At Her Majesty's Leshurr

Portrait by Andrew Woffinden

Interview by Pia Singleton

Queen Bee of the UK grime scene, Lady Leshurr is ripping up the rule book of female rap with a dash of noblesse oblige. What lies behind the sold-out shows and mobo awards? She tells Wylde about girl power, trolls and staying humble

Midlands-born rapper and Grime’s Queen-of-the-Scene Lady Leshurr (real name Melesha O’Garro) is a woman who has been making waves within the music industry since the very start of her career. Writing poetry and spoken word from the age of six, Leshurr made her first foray into the business with a mixtape at the ripe old age of 14. This was just a taste of what was to come in an exceptionally productive career in music. Following a year out of the industry to review her management – which led many to believe she was in fact gone for good – she made a victorious return to the scene in 2015 with her dynamic and hugely successful Queen’s Speech series of freestyles, which went viral, racking up more than 82.5 million YouTube plays. Lady Leshurr is most at ease when it comes to hard work, and last year saw her seize her moment and make a significant mark on the USA, with sold-out shows in Atlanta, New Orleans, and New York. Last year she was also awarded the MOBO Award for Best Female Act – proof, if any were needed, of how choosing to make music on her own terms has paid off. At 28, she’s now in a league of her own, and I spoke to Leshurr about what shapes her, not only as an artist but also as a young woman who is determined to be nothing but herself.

Wylde: You’ve been writing and producing music for over 10 years now. Who were your musical influences, growing up?

Lady Leshurr: Well, I’m Caribbean; my parents are from St Kitts and I grew up on reggae music. [Dancehall DJ/singer] Sister Nancy was the first person I heard who made me want to write. My brother used to play drum and bass in the house, and I liked hip-hop and R&B too, so I had all of those influences that really inspired my sound. I was also inspired by UK female artists NoLay and Shystie; I loved what they were doing. Being a woman in the industry is tough; being a woman of colour is even harder. I definitely respected what they were bringing and I loved the fact that they were breaking barriers.

Do you feel supported by other female artists currently on the scene, or are they just competition?

I’ve always been that person to congratulate and support; I think that females need it because a lot of males just don’t give us ratings in general. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m from Birmingham or if there is a different mentality down here [in London] but I’ve never, ever looked at anybody else as competition. I always push myself, but I never feel that jealousy. It would be sick for females to come together, work together, and run our scene. In 2012, I felt like that did happen. There were a few of us that came together for the UK Female Allstars track: it was me, Amplify Dot, Baby Blue, Lioness, RoxXxan, and Mz Bratt. It felt pure, we were all in the studio and there was unity… but you fast-forward the next five years, and it’s the complete opposite with younger-generation female MCs. The vibe isn’t the same, it’s not the supportive energy I had with the girls back then.

Do you think that stems from pressure to be the best?

Yeah. It’s about competition, and I don’t really know why. I guess you can have healthy competition. Certain things female rappers do are unnecessary. They should just stay in their lanes, really, and focus on themselves.

You’ve spoken in the past about starting a female movement; building a team of female producers, artists and musicians. Why is that so important?

It’s essential for me to work with other female artists; I’ve always been that person who loves to help. So if I see a talented female MC coming up and she is just starting out, I really wanna help her if I can. Having a mentor is not something that I experienced when I was starting out, and it was really hard for me to get to where I am now. I’d love to have a record label with just females; we need to take over! I’m sick of just seeing males everywhere. It’s more than that, though: I’d like to work with female artists who I really believe in, and people with positive messages. I respect artists that bring something different to the table, and don’t feel the need to flash flesh just to get views up.

How easy is it to remain down to earth and true to yourself whilst in the public eye, with so much emphasis placed on social-media views and ratings?

I stay humble by reminding myself that I’m human. I think a lot of artists forget that. Ego kicks in when they get lots of attention and that can make or break a career. That’s why I’ve always reminded myself that if people like me, it’s because I’m being myself. If I post something on Instagram, I’m just being real. I think it connects to people more if they can relate. That’s the main reason why I did the Queen’s Speech series. I do the one take, just walking down the road wearing clothes that are no different to what I’d usually wear. People aren’t going to open the video, thinking, “Oh my gosh, she’s half- naked!” They’re gonna listen to what I’ve got to say. I’ve always had that mentality.

The rise of social-media’s influence has been rapid. It must be hard processing negativity when it’s coming from behind a screen. How do you handle your critics?

Yeah, I’m used to it now; the comments, the critiques, and anything anyone wants to send to me, and I’m able to write about it. There was one person on Twitter; it was, like, half-eight/nine in the morning, and he was writing me so many negative tweets. I messaged him, saying, “It’s nine in the morning! I bet you haven’t even brushed your teeth! You’re on my Twitter, dissing me?!” And that’s why I wrote those lyrics “brush your teeth” in Queen’s Speech, because of him. I try to take negative things and turn them into positives… always.

That is a pragmatic perspective to have of the world. What was life like, growing up?

Life was hard, I’m going to be honest. I was brought up around violence. I used to see some crazy things, but I turned to music and acting because of it; any way of expressing myself other than violence. My mum has really inspired me; she makes me proud because she’s been through so much. She’s so strong and that’s what makes me who I am. If I hadn’t seen her go through so much and still be able to smile in the mornings, I wouldn’t feel like I could do it too, but she has shown me that it’s possible. I wouldn’t have turned to music without experiencing some of the things that I did at a young age. I prayed and I made music, and I believed that I could move my mum away from the drama. I always wanted to get her a house, and that’s what I did. It’s a blessing. I get emotional when I think about it. I used to say, “Mum, I’m gonna move you away from this.” At the time I was 15 and she didn’t believe me, but it’s amazing how you can speak things into existence, and it works.

Which aspects of the industry challenge you the most?

That’s a good question. I think the hardest thing can just be the people. It’s really cutthroat; people don’t always care for your feelings. People don’t care if you’re depressed or you’re sad, or you can’t make it today because your family’s in hospital. They’re just like: “If you weren’t here, then keep it moving.” I do everything from my heart, so if someone upsets me, it really affects me.

You won the 2016 MOBO for Best Female Act; what did it mean to you when you were up on stage accepting your award?

I had a speech, and everything prepared in case I won. I was rehearsing it daily; I had it down to a T. After my name was called, someone walked me up onto the wrong stage! I finally got up the right stairs, but as soon as I was in front of people, that was it; everything I had planned just went away. I was so overwhelmed and nervous, but I was happy… I felt proud of myself. I’ve been working so hard and it was amazing to get rewarded for something that I’d been working on for so long.

An achievement that deserves recognition! Lady Leshurr truly embodies Wylde’s love of strong, independent women and we cannot wait to see and hear the next chapter in a book written with care… but no compromise.

Styling by Francesca Turner

Hair by Marcia Lee @ Caren

Make-up by Maria Asadi

Lady Leshurr wears lace dress by Stella McCartney