Le1f blew listeners away last year with Dark York, his contorted, glow-lamp hued, miscreant first mix tape. More than that, it was a dark and wonderful forward-thinking fantasy cloudscape that explored the homoeroticism of thug rap (see titles like “Gayngsta” and “My Oozi”) and thus flared a predictable backlash from the Neanderthals wondering aloud if some kind of gay cooties was about to infect hip-hop (if only hip-hop were so lucky to have Le1f’s production smarts rub off on it! Pun intended). Both those who had either worked themselves up into a retrogressive tizzy and those who were too busy patting themselves on the back for celebrating a queer rapper may have failed to recognize that Le1f was sonically bisexual, with his one hand equally dipped into the electronic dance scene (Dark York featured productions by hot producers like Nguzunguzu, Matt Shadetek, 5kin&bone5, and new Night Slugs signee Morri$) as the other was stirring the pot in the rap game.
One of the producers he worked with, Boody, has joined Le1f for a one-off EP on the Boys Noize label. The Liquid theme should surprise no one who remembers that just one short year before Dark York, Le1f had a couple of instrumental tracks on the inceptional #Seapunk compilation. The first couple of tracks sound like Boody and Le1f are transmitting from underwater, the atmospheric pressure stripping the melodies of their rough edges and submerging the bass to the lower registers. “Jellyfish” kicks off with splish splash percussion and gurgling synth bubbles. “Buoy” has got a disconnected beacon signal that shuffles into a ring shout dance concurrently going on, as a clunky anchor bats against the mast.
All of this atmospheric posturing is a bit pointless scenery-chewing for the main game that is “Soda” and “Sweat Tea”. While Le1F’s experimental edge is what raises him above his peers, it’s the fact that he translates it so fluently to the pop realm of beats and rhymes that makes him a truly exceptional artist. “Soda” is a strange contortion of industrial mechanics and Foley sounds, Le1f’s voice lilted to chipmunk highs while skittering along crackling juke riddims. “Sweet Tea” is more dance floor-oriented, careening with confident swagger that “I can make your tea sweet/Holla at ya, boy I wanna” over a popping synth riff that shimmies like the best in today’s current hybrid steppa/house scene.
A few of the latter folks show up to remix “Sweet Tea” and “Soda” as well. Each crank up the robotics and focus on a handful of sweaty, blustery statements within. MikeQ and Divoli S’vere’s take on “Soda” is a whiplash set of bombastic and compacted grime thuds, a series of violent thrusts to pit against Le1F’s queer pressure (a bastardization of jungle’s “feminine pressure”) call to “dip in with the daughters”. Cedaa opens up spaces in “Sweet Tea” by shedding melodic skin and adding rhythmic complexity. The mix then enlists the original cut for a groovy military march from outer space.
Let those who wish to use LE1f as a novelty cause to do so. If it brings more ears to the table, minds and speakers will be blown in the process. Let’s not put the burden of being hip-hop David Bowie onto 20-year-old Le1f, but instead recognize that his musical intuition is at least the equal, and probably the better, of his musical iconography as LGBT rap Kid A. If hip-hop is one of the last vestiges of open homophobia, then it’s also the place where difference and negation of the status quo can be celebrated. Let’s celebrate this original meaning of the word “queer” with some eccentric shit causing strange sensations to your ears.