and sisters down in a room and he wrote down task professions and he put them in a hat and whatever we picked out, we had to be. So all my sisters are like nurses, carers, my brothers are carpenters, mechanics, but I wouldnt do it. I knew that if I picked what was in that hat, Id have to start studying for it. Me and one friend whos now a footballer were the only ones stood up to him. It caused a whole heap of madness, and I merely ran away for a couple of hours. He wasnt there when I got back, and from that phase, I was just trying to dodge him.

Lady
Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

She left home after landing a role in a local film called One Day by rapping for the director. The movie was withdrawn from cinemas It was about gangs in Birmingham and when they showed it in Birmingham both gangs turned up to the cinema and people got stabbed and stuff but it brought her to the attention of Wiley and Kano and Ghetts, all these people Id grown up listening to … I didnt tell my mothers I was moving to London. I merely packed one suitcase, I left and I never went back. I believe I told my mum I was going on a trip with the college or something.

Her real transgres came when she uploaded a syllable-perfect parody video of Chris Brown and Busta Rhymess Look At Me Now to YouTube: it got 100,000 opinions in half a day, and Atlantic Records in the US offered her a bargain. They flew me out and we had a dialogue, but their idea was that they were going to pit me against Nicki Minaj. It was like: Shes the biggest female MC and you need to take her down, and I wasnt help feeling that at all. That whole stereotype of female rappers and their advocates having to compete with each other it seems to be a crime to be a fan of two female rappers that are successful. So I turned it down. The amount of money they were offering me was astounding. Ive always turned to music to get my mum out of the house, out of that situation, so to see that type of fund hurled at me … Im not going to lie, I exclaimed on the plane home, because I believed Id made a mistake and my mum required the money. It might have been my only chance. But I know by now I would probably have been dropped and my career would have been ruined.

Back in the UK, she elected to put her career on hold for a year. I was going through a lot myself, personally. I was living on sofas, living out of bags and boxes, sometimes I wouldnt even know where I was sleeping the next day. And then I went through a situation where someone completely tried to destroy my career, person I thought was a friend, who deleted all my social networks. So I had to start again, basically. So I was like: You know what? Im starting again as a brand new artist if youre going to do now that. I supposed: I grew up on Missy, Eminem, Busta Rhymes, they had all those funny, rewatchable videos with crazy visuals and I think thats what was and still is missing in the scene. Humour was definitely something I thought would work, I thought it would be different if I brought that to the scene, with the beats Im utilizing, which I co-produce. I wouldnt quite call them grime, theyre a bit slower, people say theyre a bit trap. I just wanted to create something new and fresh.

It was a plan that has clearly worked beyond her wildest dreams, although she says shes keen not to be seen as simply a funny person … The albums going to do the talking, because everybody believing this is all I do, the funny stuff, and the albums going to show that its not.

The album isnt the only thing on her intellect at the moment. Shes still thinking about a garb line, although, alas, the Friggin L name has been retired. Shes talking about going back into acting. Shes starting work on her own sketch show, starring a selection of alter-egos she made on Snapchat. Whatever happens, she says, she has already managed to achieve her dreaming: with the money she made from The Queens Speechs iTunes marketings and YouTube reaches, shes buying her mum a home. I merely maintained setting money aside, and its all still in the process at the moment. You know how mortgages are. But Im eventually going to take her there, and its going to have a massive bow on it, and Im going to pretend its my house that Ive bought in Birmingham and then tell her its hers. She has no idea. Unless she reads this, of course.

She drains her glass of fizzy wine. So much has happened simply because of uploading got a couple of videos, you know. Ive had all these offers and artists reaching out, Ive got to fly around the world and experiment with things Ive never tried before. Ive got half a million subscribers on my YouTube channel, Ive got my own machine. So, thats basically constructed me realise: Im on the up.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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