LEIKELI47 STOLE THE SHOW AT AFROPUNK BROOKLYN
If there is one takeaway I brought back with me to Atlanta from Afropunk's Brooklyn festival, it is that Black women are running the show this year. With performers like Solange, SZA, Willow Smith, Jorja Smith and Princess Nokia being the most buzzed about acts at this year's Afropunk music festival, they also drew in the largest crowds and gave some of the most awe-inspiring performances. SZA's relaxed and honest sunset performance was preluded by the soulful, hippy-esque sounds of Willow Smith, and paved the way for Solange to close the show with one of the most simplistically beautiful and well-choreographed festival performances I've ever seen. Earlier in the day, British rapper Lil Simz seized a large crowd and managed to get everybody jumping for a bit, and before that Princess Nokia's crowdsurfing was a moment of excitement. But all these excitements and great performances managed to be challenged by the energy, excitement, and power that Leikeli47 managed to bring to stage with her.
As I stood underneath the hot sun in a crowd filled with beautiful sweaty Black folk, I waited for Leikeli47 to hit the stage under the assumption that the majority of those around me would not know who she was, or only be familiar with her biggest mainstream hit "Money." I was correct, mostly; as I stood there rapping every word to every song she performed, most people around me seemed to be unfamiliar with her brand of confident Brooklyn swagger-laced lyrics and heavy hitting hip-hop beats. However, despite not knowing the words this was one of the most lit crowds I saw all weekend; even more so than internet sensation Princess Nokia who had the crowd chanting the words to her song "Tomboy."
Leikeli47 stepped up to the mic with three backup dancers, all in crop-top hoodies with large golden hoop earrings, reminding me of the homegirls I spent most of my time with in middle and high school. Her look is one of the main things that makes her special: she is always seen in a ski mask, and is typically dressed in masculine-presenting clothing. In a 2015 interview with Noisey, she explained that the ski mask and clothing "distracts from everything that everybody would normally go to; what’s she look like, what’s her shape, her complexion." Truly, it is within this visual transgression against the confines of conventional desirability that her invincible, refreshing persona engages the crowd and allows them to exist within a sort wonder and interest. As the crowd hears this woman rap "Jesus or Judas/ Which one are you with?" and she delves into lyrics that establish a hard, street-clad yet playful and oddly queer persona, dancing and movement emerges.
One highlight of the set was her exuberant and loud performance of "Fuck The Summer Up," a hit that finds its place somewhere between the influences of an M.I.A-esque beat and A$AP Ferg spitfire rapping. As the crowd roared "imma fuck the summer up," and dancing, grinding, jumping, smiling erupted, it was a moment of pure, fun energy. Another moment, and possibly the most exciting moment during her set was her braggadocios and relatable track "Attitude," which was recently featured on an episode of HBO's Insecure. The track is clearly inspired by a Black queer ballroom sound, with snares and snaps just begging listeners to vogue to it's playfully confident lyrics. While performing this song with, well, attitude, she brought out a surprise dancer to vogue and pop to the song, while the other three dancers gassed him up. It was a powerful moment for the music festival, displaying a hype moment of Black queer excellence in the form of voguing and having a attitude for the entire crowd to see. And of course I have to mention her performance of "O.M.C," during which she brought out the all-Black Brooklyn United Marching Band and paraded across stage with them, the backup dancers, and the queer Black man voguing all at once. It felt like such a magical display of much of what Brooklyn has to offer, varying perspectives of its blackness exposed in the safe space of Afropunk, and it truly had the crowd in a great energy.
Through her transgression against and challenging of desirability and femininity, crowd-jerking surprises, and completely high-energy performance, Leikeli47 established herself as a force to be reckoned with. She exists in a space reminiscent of folks like Missy Eliott, M.I.A., A$AP Ferg, Azealia Banks, and Princess Nokia, just to name a few; a space that simultaneously rejects conventions of beauty, and sound, and femininity, and seems to be redefining a new generation of budding hip-hop artists. She breaks away from the sounds and aesthetics we are used to seeing, douses beats with impressive lyrical ability, and seems to pull the margins into the center by incorporating voguing and instruments into her energetic performances. After two days at the music festival, I kept returning to the wonderful performance she put on and imagining just how far her transgressions against hip-hop conventions will continue to grow. Leikeli47's performance at Afropunk Brooklyn left me and many others wondering only one thing: when can we see more?