Le1f (pronounced “leaf”) from Manhattan, one of the first and few openly homosexual rappers ever, has been buzzing for a few good years now. His mixtapes and EPs go back to 2012, and he has made news at various points since then. In 2013, Le1f alleged that Macklemore stole the style of his “Wut” song for the hit single “Thrift Shop” from The Heist, and in 2015, he made a pitch for XXL Magazine’s Freshmen Class but wasn’t granted a spot unfortunately.
On Nov. 13, Riot Boi, Le1f’s debut LP, was released via Terrible Records and XL Recordings. It is a maze of techno-synth music spurring Le1f to rap mostly and sing at other times on inspirations such as finding the right relationships, living life to the fullest and being true to oneself. Le1f is tender and gentle but also courageous in his conviction, and rarely has this type of intensely emotional compassion been heard from a male perspective in rap before. That doesn’t mean Le1f doesn’t know how to get amped up though. He knows how and does it here more than once. Riot Boi confidently presents itself as a stylish artistic retail debut for Le1f with different energy levels and a few useful key messages for everyone.
Introducing himself and being exactly who he is at his core in “Hi,” Le1f and his pattern/theme of chirpy synths and tongue in cheek rhyme flows start in this fortified intro where one of the most memorable lines harps on people who just want to shop at the mall. After busting loose in “Rage” and toughly confronting opposers in “Grace Alek Naomi,” Le1f gets sexy with Junglepussy and House of LaDosha in “Swirl.” Conversely, he portrays himself as the attitudinal target of pickup attempts in the techno-dancey “Koi.” “Umami/Water,” the last of the first six songs, has no other dedication than to a sexy naughty chick at the function in section one and a loose ambiguous mission in the flowing ambient second section.
The rest deserves more track by track analysis. “Lisa” excludes lames from the clique, “Chops” is a heavy haunting instrumental interlude, and the digitally pert “Cheap” is about not necessarily liking money but liking some of the things you can get with it. In “Taxi,” with slow throaty singing verses and shook up mentally resolved choruses, Le1f explains how for him getting rejected by guys is like getting no rides from taxis (remember: Le1f is from New York City). The final feelings of the album actually require two songs to cover – “Tell” motivates us to be ourselves and comfortable in our own skin over a dark dance beat, and the gently ending “Change” similarly supplies more wisdom and kind outreach.
As an unashamed member of the LGBT community, Le1f is not scared to express his gayness on Riot Boi, but he is careful not to make it the album’s main focus. Most of the topics, e.g. love, individuality, inner serenity and spirituality, are universal and cannot be tagged with one single specific sexual orientation. In other words, you don’t have to be gay to like this album. His rapping style could use some more unique identity and his clarity and enunciation may not be razor sharp, but his original brand of rap cum variant vocal flavors is a payoff in the experimental realm. Likewise, the production relies on sound effects to a sizable extent, but this is understandable when the chief musical genre is twisting and turning electronic dance. Robust and smart, Riot Boi launches Le1f as a winner on the rise.