Show and prove
Interview: Sowmya Krishnamurthy
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Milwaukee is known for its breweries, cheese curds, and NBA basketball star Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo, but hip-hop has struggled to escape its city limits to rise to the great scene. Lakeyah, from the city of Wisconsin, wants to change that. “I aspire to be the greatest artist in the world,” she says. The 20-year-old rapper-singer has always had great aspirations beyond her hometown. “I’ve never seen myself do anything other than being an artist,” she says. This stubborn determination catapulted Lakeyah to joining Quality Control Music in 2020 – the home of superstars like Lil baby, Migos and City girls. “’Wait. That’s something different about this girl,” Pierre “P” Thomas, CEO of Quality Control Music, recalls when he first stumbled on his Instagram in October 2019. “She had so much. of passion.
Lakeyah’s trip from the Midwest to one of rap’s most exciting record labels didn’t happen overnight. The artist, who once performed as Lakeyah Danaee, was shy and reserved while growing up. She remembers being bookish, loving reading and making poetry slams. In high school, she used her planner and iPhone Notes app as creative outlets. She listened to artists like Nicki Minaj, Lauryn Hill and Tee Grizzley, but making music wasn’t her purview until the 2016s. “So Gone” challenge– based on singer Monica’s 2003 love song of the same name – has arrived. The Internet Challenge, which featured artists such as Chance The Rapper and NBA star Damian Lillard flipping the track, was the perfect way for the high school student to take her skills to the next level. In her clip, the fresh-faced teenager raps – all in hugs – from her bedroom. “It was one of my first viral moments,” she recalls.
Viral fame became her driving force when she posted content to YouTube and Vine. By the time she dropped 2018’s “Fucked Up Love Story” – which she said was inspired by R. Kelly’s 2005 sound saga “Trapped in the Closet” – her flow was more confident and the views went on. increases. Bold names like Rod Wave and singer Tank have taken notice, as have the people in his immediate orbit. “It was really a creative moment,” Lakeyah recalls. “That’s when people started to know me in my town… People my mother’s age approached me like, ‘Oh my God, you’re so talented.’ ‘
She was also briefly in a local girl group called BTM which broke up. In the process, Lakeyah had to take the reins of his own career. She graduated from high school and moved to Atlanta in 2019 in hopes of signing for Quality Control Music. It was his singular vision to join the QC list. “I’ve always liked studying artists,” she explains. “I watched all the documentaries, the interviews and it seemed to me that they always put so much into the artists that they signed.” This goal was reinforced by a trip in 2018 to the Trap Music Museum in Atlanta. “I saw their little one [exhibit] in there and I’m like, that’s who I really want to be signed with, and that’s what I’ve been working towards ever since.
Despite these claims, nothing came out at first. Trying to get the attention of the P of QC with a barrage of Instagram direct messages proved futile. “There are thousands of them in my DM every day,” says P. “It’s hard for me to comb through all these different artists sending their music.” Lakeyah was in Atlanta but not outside. “It was really difficult,” she admits. “I’m 18, I’m here alone with my partner and just trying to figure things out.”
It was his love of freestyle that aligned the stars. She hopped on JT’s “First Day Out” in early 2020 – not once but twice, after someone claimed she had copied their style – and that’s when the ears of P stood up. “I went to see my DM and I think she’s been treating me for months,” he recalls. A back-and-forth ensued and when Lil Baby co-authored his remix for his song “We Paid”, it sealed the deal. In July 2020, Lakeyah signed with Quality Control Music.
But there was no time to pop bottles. Signing a recording contract during a global pandemic and a lockdown meant no fanfare, tour or party. “When I signed, it was directly to work,” says the artist. “I believe the first night P and I met he said, ‘I want to see your check-in process’ and I’ve been recording ever since that night.”
Being locked in the studio paid off. In December 2020, she released her Time is up mixtape, which includes the standout “Big FlexHer” with 42 Dugg. The Anthem of the Waterfalls is a fitting introduction to the game of rap. “I feel like I’m up now, damn everything I’m next to / A bitch is really going to have to iron me to say I’m in a rush (Yessir) / And this is my last time saying I’m the GOAT around of that muthafucka (Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah) / And in my eyes, I’m the coldest around that muthafucka, ”she rapped on the track. The song’s video has over 2 million views on YouTube. “Female Goat,” a collaboration between girls and City Girls label partners, caused a stir and has over 4.6 million views on YouTube.
She calls the first mixtape an aperitif with the main course, On time, which fell in April. At the time of going to press, Lakeyah and P are vague on the details – he promises a club banger with Gucci Mane – so far. “They’ll see it’s about the grind,” she said. “For example, I work tirelessly on music.” P highlights her dexterity, not only as a singer and rapper, but also thematically. “She’s not just stuck on one topic,” he adds. “She’s very open to talking about relationships, love life, grief. She can talk about club shit or empower women shit. It is diverse.
Frankness and openness, personally, often turn into fodder and gossip – especially for female performers – and Lakeyah being a lesbian has become an unwanted focal point. She doesn’t hide who she is or her partner, but she wants the music to define her narrative – not her personal life. “I just think it’s a little weird that people even care about the sexuality of artists,” she says. “As an artist, it’s really about the music. It’s about what I bring to the world. My personal life is my personal life. “
With due time now, Lakeyah encourages fans to be open-minded about his journey. “I don’t want people trying to make me understand who I am,” she says. “The details of my life, of who I really am, is going to go into my music and, you know, people are going to love me or hate me.”
Learn more about XXLSpring 2021 issue, including Cardi B cover story, How? ‘Or’ What rappers are legally making money thanks to the cannabis boom and the social justice that goes with it, Damson Idris Snowfall on the impact of hip-hop on his life, A $ AP Ferg reflects on the creation of his Always strive and thrive album, Shelley FKA DRAM speaks his return, Trippie Redd explains how Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert helped change hip-hop, Show & Prove with 42 Dugg and more.
See Cardi B’s photo shoot in XXL Spring 2021 magazine issue