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All artists must have a certain degree of self-belief, but very few have as much as Lakeyah. It’s one thing to record your innermost thoughts over a beat and put them out, knowing that someone, somewhere in the world will want to hear them and relate, but it’s another thing entirely to convince your mom to pay for art school in Atlanta for the sole purpose to pursuing a label deal with Quality Control Music.
That’s exactly what the Milwaukee-bred 20-year-old did, though, enrolling in the Art Institute of Atlanta in order to have a pretext for relocating to Coach and P’s hometown, only to drop out just two months into the semester to chase her rap dreams full time. The leap of faith had a soft landing; not only did Lakeyah, who’d first gained a semblance of notoriety with a series of freestyle videos from her car (a la Saweetie, to whom she’s sometimes compared), ultimately ink the deal just a few months later, she’s now two projects into her career and receiving the full-fledged support of the “family-oriented” label.
Her latest release, In Due Time, arrives just months after her debut Time’s Up. While both records are glitzy affairs, Lakeyah is also committed to a much more lyrics-focused approach than some of the artists she gets compared to, owing to her early fascination with the songwriting of Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Wale. Displaying her love for witty wordplay on “Easy,” and the Gucci Mane-featuring “Poppin,” she also layers in a newly refined sense of storytelling, fleshing out the emotional corners of tracks like “Dirty World” and “From The Bottom.”
Over the phone with Uproxx, Lakeyah relayed the challenges of starting a career during a global music shutdown, reflected on the support she’s received from her label home, explained the thematic importance of “time” to her first two releases, and agreed that pursuing a dream often means being your own superhero.
How has your last year been? I know it’s not the most ideal situation to start your career in the middle of a global, once-a-century pandemic. How have you been handling it? What have you been doing with the time that you would have been touring or whatever?
It’s kind of sad but at the same time, I’m kind of blessed to have been signed during a pandemic, it’s preparing me for when the world opens up. I’ve been doing a lot of Zoom interviews and I stay in the studio. I’m shooting videos a lot and I’m always getting content ready for Instagram. That’s what it’s about right now, while there’s nothing going on.
“Time” is a theme in your album titles. Why is that so important for you to highlight that theme?
I feel like success — slow success — builds character. I was just talking to P about this. Everything is going to happen at the perfect time for me. The next tape is going to be called Perfect Timing. I just feel like everything is going to fall into place. I’m just working my ass off right now being super consistent. It’s all about timing. You don’t want to burn yourself out, out here.
Right. And you’re 19, you’re young. You have time. Jay-Z didn’t put out Reasonable Doubt until he was 26. With that being said, what are some of the things that you’ve learned from being around older fellows like Coach and P, as opposed to being around your own peers?
To stay out of drama. To be focused on the job. I’m around a lot of people that have a lot of money and they ain’t making money being in bullsh*t. Focusing on work and putting everything I have into my career, my artistry: that’s what I’ve been learning.
I had to hit Google a little bit and look for Milwaukee rappers because I don’t know any rappers who are from Milwaukee except for K Camp. Do you have rappers from your city that you look up to? If not, who have you been looking up to?
I don’t have any from my city because, to be honest, I was young. I wasn’t shooting music videos like everybody else, I was just doing freestyles in a car. So I didn’t get really a lot of recognition when I was in the city. I had dreams of being global and not local. So growing up I definitely always listened to Nicki Minaj, Drake. I love Rick Ross and Wale. I like people who really care about the bars, the lyrics, make you feel like a boss.
I’m surprised, but not surprised, to hear you say “Wale.”
I love him.
I remember when he came out, like early on. We’re the same age. So hearing someone talk about someone who I came out with, someone the same age as me, that’s crazy.
He’s super poetic but it’s still that music you want to listen to. Sometimes people are so talented that they can’t make a song, but Wale makes songs, hits actually. I love him. I’m a big fan.
Why do you focus so much on lyrics and how do you find that balance between being a good rapper and being a good songwriter?
Well, like I was just saying, people be so good that they can’t make a song. Me and P even had this discussion. I come from freestyling, where you got to take that element and really put it into the music. You want people to still feel your music, but not get bored with you. I have a huge vocabulary. I read a lot of books. I don’t want people to be like, “What she say?” But I still want people to think. I got to make sure everything is like, “It’s a bop,” but it’s still like, “She’s saying some real sh*t. It’s a balance I’m still learning.
One of the bars that actually did crack me up listening to your album was on “Easy.” You say you’re 19 and you’re making more money than your father. When your father heard that line, what did he say to you?
He got a rich daughter. He like, my daughter got money, I can get a house.
Your mom may have had a slightly different reaction. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you convinced her to send you down south for school, and then you just decided that you were going to drop out and pursue rap. What did she say when you got signed? What is she thinking now? Has there been any change over the past year?
Yes. A huge change. When I first told myself, “I’m not doing college no more,” at first I’m like, “I’m not telling nobody.” I don’t know what my plan was because I knew I was going to have to tell somebody, but I wasn’t telling nobody. I was skipping classes. But I’m not promoting that sh*t. Education is key.
So when I told her, she was yelling, she was cussing me out. She was like, “I put all my money… I moved you out here.” I had to go through that. And then a couple of months later, I got signed. So she was proud. She probably thinking she wanted to see her daughter graduate college, but she’s super proud.
You have Gucci Mane on “Poppin.” To me, my generation, that is impressive. Like, “Okay, who is this kid to be getting a Gucci Mane feature?” How does you feel about having this veteran of the trap scene come through and bestow the blessing upon you?
It’s so, so, so lit. Growing up in Milwaukee, that’s one of the people we listened to. So, it’s a blessing beyond measure. And he really killed the track, I was super surprised. I remember I got in the studio with Hitmaka and we made the song, they must’ve sent it to P, and P sent it back to me a week later with a feature on it, and it’s Gucci. I’m like, “You’re kidding me right now, is that my song?” So it was super exciting. The video was fun to shoot, and both P and Gucci are super humble people. And they really support these artists out here trying to make it.
I know that this is sort of an old man, uncool thing to ask anybody under 20, but do you have anything even remotely resembling a five-year plan for your career in hip-hop?
Honestly, I really, really plan to be the biggest artist — not “female rapper,” not “female R&B”… but the biggest artist in the world. Whatever steps it takes to get there, that’s part of the five-year plan. I’m only 20 like I said. I got so much time and sometimes I get caught up judging my success off of what’s going on with other artists. But, I heard somebody say a week ago, it takes 10 years to become an overnight success.
Being a new artist, you probably do a ton of interviews and get asked a lot of the same questions. Do you have anything that you would love to talk about that you just wish somebody would ask you about, but they just haven’t?
A lot of people don’t know the type of stuff I like, like superheroes and sh*t. I like Marvel and DC movies. I’m a super big fan of Avengers movies and all that. And vampire, supernatural movies too. I do not want to watch f*cking rom-coms or nothing like that. I want to see people flying in the air.
Who is your favorite Avenger?
Oh my God. I cried when Iron Man died. I was sick about it.
You know what? I think we all cried when Iron Man died. If you got a superpower, what would your superpower be? And what would your superhero name?
I think I would teleport, but I want to read minds, too.
So you want to be a telepathic teleporter?
I don’t know what my name would be.
Why not “Lakeyah?” A rap name is a superhero name. You are your own superhero, right?
In Due Time is out now on Quality Control Music. Get it here.