In a world full of rappers claiming to be one of a kind, Le1f (born Khalif Diouf) is a real deal original, a fascinatingly complicated personality full of seeming contractions. He’s a Manhattan native who studied ballet and modern dance, and eventually earned a degree in dance from Wesleyan before returning to the city to become a rapper. He’s an out and proud gay MC whose style is rooted in Tunnel bangers from a less socially enlightened era of hip-hop. He’s a producer who’s responsible for the beat behind Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”, a fashion icon promoting a “hoodrat Tumblr aesthetic,” and Internet personality on a transcendental quest to become a living digital avatar. “The fabric of my life is a sexy fucking textile,” he brags on “Yup,” from his debut mixtape, Dark York, and obviously that’s no joke.
Le1f has one foot in the glossy Bling Era rap hits that he came to age on and one foot in the downtown electronic scene where he developed as an artist, and Dark York is true to both sides of his heritage. The beats (by Le1f, Nguzunguzu, Matt Shadetek, and what Le1f refers to as “Soundcloud guys and Internet friends”) refuse to settle into easy categories like “rap” or “dance,” and Le1f’s muscular, hyperarticulate flow handily disposes of any misconceptions that he’s anything less than than a legitimate rapper.
Since its release in April on Heems from Das Racist’s Greedhead Music imprint, Dark York–and its addictively giddy, 5kinAndBone5-produced lead single “Wut”–has made Le1f a media darling. The Fader, Spin, Pitchfork, Gawker, and a horde of tastemaking blogs have held him up as an example of the direction hip-hop’s evolving towards. Even more recently the video for “Wut,” which prominently showcases Le1f’s prodigious twerking skills, went viral, which indicates that there might be a much bigger audience for his entire artistic package than even his most ardent fans might have suspected. The cool thing about this story is that since we’ve never heard it before we don’t know how it’s going to end.