Khalif Diouf, aka LE1F, has been hard to miss in 2012. He's rocked shows with everyone from SSION to Araabmuzik, while also releasing the next-level mixtape Dark York in April. But he's no newcomer. Chances are, you've heard his production as early as 2009 on Das Racist's smash "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," or on Spank Rock and Big Freedia's "Nasty."
In LE1F's mixtape for OC, look out for heat from NYC "gayngsta" peers Mykki Blanco and House of Ladosha, as well as party jams from Flocka and Yeezy blended with Trap, Jersey Club and vogue bangers––many of them from his own Camp & Street production crew. Best of all, he hits us with an unreleased track from an upcoming EP with Boody on Boyz Noise. Listen around the 23:00 mark for a taste of the icy, minimal "Soda." While you're drinking in the sounds, check my interview with the self-described "male Missy Elliot" and "gay Method Man" behind the mic.
Nas - The Don (Tom Wrecks Remix)
House of Ladosha - Rollin
DJ Hoodcore - Doomsday
Waka Flocka Flame - Rooster In My Rari
Kaos Harajuku - 6 cunt 7 cunt
David Heartbreak - Untitled
C¥bergiga - Himitsu
Kendrick Lamar ft. Gunplay - Cartoons & Cereal (DJ Tim Dolla Remix)
KP & Envy - Shorty Swing My Way
Lady Bee - Smoke One
DJ Yayyay - Micro-Chips (Realness Remix)
Fatima Al-Qadiri - How Can I Resist U
Boody & Le1f - Soda
DJ Tim Dolla - Mercy RMX
Mykki Blanco - Wavvy
Kaos Harajuku - Cockiness Ha (I love when you eat it up)
Soulja Boy - Speakers Going Hammer (Trigzo's Remix)
Kon - TuЯnabout
Tree Ebony - My Buddy
Godlink - Repent Ha
Mess Kid - Sip Slow (Cedaa Remix)
M.E.S.H. - Whenever We Feels Like
Tom Richman - Gun Jam
A$AP Rocky - Pretty Flacko (Noms Pretty Boy Remix)
C¥bergiga - Lonely Modem Pt. II
Mr. Cornelius - A song for the ladies
Ezra Marcus: When did you first get into the rap game? Khalif Diouf: I first started writing poetic raps in high school by myself and they sucked. After hanging out with Bunny Rabbit and Black Cracker, then Himanshu [of Das Racist] and Lakutis, I got better.
EM: Tell us about your work as a producer. Who have been your main influences? KD: I also started producing in high school, learning [the music program] FruityLoops from a dude who is now one of Snoop Dogg's engineers in LA. I was making experimental percussive beats for dance happenings and almost got signed for those, but I was too young and naïve.
Later, I started making mashups and producing beats for myself but also for Das Racist, who I met before college, and Spank Rock. I wanted to make beats for myself that I envisioned Björk or M.I.A. using. I was very inspired by Mark Bell, Timbaland, Matmos, Secret Frequency Crew... I've also been super inspired by Soulja Boy since day one. Ocean Gang everything.
EM: The production on your mixtape Dark York includes a wide variety of sounds, including Footwork, Ballroom, and UK bass. What's your relationship with each of these scenes?
KD: I've been in love with juke for awhile. I've danced for my friend Mapei, and I was also involved with a scandinavian juke scene. Footwork blew my mind as a sound and dance. It reminds me so much of the Senegalese Sabar drumming. Culturally, It is also super similar to voguing––with oppressed people making progressive electronic dance music accompanied by intricate movements, a community-based dance competition, and catharsis. I'm trained in dance, and although I don't consider myself a voguer, my gay black urban moving body wants to move in vogue ways, often to Ballroom beats. And bass music is just the shit. Bass is what makes hips move.
EM: You rep the term "banjee" consistently thoughout Dark York. What does it mean to you?
KD: It's a word that's been used for a few decades to describe the culture of African-American and Latino men embracing masculinity as a means of being straight-acting and/or attracting other gay men. It more recently describes a gay urban lifestyle that is the opposite of twink life, i.e. effeminate and camp. It's about being masculine yet androgynous. About feeling like a man and feeling up a man. About looking classy in ghetto garments. It's a very particular swag, i.e. Hood By Air .
EM: What are some ways you try to accomplish a similar effect through music?
KD: I take parts of all my experiences and sum them up into something aggressively gay and black. I love to reference aspects of rap, hip-hop, and classic gay house music in both my raps and my beats. I mix slang from all my cultures. It's satisfying for me to make something taboo out of dichotomies. Hood By Air and Telfar do this with fashion. Venus X does it with DJing. House of Ladosha and I do it with rap. I want to be the gay Method Man, the male Missy Elliott. SODMGLBTQ.
EM: I see parallels between your fluid, constantly reinvented image and the Tumblr/DIS magazine approach to recontextualizing found cultural artifacts. How does this aesthetic inform your virtual identity?
KD: Well, I'm also part of that community. I'm a screenager and a troll. I rap about Pokémon a lot and my pseudonym is l33t. We're all sort of like Fluxus artists, taking accessible images and easy associations and making something subversive and ratchetly clever. It's 2012. Humans get bored really quickly now. Reading cartoons about X-Men isn't enough now––I want to act like one. Kids are becoming more and more comfortable with being post-human and omnipresent. I want to have the most dynamic avatar I can create. I'm just trying to hang out with a bunch of fifth elements and feel new things.
EM: With that in mind, how do you approach the rap game's expectations of "realness"?
KD: I don't have those rap standards labeling me. I came up through New York's indie underground, so I actually have expectations of experimentation. I'm from New York proper, and my home is on the Internet, so that's what people associate with me, which is a very free association. In terms of my aesthetic, I have a lot of room to move, and the ability to create and recreate my look. The only images I'm faithful to are the ones that are defining my life and sculpting my thoughts on any given day.
EM: What's sculpting your thoughts as we speak? KD: I'm working on my next record and I'm really into lounge life right now. I've been listening to a lot downtempo and looking at high-end Nikes. I'm imagining Air Jordan as an oxygen bar––spas, bubble chairs, rubber soles, antioxidants, and ambient music.
EM: You should incorporate those air bubbles in athletic shoes... KD: OMG lol, thanks. I'm definitely gonna Google "nike air bubble" all day.
EM: Do you think the success of artists like Nicki Minaj, who constantly shift identities, shows a change in the overall culture towards an aesthetic more like your own?
KD: I think she's identifying with a mode of performance that Björk and Madonna have, creating personas that clearly express a set of ideas. It's cool that Nicki Minaj created characters to manage her mix of soft and hard voices on one major label record, which is way smarter than having side-projects. It's like having multiple brands. It's like Old Navy and Banana Republic.
It's just a sign of the times. MP3s are just as fleeting and plentiful as hair colors. No one gags anymore just because an MC is female or not black. No one cares about country singers collaborating with gangster rappers. Soon, no one will gasp over a rapper being gay or "based"—it's been true more and more that unique artists making unique music are the ones who find longevity, and that comes with being true to oneself. If a musician doesn't show some kind of change or progression over time, they're either lazy or they're lying.
EM: You mentioned in one interview that you don't want to make "gay NYC rap a thing."Beyond those descriptors, what specific cultural movements do you see yourself involved with as far as music, fashion, and identity?
KD: Right now I'm gayngsta. Last year I was seapunk. The year before, I was witch-house. My song "Bubbles" has gotten press as all three. I admit, being coined a "gay rapper" has felt the most comfortable for me, but I have little interest in aligning myself with any trend or groupthink situation. All of these "movements" are just short-lived memes anyway. Let's see what they call me next year, lol.
EM: What's next for you? KD: I'm working with my Dark York producer crew some more, along with a few new collaborators like Arca, Norrit, Brenmar and Shy Guy.
EM: Last question. What would your dream concert look like?
KD: If I could play at Spa Castle, wearing nothing but Lucy & Bart bubbles, that would be the look. Or at the Latex Ball, actually wearing latex. _________________________________________________
If you are an artist whose music is on this mixtape and wish not to be included, please E-MAIL US and we'll remove it immediately.