Photography by Ryan Pfluger at the Strand Hotel, New York, on September 23, 2015. Styling by Javon Drake. Groomer: Andi Y. sweater and pants by Calvin Klein Collection.
One of this year’s most promising debuts, Le1f’s Riot Boi delivers on its title’s promise. The Harlem rapper and producer’s first studio album is the sound of simmering desire, unleashed fury, and rafter-shaking elation, a labyrinthine, sociopolitical assault on the senses. “It’s a very pro-trans, pro-clean water, Black Lives Matter record,” he told Vice in August. The song “Grace, Alek or Naomi” exalts the dark-skinned beauty of fashion idols like Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell, “Umami/Water” pays tribute to transgender artist and DJ Juliana Huxtable, and the closing track, “Change,” calls for a fierce embrace of one’s racial identity. Riot Boi’s production is often dark, grimy, and aggressive — spastic synths, pitch-slapped vocals, and beats as piercing and clangy as a bag of nails — but its underlying message is one of self-love and hope. “It’s been amazing to be someone who creates a safe space for us,” Le1f says, “the not so privileged.”