Q&A: Meet Prince’s Protégé, Def Jam Signee, The One & Only DaniLeigh

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To describe DaniLeigh’s sound is to describe a voice that is refreshingly new while still managing to retain all the hallmark charms of ‘90s hip-hop. The Miami-born 22-year-old artist is the very definition of triple threat. From captivating audiences with her sultry and effortless form of delivery, wowing crowds with expertly executed choreography, to working as the creative director for Prince’s “Breakfast Can Wait” music video, DaniLeigh is consistently proving herself as one of the most interesting and multi-faceted artists in the rising hip-hop scene. 

DaniLeigh left her native Miami for Los Angeles when she was still a teenager to fully pursue her music career after a series of covers gained her a loyal fanbase. It wasn’t long before industry heavyweights would soon join that loyal fanbase, as DaniLeigh found herself signed to the infamous Def Jam Records, placing her at home alongside household names like Kanye West, Jeremih, and Nas. DaniLeighmanaged to catch her eye when she graced the stage at our Saja Sessions where the unexpecting singer easily whipped the crowd up into a frenzy from the moment she took the stage, making quick fans out of us and the crowd alike. We spoke to the effortlessly charming DaniLeigh to get the inside scoop on the struggles and triumphs so far, what it was like working alongside the legendary Prince, and what the future holds for DaniLeigh.

OTW: You’re originally from South Florida?

Yep. I was born in Miami, was there for ten years, and then moved to Orlando. Now, I’ve been in LA for seven years.

OTW: And how’s LA been treating you?

It’s dope. It definitely has made me grow as an artist. That’s pretty much when I started making music – when I was in LA recording and everything. I always sang as a little girl, but actually meeting producers and writing is all LA for me.

OTW: Do you feel like there’s a noticeable difference between the LA and Florida music scenes?

Yeah, I would say LA is more hip-hop driven and Miami would be more where the Latin artists work out from.

OTW: So when did you realize that hip-hop was for you?

I guess it’s just my culture. It’s what I listen to all the time. It’s what drives me. Honestly, I do love Latin music as well, so I do love to combine that into my music as well. Just because I am from Miami too, so it’s in my blood.

OTW: Was there ever a point for you where there was anything you ever wanted to do besides music or has it always just been a natural part of your upbringing?

Yeah, I just come from a musical family. My older brother does music. My little does music too. And my mom manages them, so it’s just kind of just in our blood. I couldn’t really see myself doing anything else. I definitely am not really a school person, so music is where I got to be at.

OTW: Do you remember the first hip-hop album that ever really moved or touched you?

I really, really loved Bryson Tiller’s Trapsoul. That’s my favorite album definitely. I did a whole medley to all of his songs on the album, and that was the first thing I ever put out as a solo artist. So, that album definitely touched me.

OTW: What’s the transition been like going from an independent artist to being signed to a label as iconic as Def Jam?

It’s been incredible. As an independent artist, it’s definitely a lot harder. I was a dancer before as well, so I had to stay doing jobs – music videos, live performances, even tours with artists. And I feel like I was really just doing that for the check, just to continue to keep going as an artist. It was hard to saddle both, because, as a dancer, people don’t take you as seriously as an artist. So, I feel like once I finally got signed, it was like okay, cool, now I have money so I can just be an artist. And It definitely helps my respect as an artist and my creativity.

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OTW: Was it ever a fear for you that signing to a major label would result in you losing some of that creative freedom that comes with being an independent artist?

Yeah, definitely. I actually had a couple meetings before I got signed to Def Jam with L.A. Reid and Interscope. They kind of had a vision for me and I was like, “Ehhh.” You know, I was just going with the flow, trying to figure it out as a twenty-two-year-old. But my A&R at Def Jam knew exactly what to do with me, as far as artistry, so I knew right then and there that this is the right place to be at.

OTW: You had the once in a lifetime chance to meet and work alongside Prince, which in and of itself is amazing. What was that whole mentorship experience like?

That was incredible. I’ve known Prince for a while, and he was really like my mentor. I met him when I was eighteen. He gave me the full budget to direct his music video, “Breakfast Can Wait.” I’ve never done anything like that before, so it was really cool for him to just believe me and feel I was creative enough to achieve something like that. Even with my music career, he was always giving me great advice. He was someone that anti-label. He’s been through a lot when it comes to labels. So, I definitely had that in the back of my mind when I was signing to Def Jam, listening to everything he said. I feel like he definitely taught me a lot in this industry, so I feel very blessed to have known him.

OTW: What was it like taking the lead on directing Prince’s music video, transitioning from being an audience facing performer to the one behind the scenes?

It was really. I feel like it just opened up my mind to seeing the different sides as an artist. I think as artists we’re all creative in our own way, but just to know everything on how to put a video together and thinks like that, it’s so dope. Now I’m knowledgeable like for my own videos, you know what I’m saying? Now I know even budgets and everything like that, and I was only eighteen. So, I feel like I learned at such a young age, so I’m super grateful for that. Cause as an artist, if you don’t really know about any of that, you could really get messed up when it comes to just budgets and things going on for a music video. It’s good to know a lot about that, just to be knowledgeable about that.

OTW: Your Summer With Friends project is now out in the world. How does it feel having your first official project out there?

It’s so good. I’m so happy. I’ve never dropped anything before, so I’ve always dropped just little singles or covers here and there just to show this is me. I feel like I’m getting so much love on my first project ever. I’m so, so happy with the music as well. I feel like it’s 100% me. I wrote on all the songs as well, so it’s definitely all real to me. I feel like it’s a perfect first project for me to put out.

OTW: What are some of the inspirations lying behind Summer With Friends?

OTW: I think it was definitely driven from what was going on in my life at the time. I had just got signed to Def Jam. It’s called Summer With Friends. I had just moved into my new apartment by myself, with my roommate. Moved out of my parents’ house, definitely a fun time for me in my life. I was feeling very happy, so I feel like Summer With Friends is exactly what it is. It’s very up-tempo, good vibes, and with everything going on, of course I’ve got my relationship songs on there. That’s something I did go through as well, so I definitely wanted to bring that in, and I feel like a lot of girls and guys related to some of those songs that I wrote about relationships. So, I definitely wanted to get that out there as well.

OTW: Do you find it difficult balancing a relationship and a budding music career at such a young age?

Yeah, I feel like a relationship for me can definitely wait. It’s definitely hard to find someone that truly understands this industry and the time that needs to be put into it. There’s so much time that I just stay working instead of chilling, so I don’t know if I could really find someone that’d understand that, but there’s not even a rush for it. I definitely want to stay focused on what I’ve got going on right now.

OTW: So, in those rare moments you’re not hustling and grinding, what are you doing?

I love shopping, so that’s something I love to do. I love just chilling. I love watching movies and just chilling with friends. Even just going to my family’s house, I’ll do that as well, cause they don’t live too far, and I barely see them now as much.

OTW: Any New Year’s Resolutions?

Health goals. I definitely just want to get in the best shape I can be in and continue to eat well. I think that’s everyone’s goal.

OTW: What’s the vibe looking like for 2018’s debut album?

I really want it to be a little more personal for my next project. I think I want to tell more stories about things I’ve gone through, as far as my love life. I’ve opened up a little bit on that, but I want to touch that more a little bit. Cause I feel like those records that I put out like that, a lot of people definitely related to them, and I just kind of want to have that relatable message. I want to be that artist that I’m like dang she said exactly how I feel. Everybody goes through hardships, everybody goes through breakups, or even being in love, so I definitely want to bring that out more in my music. I also want to showcase my singing a little bit more as well, so I’ll be doing a little bit more of my R&B trap set. I’ll still have my fun records for sure. I love that side of myself as well, so it’ll be a good mix of things. I also have a Spanish project coming out 2018, probably four or five songs. Just to show love to my Dominicans and show that I have that side as well. I feel like people always say I’m a pretty versatile artist, so definitely want to showcase that and give fans a different side of me.

OTW: If you could have one dream collaboration who would it have to be?

Drake. I love him.

OTW: Your music video for “Play” flips the typical trend of hip-hop as a male-dominated culture, featuring a primarily female cast. Is female representation in hip-hop especially important to you?

That’s all I wanted in the music video for me. I just wanted women. I definitely love to represent for my females, strong independent women. I wanted to embody that in the music video, and I feel like that’s completely what came across. It’s not normal to see girls even speaking the way I was speaking on the track. So I wanted to show that I’m a girl, and I’m with my girls as well in this video, and I feel like you definitely don’t see that as much nowadays. I definitely wanted to showcase that.  

OTW: What would you say has been the most difficult moment of your career thus far and what’s been the best moment?

I guess the hardest moment was just not giving up. I had a lot of hardships in this career, a lot of downfalls as far as criticism or things not going the way I expected, business relationships. And I feel like that happens a lot for an artist in this industry, so definitely got to keep your head up because there’s a lot of people in this industry that aren’t 100% real, don’t really have the best intentions. I feel like I definitely went through that. That was definitely the hardest as a young girl in this industry. My best, honestly, I think signing to Def Jam was my start off for my music career. I feel like with my team now, things are moving for me, and I feel very grateful. I feel like relationships in my life, with my family, everything is kind of in place and everything keeps aligning. So, I would say right now is a great moment for me.

OTW: As someone who got into the industry at such a young age, what do you think the most important thing you’ve learned is?

Just to have a strong faith and a strong business mind. You can get really stuck in a bad situation, as far as contracts and things like that if you’re not knowledgeable in this game. So, I think that it’s super important to really build your knowledge when it comes to this industry cause you just never know.

OTW: Coming from a dance background, how do you try and bring that with you to your live performances?

It’s super important. I think anytime someone comes to a DaniLeigh show, they know it’s about to be me moving on stage. Everyone knows that. I definitely want to make sure I got the best choreography, the best show. I definitely have input on my show as well, with my choreographer Guttah. He’s so cool when it comes to choreography and then me and him just vibe, so we always come up with stuff collaboratively. It’s really cool to see it come together on stage. And hearing feedback from people who are just like dang girl you can dance and you can sing that’s crazy, I love hearing that. Cause that’s exactly what I want to give off at my shows – a performance, a great show.

OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?

My brother! He’s fire. BrandonBill$. He’s dope. He’s like a Latin trap artist. We collaborate too.

OTW: You collaborate too?

Yeah, we collab. Me and him write together. He’s really dope.

OTW: Any last things you want to mention?

I just want to say shout out to my DaniLions. Those are my fans. They’re super supportive. I love them all. I’m excited to just continue and for the world to see DaniLeigh!

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