Fullerton artist and producer Leelee has been navigating difficult terrain her entire life. Growing up in a culturally rich area of California, her eye for creativity was influenced from an early age by Chicano culture: “lots of cars, tattoos, and murals” she recently shared with me. Leelee also spent a good portion of her formative years involved in the Metal & Hardcore community. Considering her identity as a multi-racial (Punjabi & Chicana) woman, her unique intersections make for a completely new perspective and one of the most captivating artists of our generation.
While these spaces and identities have shaped Leelee’s creative expression, it has also come with heavy doses of toxic masculinity and exposure to Machismo culture. Leelee though traverses male dominated spaces with power, and her career now as a rapper and producer carries with it the type of swagger needed to thrive in these treacherous landscapes.
I was very fortunate to interview Leelee recently about her experience as a woman so near the pulse of rap culture and the pressures that come from working to influence the scene in such a profound way:
SC: What is your perspective on the scene?
L: “I feel like men in rap have been more welcoming of my weirdness than metal ever was… they don’t make me feel like shit for it, they embrace me. It’s very different from how I grew up in metal, boys literally wanted to fuck and fight me and I was only 13. I will say, in rap I see men pin us girls against each other way too much. Women be some of the biggest haters in rap for me… You don’t see girls move together the way men do. There’s enough coin for us all! I wanna build a strong sense of sisterhood in this rap shit, and I actually mean that, it’s not a way for me to be some ‘femme icon.’ I wanna do dope shit with my girls. period.”
SC: You have so much vision for your artistry. How do you execute that vision?
L: “…always doing something I can fully relate to and others can hopefully too. everything is so based on what I’ve gone through in life/the industry and i always make a point to voice the fucked up shit people are afraid to say. my first single talks about challenging white women in the industry. Also I try to have fun with it and not make it so serious and dark. I never wanna come off uptight.”
SC: How is your artistry influenced from a cultural standpoint & what cultures do you identify with?
L: “Culture plays a big part in my art — I’m of Punjabi and Mexican descent. I grew up in East side Fullerton which was considered the hood back then, still is but it’s not active like that… Chicano art always has this dark side and that just sat right with me. I wanna show the Chicana side of me in a way you don’t really see. That’s why I did my first video (for her amazing single, “Bloodgem”) lookin’ like a silver alien in the town I grew up in instead of looking pedestrian. My Punjabi side is fierce and runs deep, most the musicians in my life were women on that side. They take no shit and fear nothing. I always use that approach to music.”
SC: Is there pressure as a woman to use the avenues that have been marked out by female artists of the past?
L: “There’s for sure a lot of pressure — the pressure of ageism as I get older, the pressure of looking fuckable, staying in shape and having a good body. I used to feel too skinny now I feel a lil’ outta shape. boys don’t have that in the industry — you can literally look like shit and still get pussy. I never ever relied on sex appeal but I do think it’s important to find your sexy and inspire other women to do the same.”
SC: When you look back on your career someday, what do you hope is the legacy you leave behind?
L: “I’ll cut to the chase, I want legacy shit. My career is beyond me, I want to use my resources and money to create a hub for artists. Not a label but a hub that develops artists. First one being in Fullerton. Within in that hub I want divisions that focus on rap and hiphop and then separately focus on hardcore & metal because they are so different. I want women who are interested in being in bands to come here and feel safe. It is super hard to feel safe in that particular scene. Most girls ask me, ‘where do you start?’ I want to teach them what I learned, to be fierce and know your shit, to know your gear too. I would love to implement therapy within these centers as well. I want this to cater to the kids who don’t understand how influential they already are. I want to unlock what’s already in my community and put people on. I’m tired of these rich ass boring kids taking up space.”
I hope from this incredible interview with Leelee that it’s crystal clear: she is so much more than a female rapper. Leelee is iconic and inspiring, lending something brand new to the conversation from within the community, all generated from such an authentic place inside. There is deep understanding, street sensibility, and grit that allows Leelee to see such complexities with so much clarity and what her role in influencing these spaces for the better could look like.
Leelee is my artist to watch for 2021. Carrying on the legacy of fierce musicians in her bloodline, her visuals, her sound, her voice and creative vision as an artist are incredibly refreshing, a breath of fresh air in the clouds of toxicity that can plague the rap community. An artist this humble with the literal Midas touch is S C A R Y, and the scene should absolutely be on notice — this is the year ov the pussy.
Listen to Leelee's brand new song, Trauma: