Leaf’s Instagram bio reads “baddie-preneur rapper,” so you already know what type of energy she’s on. Real name Mikala Leaf McLean hails from New York City, a triple threat in the entertainment industry. Whether she’s singing, rapping, modeling, or making clothes, she remains true to herself and her eclectic style.
With 117K followers on IG and counting, Leaf proudly stands for female empowerment, equality, and inclusiveness. The 25-year-old is bold in all facets of her life, writing and producing her own music, directing and editing her own videos, and designing her own Magnetic Bitch Movement clothing line. Her standout single “Fashion Bitch” speaks volumes to her character, showing off her love for designer and serving looks as she struts her shit down the runway. The song’s official music video is quickly approaching the one million views mark after only months of its release.
Most recently, she released a new banger titled “Is It You,” who’s visual features a cameo from fellow New York rapper Dave East. Flaunt caught up with Leaf via Instagram Live, who was quarantined in Harlem. Read below as we discuss how her biggest influences, how she got into music, the meaning behind MBM, love for fashion, and more!
Being from New York, what was the household like growing up?
I enjoyed growing up here, it was definitely eclectic. It was definitely different, had a lot of cool experiences. As soon as you’re 8 or 9, you’re taking the train. You’re pretty independent, you have to do a lot by yourself. It gave me this hustle and drive that I’ve had since very young.
Biggest influences growing up?
It’s changed a lot. When I was younger, I was in a rock band. Jimi Hendrix is a big influence of mine, I listened to a lot of rock music. I also listened to a lot of hip-hop because that’s what was played in my home, but what I’d listen to was rock music. It was different, something that wasn’t in my household. As I got older, I got more into Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, Lil Kim. People who made me feel like I wanted to pursue music.
Where did the name Leaf come from?
It’s my government middle name.
What sets you apart from other female rappers?
My music, I make different music than a lot of girls. I have a different tonation in my voice, I pick different types of beats, things like that. I’m more of a melodic rapper than someone like Megan, Cardi, or Nicki. I’m a bar-for-bar rapper, there’s not a lot of girls in that lane. There’s Coi Leray, but that’s the only one I can think of right now.
At what point did music become real?
About 19 is when it started to become a career for me. I made my first song, it hit over 400K plays in a very short amount of time. I thought “okay well this is it.” For me, I’ve always taken it seriously. I’ve always wanted to pursue music and I never made another option. Always knew this is what I wanted to do. At 19, my family realized like “oh okay, you’re taking this seriously.” Touring, I did 4 Rolling Loud’s.
How was Rolling Loud? Were you nervous?
No, I love performing! It’s my favorite thing to do. It’s funny because it’s more nerve-wracking for me to do like this [interview] than it is for me to perform in front of a thousand people.
“Nada” with Lil Yachty was a big record for you. How’d that collab come about?
It was really organic, my manager knew his manager. I went to his video shoot for “One Night.” When I was there, he’d already known me from Tumblr and seen me on the internet. I said “I have this song, I’ma send it over to you.” It all happened naturally, really dope and organic.
Best memory from that collab?
Our friendship in general, he’s a super cool person. The video was mad cool, we’re hanging out all day. The first Rolling Loud I ever did was so bad. Uzi was going on at the same time as me, I was the only female on the lineup. Of course, every person there went to go watch Uzi. He was one of 10 people to watch my show, that was really sweet of him. He’s a really sweet person.
You just released “Is It You,” who or what inspired this record?
I wrote this record a little while ago, it’s pretty funny I dropped it in quarantine and that I’m still single. [laughs] I thought “what would my song about my dream bae be like?” I was playing around in the studio. I was drinking Tequila, smoking hookah with my producer, it was a vibe. We made a vibe.
What was your creative vision with the visual?
I always wanted to have a J. Lo type video, so that’s my version. I’m Puerto Rican and she’s Puerto Rican so growing up, I loved her.
How was it having Dave East in the video?
He’s super cool. He’s a really chill person, really sweet. Doing the video with him was kind of awkward because you’re both standing there in front of each other, such an awkward moment for me. He’s mad tall, he’s 6 foot something and I’m 5’ 7”. All my girlfriends shooting the video were like “oh my God, you guys would be so cute!” [laughs] Girls love Dave East.
How did that come about?
My brand manager is also his brand manager, so she put us in the studio one night. We’re vibing in the studio. When we went to shoot the video, I thought “I need a good love interest for this video, who could we put in it?” She asked him and he was down, so we made it happen. You know, New York vibes.
“Fashion Bitch” is a banger, were you feeling yourself when you recorded that?
Definitely. I wanted to make it clear to people” I’m a fashion bitch at the end of the day because I model and I rap. I do all these things. I wanted to make one song that brought it all together for everybody. Talked about the designers I like to wear, a flex song for females because we don’t have enough. Even though we have a lot, we need more.
What designers do you like?
So many brands I love, I could make a list. I love Telfar. I’m a big Chanel girl. I love LV of course, Amiri, Chrome Hearts.
How would you describe your fashion style?
Before quarantine, I’d describe it as mostly streetwear and designer. Now because I’ve had so much time to create so many new pieces, I’m working on recycled clothing. Thinking about how to be more ethical with my shopping, because I do have a shopping addiction. I’m working on it, not saying I’m perfect. [laughs]
Was it worse during quarantine? I know everyone’s online shopping.
Oh my God, it’s increased so much. I need to stop. At least I have an online store so I can resell.
What online store do you use?
I use Depop, I love the platform. I also have a website.
Are you the type to wear the outfit once?
Yeah, exactly. So bad for the planet so I’m trying to do better.
Why’s it so important for you to stand for female empowerment?
It’s important for all females to stand for female empowerment, because we’re all female. Until we have equality for all humans not even females, we have to keep fighting for it. Being humane and humanity is the most important thing on this Earth, so stepping into that box a little bit. [chuckles]
What do your parents think of the music?
They support everything. Especially my mom, she wants me to keep pushing that message to women about expressing yourself however you want to express yourself.
How do you create a vibe in the studio?
I really like smoking hookah. I like drinking tequila, get the vibe going. Sometimes I invite my girlfriends, we turn up. I can really write in any type of conditions, I’m really quick at writing. It takes me maybe 30 minutes to write, and an hour to record. I knock out at least 4 songs every time I record. At this point, I’ve been writing for so long that it comes really freely.
What’s your secret to staying snatched?
[laughs] I eat a basically vegan diet. Sometimes I eat fish, occasionally. I really don’t eat any dairy, I don’t eat any carbs. I don’t work out as much as I should. I walk a lot, I hike, but I really should be working out every day. Even still, I eat really well and I drink a lot of water. Let me show you my gallon of water, I drink about 4 of these a day. A lot of water, you have to.
What’s the premise of MBM (Magnetic Bitch Movement)?
It’s my female gang. I was really young when I created it, like 17. I wanted to make a collective of girls who were about being entrepreneurs, about upholding and uplifting them. Girls who weren’t catty and talking shit, who wanted to be around other cool girls. Magnetic Bitch Movement is about girls who magnetize what they want into their lives.
What kind of women do you attract?
I attract really dope, powerful women. All my girls are working on our own businesses or running our own businesses. Super educated, mad cool, not about drama (I made a whole song about that). I love them, they’re super cool. A lot of my friends have been my friends for a very long time, since middle school. I’m lucky to have them.
Favorite person to follow on IG?
I really like my girls the Clermont Twins, I love their posts. I have so many friends on the internet I’ve been following, I really like supporting what they’re doing. It’s super cool so many girls on the internet are speaking their minds and doing what they want with their platforms, that’s important to me. When I was younger, I only saw a couple different types of girls and that’s what we’re supposed to look up to. Now when you grow up, you can decide who you want to look up to, what type of person you want to be. You know there’s so many different types of women in the world, that’s important for young women to see and also young men.
Best encounter you had with a fan?
When I got off the stage at Rolling Loud one time, this girl ran up and hugged me. I’m like “I love you, thank you!” I have such good interactions with my followers. I don’t call them fans, really they’re my family. To me, I really interact with people who follow me and support me a lot. It means a lot they fuck with my music, listen to me and support my art. I appreciate them.
What can we look forward to next? Is there a project coming?
I have a project coming on July 10th called Fashion Bitch. I’m putting out another music video that I might shoot myself, I’m deciding. It’ll be cool. I shot and directed one of my music videos a while ago, but I want to do it again because I’ve gotten so much better. I’m excited.
How does it feel to have everything independent and have creative control?
I love it, I wouldn’t do it any other way. I know for other people it’s more difficult to have so much control over everything, it puts a lot of responsibility on you. I’m such a control freak that I want everything to be how I see it. It gives me the power to do that, as well as be in the collaborative space. Pick to create with people I think are dope, whose art and vision I love too. To be able to sit there and say “okay, this is my outfit. This is what I want to do.” To have people be there to support and help make come true is really nice.