If the royal monarchs organised a search for the new queen of British rap, it’s certain that all roads would lead toward Lady Leshurr. In the past twelve months, millions have pledged an oath of allegiance to rapper through her Queen’s Speech series (currently at fifty million views on YouTube, and counting), she’s sold out shows from New York to Brixton, and attracted the attention of international hip-hop heavyweights like Timbaland, Erykah Badu, and Busta Rhymes.
With her debut album on the way, Lady Leshurr has firmly stamped her place atop the throne, standing deservedly between Dizzee Rascal and Ms Dynamite. Yet it hasn’t always been this way. Where some artists are quickly thrust into fame, Leshurr’s story is one that highlights the importance of determination, strong, level-headed focus, and a continued renewal in self-belief, as well as being able to sharpen verse upon verse with a razor teethed technical ability that far outweighs many of her peers.
Born Melesha O’Garro, Lady Leshurr’s career arguably started at the modest age of six, when she wrote her first lyric – “it was over Sister Nancy’s ‘Bam Bam’, which is why I always pay homage and perform that song everywhere I go”, she says. She grew up in Birmingham, where the scattered musical tastes of her family and peers began to infiltrate her consciousness and inform her future as the musician we know today. Her mother played reggae around the house – Sister Nancy, Asward, UB40, which inspired Leshurr’s first lyric. Her brother would blast drum’n’bass and garage, which lead to DJ Luck and MC Neat teaching a young Leshurr about melody. Her sister was into R&B and hip-hop, which brought Leshurr an idol in the form of Ms Dynamite.
“I was like – I wanna be like her”, Leshurr says, of the first time she heard Ms Dynamite. “She’s like the female MC Neat. I didn’t want to be a singer, because I knew I couldn’t sing, but I wanted a melody and a flow”.
It wasn’t until age twelve, though, when Leshurr heard Eminem, that things really started to kick off and fall into place. “As soon as I saw the music video [for ‘My Name Is’] I knew I wanted to be a rapper”, she recalls, “from then, I started writing writing writing”. It’s those early Eminem videos, which balance an impenetrable blend of comedy and threateningly destructive lyrics, that formed an early basis for Leshurr’s Queen’s Speech series. As Leshurr narrates her way through social media phenomena (she confesses “I’m a Twitter freak, I am”) with a timely sense of humour, it’s all undercut with a sense of fierce and elite battle rap sensibility that makes her a unique and exciting prospect in today’s music scene.
“I like to banter, so I thought why not bring the funny side of me into my lyrics”, she states, pointing to how the idea for Queen’s speech came to fruition. “I was going through my old videos on YouTube and I noticed the main things people liked was my F64s. So I worked out a way to balance my flow and banter while still getting people to take me seriously”.
Alongside Eminem, Leshurr’s other main inspirational figurehead was another queen of rap, Missy Elliott, whose throne Leshurr is teetering toward. “I feel like she set a legacy for all the other females”, she says. “For me personally, I’m all about female empowerment. I want females to win”. Like Eminem’s sharp-edged humour, that idea of self-empowerment lays within the foundation of the Queen’s Speech too, with Leshurr stating “you have to feel and believe you’re a queen to be treated like one. It’s not a thing like, oh yeah: I think I’m the best. It’s kings and queens. Everyone should act like one and be one”.
Once she’d sourced out her early inspiration in the works of Eminem, Missy Elliott, Ms Dynamite, et al, a teenaged Leshurr set to work. Like FKA twigs or Dizzee Rascal, Leshurr’s local youth club laid the foundation for her career. It was there, at her local centre in Birmingham, that she would practice DJing, eventually learning to MC while mixing. As time went on and Leshurr continued to visit the youth club, she learnt the drums and the keys, how to mix and master tracks, and studied poetry – eventually leading to the release of her self-released debut mixtape, Needle in a Haystack, which she distributed at her town’s local record store.
“The youth club changed my life; if I didn’t have that there I wouldn’t be as experienced as I am now”.
She’s given something back since, in the form of Lady Leshurr’s Rap College – a project based between London and Birmingham, where she dispenses advice and techniques that helped her along the way.
Since releasing her debut mixtape at fourteen, it’s almost as though Leshurr didn’t stop working. She released nine more mixtapes, three EPs, acted in the British film One Day, got employed at and subsequently quit jobs in Subway, TK Maxx, and as a security guard, before deciding to take a much needed break in 2014, the same year she released her last mixtape, Lil Bit of Lesh. “I quit doing music for a year”, she says, citing a sense at the time that she needed to get her life back together.
It’s in those twelve months that Leshurr quietly began to plot the stage for what would become her world dominating, banner year in 2015, when she released the Queen’s Speech series and the last few years of hard-grafting paid off in the form of long-awaited global acknowledgement and those monumental YouTube plays.
“I was basically planning”, she says, of the time off. “Listening to music and seeing who everybody was talking about and seeing what thing was missing in the scene. The main thing was fun”.
“I started writing down my goals and what I wanted to be doing in three years, one year. I already know what I want to be doing next year. I set it out; what I’m going to call my project. How many episodes there would be in a project. The one take thing. The visuals. I knew how I wanted to come back. And I’ve never planned before. I would just drop a tune here and there. I’m thinking ‘wow, man. All this time I could’ve been going harder than I ever was before!’”
The planning has paid off. Not only has the Queen’s Speech series granted Leshurr the level of attention her sharp and quick witted talents warrant, it’s also solidified her in the canon of great British artists. Charming and funny, yet also able to take it up a notch when necessary and stun in a way like no other. As she readies her upcoming album, racking up frequent flyer miles on visits to South Africa, Jamaica, New York and France, the time has come to recognise there’s a new queen of Britain.