The first time that we met Leaf, we were refreshed by her unapologetically feminist outlook on life. The millennial rapper's journey into feminism began while she was a teenager in high school, struggling to make friends and dealing with unnecessary "girl hate" for being the odd one out. Other girls would hurl harsh words at Leaf, saying things like "derelict" and "ghetto," because of her punk appearance. Despite the negative experience, Leaf was determined to rise above it.
"I've always been a strong-willed woman, someone who's highly opinionated and not a pushover," she says. "I've always loved to stand up for other people because I feel like if we don't stand up for each other, then no one is going to stand up for you. No one ever stood up for me, so I always wanted that back."
When Leaf initially conceptualized Magnet Bitch Movement (MBM), she wasn't aware that it was built on the fundamentals of feminism. For her, it was created out of a necessity to fill a void in her life and establish a supportive community of girls "who were intelligent, who wanted to start their own businesses, and who weren't so wrapped up in guys." Around the age of 16, Leaf started immersing herself in feminist literature to further educate herself about self-empowerment.
Even though Leaf is all for using her platform to promote feminism, she says that it's still an ongoing journey; she only recently learned about the concept of intersectional feminism and wants to continue to educate herself on the topic, but she says with a grin: "I'll take the labels, I don't care."
As for music, the rapper points to Missy Elliott as one of her icons. "She's such a goddess. She's like, 'Literally, there are no limits,'" says Leaf. "You put her in a box, she's like, 'Sorry, I'm a circle.'" And just like with her idol, the messages in Leaf's songs speak to the importance of "self-love" and "self-freedom."
Even though each track is delivered aggressively, Leaf is a sweet person who likes to playfully reveal her softer side. However, she's quick to warn people not to mistake her kindness as weakness. We sat down with Leaf to learn more. Dive into the conversation, below.
Since you first came up, you've been very vocal about empowering other women and being a feminist. Why has that been so important to you?
I know that a lot of people think that we've reached a point of equality, but it's been proven, even more so in the past years since our president has been elected, that the equality levels are so far apart, and all women need a voice—all people need a voice. I believe in equality of humanity, equality of all things on this earth, animal rights. It's very important for women to have a voice, to feel comfortable, to feel safe, to feel like their needs are being met at a minimal base. Even in the most minimal way, women still feel like they are in jeopardy every single day. I wish that we lived in a world where it was just a little bit more fun to be a girl.
After the Women's March, there were a lot of conversations about the importance of intersectionality and the problems with white feminism.
I think that all segregation is bad segregation, whether it's segregation of sexes, segregation of race, segregation of identity, whatever you identify as. I think that sometimes as humans we categorize ourselves for comfort. It's probably a nice thing to feel like you're around people who are just like you. But to cast out people who aren't like you is 100 percent wrong. I think girl hate is the stupidest thing ever. It makes me so angry when I see other girls hate on each other, whether it's about their eyebrows not being on fleek or their bodies aren't cute enough. Stop slut-shaming, because regardless of what you think a woman should be doing with her body, it's not yours. Just love each other. It really is the only answer.
Everyone has been talking about the Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj beef. How do you feel about it?
It's definitely a difficult topic because as a hip hop enthusiast, I love hip hop beef, but at the same time, I think what they're fighting about is so idiotic. There can be more than one rap queen. There can be more than one rap king, and I think that that's been proven. Why is it possible for so many men to coexist in hip-hop, but it's so difficult for women to coexist in hip-hop? Why are women always compared to each other rather than just being themselves in their own lane?
I think that that's the most important message. Why is it that this beef is so much particularly more important than any other beef that's going on? Completely different artists, completely different types of music, completely different markets... It's been noted that they're not the same rapper and they're not going bar for bar in the same way, but everyone's expecting Nicki to come back with a Remy Ma verse, not a Nicki verse. I think that it's stupid.
How do you feel about the commercialization of feminism?
I think that it's beautiful when anything is commercialized because it means that it's gotten to the masses. However, I think that there needs to be a little bit of reform in the messages that we're giving young girls. I don't think that "don't slut-shame" means walk around naked. You're not allowed to walk around naked. I think that the message is "be who you authentically are." I think that's the only message we should give to girls. I was reading this thing on Instagram the other day, and it was about the types of bras you wear and what it means about you, and I was like, "What about girls who don't wear bras?" I mean, I don't wear bras. I'm not wearing a bra right now.
I think it's stupid when we put ourselves in these categories like "I'm a feminist, so I hate men and flower power and I wear pink all the time because pink is the feminist color and I'm more awesome than you because I'm a feminist." Feminism doesn't mean you grow out your armpit hair and it doesn't mean you don't shave, and maybe it does. It doesn't mean you're a lesbian and it might mean you're a lesbian. It's not like a T-shirt you put on every day. It's not a fashion trend. It's literally a movement of women who believe in female rights. I think people forget that all the time. Feminism is about fighting for equal rights; it's not a lifestyle at all.
I once asked my mom if she identified as a feminist, and she was like, "Of course, I believe in equality. I taught you to treat all people with respect. That is feminism."
And that's a beautiful statement everyone has to hear. Treat all people with respect, that's all anyone is asking. Treat yourself with the same respect that you treat others and treat others with the same respect you would treat yourself. I think that's really what it's about. I started getting into feminism after I went through one sexually unpleasing situation when I was 16. It made me want to educate myself on what sex meant for me as a young woman [and] other young women. I read this one feminist book on sex and how being sexually pleased is not a bad thing, how women deserve pleasure as much as men do, and how women are constantly shamed from sexual pleasure in many religions, traditions, and parts of the world. It was basically explaining to me what my body does, why it's okay to feel the way I feel, what type of sex is good sex, what type of sex is bad sex, what sex is dangerous... It made me feel so much better as a person.
From then on, I wanted to continue to read books that empowered me to feel good about myself, and I think that's what feminism is. It's empowering women to feel good about themselves because we're in a society that is constantly saying, "You're too this and you're too that, and this is not good and this is ugly, and that makes you ugly, and if you're a woman, then you have to do these things." To get away from that for a moment and be like, "Well, first of all, I'm a human being and happiness is most important, and it doesn't really matter if people make fun of me." I love this statement: If it doesn't matter in five years, then don't spend five minutes on it. I try to think about that every single day because we base our lives on so many elements and sometimes you just have to step back and be like, "Is it that serious? No. But, am I happy? Yes." And then you move forward from there.
Yeah, I'm always asking myself, Is it really that deep?
It's usually not. I learned to not be so embarrassed of things. Because it's, like, we all have embarrassing moments and if you learn to laugh at yourself, then your life becomes a comedy show rather than a comic tragedy. I'm clumsy, I always tell people. Like, on stage I'm flawless, but when I get off stage, I trip over my own feet. I'm a mess, and I think we all are a mess a little bit in our own ways. You just have to appreciate those moments.
Can you tell me more about establishing Magnet Bitch Movement?
MBM is my female collective. It's about female entrepreneurs, starting your own business, and empowering each other. Girl love all the way, no girl hate, and be yourself. It's a movement, so it's not like "you can't eat with us," or you have to be a certain type of girl—we accept everyone, no matter what gender. We're also not against men 'cause I think it's so important as feminists to have male support. I love it when guys say they're feminists. I'm always like "I want to date a feminist. I want to date a guy feminist." When guys wear 'The Future is Female" T-shirts or stuff like that, I'm like, "Bae." [Laughs] No, but for real. Follow MBM, it's really cool.