A few weeks ago, the 21-year-old rapper Leaf stood in a full Adidas onesie at a Bronx gas station. She was there filming the music video for her new single, "Nada," which features fellow young rapper Lil Yachty. Yachty's diamond boat chain hung around her neck; above her left pocket were printed the letters "M.B.M.," which stand for, "Money Before Men" as well as "Magnetic Bitch Movement." This is the same message emblazoned across all her merch, and the founding principle of her all-female creative collective. It's the cri de coeur of Leaf's budding lifestyle brand.
“The song 'Nada' is a female anthem," said Leaf while perched on a gas pump next to Yachty and his producer Burberry Perry. They bowed their heads and listened to her orate in silence. "I want to encourage girls to start their own businesses and be entrepreneurs," she continued. "Like, f--- the haters. You can do shit because you’re poppin’. Everything is on fleek, you feel me? I just wanted to make a song that you could put on and feel… dope.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Leaf grew up in a musical household and went to LaGuardia high school for performing arts. Her great-grandfather is none other than the famed saxophone player, Jackie McLean. “Music is in my blood," she said." I came out the womb knowing exactly what I wanted to do. But I didn’t know exactly what type of music I wanted to make until this year.”
In 2015, Leaf was signed to RPM MSC / Fool's Gold Records ; her first album, "Trinity," is set to drop this fall. She'd only met Lil Yachty a few times before they collaborated, but she respected his bold style and unique sound. “I love the fact that he’s different," she said. "Right now, there are so many rappers who sound the same. He just does whatever he wants with his red braids and makes weird music. I can see the way he’s influencing the youth.”
When it comes to the music industry, Leaf is nostalgic for the '90s, when female role models like Lil Kim and Missy Elliott populated the scene. For now, she finds inspiration in fashion. “A huge role model for me is Coco Chanel, just because she’s so dope," she said. "To be in the 1920’s and decide that you’re going to cut your hair off and wear f---ing pants and mini dresses, and you don’t give a f--- about what anybody says, and you don’t need a man, and everything should be black. She just didn’t give a f---! That’s my motto: less f---s, more art.”
In addition to Coco Chanel, Leaf is very clear about who her style icons are: Mia Wallace from Pulp Fuction, Elvira from Scarface, and Veronica from the cult '90s film The Doom Generation — all three for their “no-f----ness,” of course.
In addition to M.B.M. merch, Leaf can usually be found in cat-eye sunglasses, layers of lip gloss, and all-black sportswear. She also has a single diamond glued onto her left incisor tooth for the next three years. She cuts her own hair and gave herself bangs last year when she was going through an artistic crisis of faith. Low periods are necessary, though, to get where you are today, she explained.
"Like, where would we be if Van Gogh didn’t cut off his ear?”
It's unclear where civilization might be in that hypothetical, but it is obvious that 2016 is the year Leaf is finally coming into her own. She feels confident with both her image and sound — no matter what the haters say.
"'B--ch' is a word that’s been used against me, as a woman with lots of opinions," she said. "I think that when you speak your mind, people are quick to call you a b--ch. I don’t know, I guess people don’t want girls to have opinions. I think every girl should keep that inner b--ch, though. Keep your opinions, and be like, ‘F--- you. This is how I feel.’"
After all, if the haters speak up, just repeat after Leaf: "Nada. They won't do nada."
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