Q&A: Le1f Talks The Influence Of Ballroom And Working With Das Racist, Spank Rock, And Nguzunguzu

Over the past few months, Le1f—a rapper and producer who wrote his undergraduate thesis on "Subversion in Post-WWII Performance"—has been an increasingly unavoidable presence in and around the city, playing alongside everyone from Greedhead labelmate Big Baby Gandhi to London trap-rave producer Girl Unit. Meanwhile, his Dark York mixtape proved worth the wait, offering 21 tracks that capture much of what is exciting about the sound of post-Ghe20 Goth1k New York.

In advance of tonight's show (with GG's Venus X) at Littlefield, we talked about working with artists like Spank Rock and Nguzunguzu, the problem with being over-associated with ballroom, and the subjects of that thesis.

Starting off with the basics, are you from New York?

Yes, I'm a native—I'm from Manhattan... I was raised in Hell's Kitchen and now live in the Upper West Side.

When you got to Wesleyan, how did you link up with Heems and Victor of Das Racist?

I actually knew them from the summer before I went to college. There was a guy J-La, another friend of theirs who went to Wesleyan who was DJing for me in New York at the time, and Himanshu was his roommate so I ended up hanging out with them the summer before college.

And how did you come to produce "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell"?

I was hanging out, crashing on their couch, and Himanshu said he wanted to start this new project, so I just gave him a ton of beats and they recorded a bunch of scrapped things over some of them. And that was one of them.

What else were you working on at the time?

I was doing house-rap, basically. Like, I had started making beats for Spank Rock's "Nasty" around that time, and I had my own stuff which was more up that alley, rapping over more house and electroclash-sounding things.

How did you get involved with Spank Rock?

I have a lot of mutual friends and we met at a party called Dante Fried Chicken that was a hub for a lot of three New York, indie (especially black) afropunk and electronic scene. That's where I met Santi and a lot of great bands.

How long have you been out of school?

Since last May.

And is that when you started working on Dark York?

I was working on that since maybe midway through junior year. I had some of the beats from before graduation and a couple of the raps but most of it was from since last May.

And the mixtape is on Greedhead, right?

It's on Greedhead and Camp & Street. Greedhead is in charge of the digital presence, but I also started a Kickstarter for it, so I made physical copies through my own collective with my friends—that's Camp & Street.

So I think a lot of people, particularly people not from New York, first heard about you through the recent Pitchfork feature on NYC Queer Rap, did you get the chance to read that?

Yeah I did. I'm happy that I got the press and was quoted in the article. I'm happy with some of the things that I said. I think for it to exist and be really, actually informative it would have to be longer than that.

If that article had been longer what would you have liked to see included?

I didn't think there was enough of a distinction between what was going on in terms of our musical scene and the ballroom/voguing scene. There are ties and references and things I definitely did say about it, but it's not as though I'm going to balls, and my music is not at the ballrooms. That's a totally different set of producers and vocalists and culture entirely. So I wish that that was made a little bit more clear and put together, and I know that Ojay [Zebra Katz] agrees.

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