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Le1f's list

From homophobia to classism, the New York rapper knows what he's talking about.

February 26, 2014|By Ernest Wilkins, @ernestwilkins | RedEye SoundBoard

In the past year and a half or so, independent rapper Macklemore undeniably has become one of the biggest faces in hip-hop.

New York rapper Le1f took some issue with that. Le1f, who is gay (and has produced for artists like Spank Rock and Das Racist and released his own acclaimed mixtapes), made waves in August when he went on a lengthy Twitter tirade slamming Macklemore, accusing the rising star of exploiting the gay community for his own gain. Before Le1f’s show Friday at Empty Bottle, he connected by phone to elaborate.

You said in an interview when you first got on the scene that you wanted to address a list of subjects as a musician, including homophobia and Islamophobia. Has that list changed at all?

It’s not the same list, but a lot of it is still important. [It] has gotten more complicated as I get older. As a writer I’ve grown, and now I’m able to include more narratives about those topics on that list and new ones. Things like STD scares or people moving their bags when you sit by them on the train. Some of those issues I’m just now getting able to speak out about.

What’s your rap style?
Baritone voice over Soundcloud beats. Not a lot about material possessions.

Why not?
Well, I don’t have any of that [bleep]. [Laughs] Also, I’m not a typical character in rap anyway. I like some of that, “fake it till you make it”-type rap, but I was already a gay rapper. There was no need to fake out, you know what I mean?

I can tell you that I came into this interview expecting to talk about homophobia in rap and how it affects you.
There’s homophobia in everything. Homophobia in rock music—hell, there’s even kinds of homophobia in some parts of the drag culture or at gay bars, particularly in a city like New York, which is very classist and obsessed with wealth, for obvious reasons.

You can’t be broke in New York anymore.
Yeah, you can’t be broke, but you also can’t date a broke person. You’ve seen the covers of gay magazines; there’s never a normal-looking person or a person of color on them. It’s always a beefed-up white guy. It’s manifested in the culture of cities like New York, too. Actually, any city that has a high cost of living and a large gay population, the community seems to be really body-conscious, like they want a prototypical “American dream” male, a white or Latino muscle guy with a loft who acts straight but isn’t. That’s not realistic. On the album, I have a song with [Chicago production duo] Supreme Cuts comparing taxi drivers to racist gay dudes. [It’s about] growing up in the gay community as a black person and feeling inadequate since high school. Stuff like being an average-looking black dude in the gay community, and no one would talk to me in the club [before I got famous]. Most everyone I’ve hooked up with in the past few years was because they knew me or I was out of the country.

What did you think of the Grammys?
It was cool. Are you referring to Macklemore’s performance specifically?

You know I am.
It was cool. I mean, because of the situation of me calling him out, I wanted to just watch it. I was trying to like it. There are parts that I did like and parts that I didn’t care about. I just thought he did a good performance as a rapper and Madonna singing without any Auto-Tune, those were the best moments of that whole show.

That’s interesting. Did you think the mass marriage thing was exploitative? I have friends that thought it was cool, and I have some that hated it.
I didn’t really make a full analysis of it, honestly. At the time, I had like 100 people tweeting me at once about it. I was like, “I don’t care.” [As a gay man] I personally didn’t feel exploited, but I personally wouldn’t get married on TV either unless it was like a Kim Kardashian, $3 million, one-month kind of wedding. I’m not going to get married at the Grammys in front of my favorite artists, that’s not me. [Laughs.]

Let’s get into this Macklemore thing a little bit. Him texting Kendrick, then posting the text on Instagram …
Yeah, he was doing a little too much.

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