The Birmingham MC has been praised for her viral videos and colourful rhymes. Here, she tells us how she faced her criticsRay-Ban
This year Ray-Ban is championing courage, and what’s more courageous than squaring up to your critics? From diss tracks to battle raps, historically grime and hip hop have been the ultimate musical platforms to face your critics. Here, we speak to up-and-coming Birmingham artist Lady Leshurr about how she faced down online trolls, clueless record labels, and men who criticised her looks and taught them why she’s one of the most exciting MCs in the country.
Lady Leshurr (pronounced Lee-shurr) is one of the collection of grime artists who’ve been getting mainstream recognition in the past year. The colourful, catty Queen’s Speech series, which in parts saw Leshurr prowling down a main road on the Greenwich peninsula while shooting out sparky, pop culture-themed verses, marked out the Birmingham-born Leshurr as one to watch in a genre that’s still dominated by London bros.
Leshurr released her first mixtape when she was only 14, but after taking a year out of the industry, she returned to the scene with a bang in late 2015. The Queen’s Speech series went viral, knocking up millions upon millions of views on YouTube, and she’s received support from the likes of Akon, Timbaland, Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes, and Chris Brown. A new single “Where Are You Now?”, featuring veteran grime MC Wiley, was released in early July, with her debut album Queen of the Scene set to come out early next year. We had a chat with the new queen of grime about how she faces her critics.
Lady Leshurr, how do you face your critics?
Lady Leshurr: If I see anything negative, any comments on my Twitter or other social media, I don’t know how I do it, but I always manage to think positive. If I see someone dissing me, I’ll banter back and make people laugh. I can’t really stand on stage telling people to go for it if I’m insecure myself. There was one interview with Noisey where I had to read negative comments, and you can see it in my face – I don’t ever get offended. I’ve been told I’m ugly a thousand million times. To the point where I’m saying, ‘Yeah, I am ugly. So what? I rock ugly the best.’ People want a reaction, so if you fall into that trap they’ve got what they want. The main reason I came up with that lyric ‘Brush your teeth’ (in “Queen’s Speech Ep.4”), was because someone was being negative to me and I just told them to brush their teeth! I realised I could use that in the chorus of my song.
Yeah, quite a lot of your songs are like funny disses on people. Talking about how people’s lips look like ‘crispy bacon’ and their weaves (hair extensions) being ‘synthetic’.
Lady Leshurr: It’s like playground disses, like back in school when you’d just diss your friends and people would be like ‘oohhhhh’. I write the type of lyrics that get a reaction off people and make them laugh; I’m the banter queen, so if anyone banters with me, I don’t take it personal. I just come back with something else funny. I’ve always been like that. Growing up, I saw my mum go through a lot of negative things and yet she’s always been really positive, so it inspired me to be the same way.
“If I see someone dissing me, I’ll banter back and make people laugh. I can’t really stand on stage telling people to go for it if I’m insecure myself” — Lady Leshurr
So you were never one of those shy kids – you’ve always been quite ballsy and known what you’ve wanted?
Lady Leshurr: It definitely took a while to develop, especially musically, because I never really put my personality into songs until I created the Queen’s Speech series. I just didn’t care what people thought anymore. That’s why I excelled so much. I got to a point in my life where I knew exactly what I wanted to do, for once, and I wrote down things – ‘cause I never write down things – and it all just kind of moulded together. There I was walking in the road, and cars were just going past. People don’t really do stuff like that; people want their life. I appreciate my life as well, I just wanted to do something out of the box and try and set a trend. And it worked.
Do you think grime is a good medium for taking on your critics?
Lady Leshurr: Well, any jam over music could do that, you’ve just got to deliver properly. With me, I express myself better on grime and on faster beats. I grew up on garage, drum‘n’bass, jungle. Fast tempo genres of music. And that’s what I like to work with more when it comes to the banter lyrics and the sense of humour. You can do it on any genre of music, but grime is a good way to express yourself, for sure. It’s fresh, and especially overseas they’re really interested and intrigued by it.
Have you ever really offended anyone with your lyrics? Has anyone ever come at you and been like, ‘I can’t believe you’ve said that’?
Lady Leshurr: No, not really. If anything, people just think I’m speaking about someone specific, and it’s not that. It’s just something where I grew up on battle rap and I know how to do it. I rap as if I’m battling someone in front of me. People just near enough think I’m directing it at someone or some people just think that I’m putting down females – that does affect me actually, because you can see it in both ways, but I don’t intentionally put down females. I just want to touch on things that people can relate to and laugh about. It’s not meant to be taken seriously because (the Queen’s Speech) is a series and in it I have an alter ego that’s not Lady Leshurr, in a sense – it’s the Queen of Banter, a comedian rapper.
Do you think that as a black woman in the industry you are open to more criticism than others? How have you managed to get past that?
Lady Leshurr: Yeah, definitely, but I’m just really comfortable in who I am. Even in interviews I will put the interviewer under pressure. I will ask them questions. I’m very challenging. There’s not a lot of artists in the scene who would do something completely different or do something that gets people talking about an interview. A lot of things don’t phase me – I just laugh it off, I push it off.
“There’s a minority of female musicians in general and we always get pitted against each other. Why are we following that cycle, and just assuming that there’s only one spot? We should work to get to the top together” — Lady Leshurr
I know you’ve been in the States recently. Have you been following the Black Lives Matter movement at all?
Lady Leshurr: I should be more in tune with it because I see it all the time, and I remember the death of Trayvon Martin. It touches me too much to the point where I can’t read about it. It really, really, really gets me upset. As ignorant as it sounds, I haven’t really looked at anything at the moment. I know what’s happening and who it was (who died), but I haven’t watched the footage, or people protesting. In general all lives matter, and I think the hashtagging brings more of a divide to the races. I know black people are dying in America, but every race is dying all over the world. I do think the majority of the time, black people are getting killed over the stupidest things though – and it’s getting caught on camera, the footage is getting leaked. This is what annoys me. You won’t see anything until weeks later when there’s more evidence and more evidence, and still the police are killing these people. I understand why people are so angry. Angry, angry, angry. I can’t knock that.
I read that you wanted to start your own female movement. How’s that going?
Lady Leshurr: There is something in the pipeline for females. I’m not going to mention what it is, but hopefully I can change what’s going on, even if it’s for the up and coming ones, the ones who aren’t even out yet. I want to do something for females, for females-only, because no-one is doing that.
Should women be better at supporting each other against critics?
Lady Leshurr: The females of today, the newer generation, are completely different from the generation I grew up in. I feel like females now do need to support each other more. It’s very rare – it’s like seeing a dinosaur – and it’s very frustrating. I grew up in the era of Shystie, Lioness, Ms. Dynamite. Everyone seemed more supportive back then. We were doing songs together and it was more like ‘Yes, team female!’ I don’t know what happened, but nowadays you don’t really see that support we used to give each other in like, 2012. I feel like that a lot of women’s mentalities are that ‘There’s only one spot and I want it to be mine’, even though that’s not going to get you far because there’s a minority of female musicians in general and we always get pitted against each other. Why are we following that cycle, and just assuming that there’s only one spot? We should work to get to the top together. When I do my interviews I say who I like, and who I respect.
Is it just the women who are pitting themselves against each other? I remember reading about how a record label wanted you start a beef with Nicki Minaj if they signed you.
Lady Leshurr: That’s what I meant, why follow the cycle of people in general, who like to put female rappers against each other? You’ve got the media doing it, you’ve got the supporters doing it, you’ve got people talking about who’s the best female rapper. It’s everybody really, but subconsciously they may be seeing that online, people saying their name against someone else’s and then they feel like they have to have that mentality of just being selfish and do me. It stems from the media because they have the most coverage everywhere. I see that a lot with Nicki (Minaj) and Iggy (Azalea), but really they don’t have a problem with each other, but you can support Nicki and Iggy at the same time. That’s why I turned down the deal, because I’ve never supported that. I didn’t want to be signed just to put another female rapper down. It doesn’t make any sense to me at all. Hopefully it changes in the next couple of years and I won’t even be having this conversation.
“People used to diss my accent and I got insecure and stopped using it. But I just woke up one day and thought, ‘What are you doing Leesh? You’re from Birmingham, you shouldn’t have to hide your accent because of other people’” — Lady Leshurr
Do you relate to the term ‘feminist’?
Lady Leshurr: I support females. I am a female, and I represent us. I represent the people who’ve always wanted to rap. Kids in school who aren’t confident enough pursue it. I get a lot of messages from girls in school who say that my songs really make them feel powerful. I don’t necessarily think I’m a role model or a feminist or anything like that, but I know what I support and represent – and you could say that, maybe. I’m not going to say it!
It sounds like you’ve had a bit of a new perspective since you had your year out. Has it proved to you that you can still be successful and be yourself?
Lady Leshurr: One million percent. It just made me realise, man, I don’t need anyone for happiness. I had to take that time out to understand that I can do whatever I want. Before the Queen’s Speech videos I was doing music, but not the type of music that I wanted to do. I wanted to please everyone else, and I knew they wanted me to do the fast-spitting thing all the time so I’d just do it. Really, I wanted to do more grime; I wanted to do more British music and bring my accent more into it. People used to diss my accent and I got insecure and stopped using it. But I just woke up one day and thought, ‘What are you doing Leesh? You’re from Birmingham, you shouldn’t have to hide your accent because of other people.’ I had a little word with myself, said that I should fix up. I don’t really think people understand how happy I am that I’m finally me, inside and out.
Do you think it’s harder for grime artists who aren’t from London to gain recognition? Did you find you had to come down to London to work?
Lady Leshurr: It’s very, very, very difficult. I always said to myself that I wouldn’t move down to London, that I would stay true. But you can still stay true and travel the world. You can’t just stay in one city for the rest of your life. That’s something I had to just learn. I couldn’t actually physically stay in Birmingham anymore. The people around me weren’t motivating. No one was really as focused as I was. I would go back and forth on the train to London, take a little suitcase, go for the weekend, go to the radio, the studio – and then go back. I was doing that for a good two years, but the train tickets were £70 a pop, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. When I moved to London I didn’t even tell my family or anything, and I never came back. I moved to Greenwich, actually, and I set myself up. I had saved a little bit up from working, I had a little 9 to 5, and I just done it. I wasn’t even allowed to do it at the time because my parents are very strict, but I knew that I had to. It felt very uncomfortable at the time but change will bring new opportunities. If I didn’t leave the time I did, I don’t think I’d be in this position now. I had to learn to understand London and how people talk and associate with each other. All that broke me down and then built me up for this next run.