New York rapper and music producer Khalif Daoud ’11, known professionally as Le1f, was one of the musicians polled by WBUR-Boston and NPR’s Here & Now with the question “What is American music?”
“Growing up, the idea of ‘Americana’ as a word was intimidating to me,” he told hosts Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson. “The patriotism behind it, and the American dream, I always related that to whiteness and I didn’t easily see how I fit into that category, that culture. But I came to understand that blues and jazz and rock and roll, and all these other genres, that’s folk music to me.”
Asked to assemble a playlist, he offered first, “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” by The Crystals (1962, written by Gerry Goffin, Carol King, Phil Spector), explaining, “It feels American to me in the way it expresses such a sad story in such a frank way. It doesn’t condone domestic abuse, but it also doesn’t preach, either. That’s a style that… I’ve only experienced in American folk music and blues music.”
His second song choice, “Unpretty” by TLC (1999, FanMail), was important to him: “They discuss issues of self image and body dysmorphia in this anecdotal way and very empowering way…. That was such a big song for me. I don’t remember taking note to uplifting music in that way until this song happened.”
“Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean (2012, Channel Orange) was third on his playlist: “Having such a beautiful iconic singer tell the story of a same-sex love… it was a big turning point for how R&B and urban America might accept someone who isn’t straight and support their work.”
His own song, “Taxi,” off his latest album, Riot Boi, he explained, is a song “about my personal fears of rejection over my complexion and how that has been met in reality, both romantically and in very small ways… “
All four, he noted, gave voice to the black American dream, describing struggles to which he could relate and with an acceptance of difference in perspective, of moral ambiguity.
To listen to the interview and accompanying music clips, click here.