The UK’s Queen of Rap pub­licly comes out as pan­sex­ual in her most can­did and heart­felt in­ter­view of the year.

Gay Times Magazine - - CULTURE - Pho­tog­ra­phy Kell Mitchell Fash­ion Dark­wah Kyei-Dark­wah Light­ing Steve Hard­man Words Sha­keena John­son

“From my first Queen’s Speech I said ‘I kissed a girl and I liked it ting, I take your girl and I wife it ting’. I’ve been say­ing what I like. Peo­ple only lis­ten to what they want or they just think I’m ban­ter­ing,” Me­le­sha O’Garro – known to the world as Lady Leshurr – tells me as we have a good ol’ chin­wag out­side a cute ve­gan cafe deep in the heart of East Lon­don over a hot cho­co­late. Dressed from head to toe in the sharpest navy Adi­das track­suit and still pulling off the glitz and glam­our hair and makeup from her Gay Times cover shoot, she tells me how this is the hap­pi­est she’s been – es­pe­cially with her of­fi­cially com­ing out pub­licly as pan­sex­ual. “I’m just happy that I don’t have to hide any­thing any­more, I am free. In life you have to tell the truth, you have to feel com­fort­able in your own skin and now I feel so com­fort­able in my own skin.” The reign­ing Queen of UK Rap prides her­self on be­ing a lyri­cal ge­nius, drop­ping off freestyle af­ter freestyle un­veil­ing her whim­si­cal punch­lines, her sharp-tongued hu­mour and her witty ban­ter, whilst re­main­ing the care­free black woman we all know and love. Her mu­si­cal jour­ney in the rap game is like no other. From drop­ping her very first mix­tape back in 2009 which gave her in­stant fame and crit­i­cal ac­claim, to be­ing nom­i­nated and win­ning awards af­ter awards, whilst rack­ing up more than 152 mil­lion views on YouTube, Lady Leshurr’s re­sume is lethal. With no signs of stop­ping any­time soon or tak­ing her per­fectly pol­ished Air Max’s off the neck of oth­ers, she can now add be­ing one of the first pan­sex­ual cover stars on Gay Times to her list of achieve­ments. Her heart is ded­i­cated to the rap game and with nearly a decade un­der her belt, it’s clear that Me­le­sha in­tends to break down the pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem that rap was built on along­side other fe­male MC’s, prov­ing that they have a voice that de­serves to be heard and they de­serve just as much at­ten­tion and re­spect as the men get. Not many can re­main fully au­then­tic through­out their whole ca­reer, but Me­le­sha does it so well.

Our first in­tro­duc­tion to Lady Leshurr was back in 2009 when she dropped her mix­tapes Un­leshurr and The Last Sec­ond. Her crazy bars and boss bitch flow caught the at­ten­tion of many in­clud­ing Wiley and Ghetts – two of grime’s most elite play­ers. Con­tin­u­ing to ce­ment her place as one of the dead­li­est fe­male MC’s on the UK rap scene, she went on to be­come the first fe­male to win the Best Fe­male award at the Of­fi­cial Mix­tape Awards back in 2011 and 2012, mak­ing her the only UK fe­male act to win twice in a row. As the years passed by, her rap­ping tech­nique and ca­pa­bil­ity grew and grew and her name was ap­pear­ing more and more across the mu­sic. But it wasn’t un­til 2015 that Lady Leshurr re­ally be­gan get­ting the recog­ni­tion she de­served and right­fully earned. De­liv­er­ing episode four from her back-to-back Queen’s Speech series, she had the whole world gripped with her freestyle. Lyri­cally push­ing bound­aries and cer­ti­fy­ing her po­si­tion as the UK’s Queen of Rap, pulling in more than 53 mil­lion views on YouTube, it still is one of the most talked about freestyles to ever come out of UK rap.

Af­ter wit­ness­ing Lady Leshurr pose the house down at Vibe Stu­dios in Hack­ney dur­ing the cover shoot – which breathed black girl magic with a touch of re­belism and re­al­ness all meshed into one – I was in­stantly re­minded of why I fell in love with her back when it all started. As we be­gan to chat, I re­alised that Lady Leshurr had left the build­ing and I was now in the pres­ence of Me­le­sha O’Garro. I had the plea­sure of in­form­ing her that she would be one of the first pan­sex­ual cover stars for Gay Times, and the look on her face in­haled and ex­haled hum­ble­ness and hon­our. “Wow, I’m one of

the first pan­sex­ual fe­males on Gay Times?! That’s crazy! That’s mad. I guess it’s over­whelm­ing. I’m grate­ful”.

2018 for Me­le­sha didn’t start off quite how she ex­pected. An ex de­cided to pub­licly out her in a num­ber of tweets send­ing Twit­ter into a frenzy, which later trižered a feud be­tween the two re­sult­ing in Me­le­sha pulling no punches in a diss record re­spond­ing to her ex called R.I.P. “The way she outed me was quiet mal­ice and she tried to out some­one else out in the tweet as well and I don’t think it was re­spect­ful at all, it was re­ally mean. The thing is, peo­ple ac­tu­ally knew we were go­ing out, it was just never con­firmed. Ini­tially, I thought I could ig­nore what she’s tweeted about me and just pre­tend like noth­ing’s hap­pened and sim­ply carry on do­ing my mu­sic, but then I thought no, I’m gonna ac­tu­ally turn this neg­a­tive into a pos­i­tive. I’ve grown so much since then and I learned from that whole sit­u­a­tion.” The shock­ing part about this sit­u­a­tion was the back­lash and treat­ment Me­le­sha re­ceived from many around her be­cause of the tweet sent out by her ex. “There were cer­tain peo­ple around me at the time that started treat­ing me dif­fer­ently and act­ing a bit funny with me. I was shocked and I quickly learnt that all that meant was that those peo­ple were not meant to be in my life,” she says. “If you can’t take me for who I am then you can leave. At the end of the day I’m not go­ing to stop be­ing my­self. The whole sit­u­a­tion showed me who was real and who wasn’t, who was meant to be around me and who didn’t de­serve my time and en­ergy”.

At this cur­rent mo­ment in time, Me­le­sha is happy hav­ing moved past the whole sit­u­a­tion. Her new-found con­fi­dence shines so brightly just like her smile. The truth has fi­nally set her free. “I don’t have to hide any­thing any­more. My sex­u­al­ity doesn’t de­fine who I am.” Re­flect­ing on con­fi­dence, life lessons and her ex­pe­ri­ences, she wants to make it clear to ev­ery­one who is cur­rently stružling with their sex­u­al­ity that de­spite what oth­ers think, say or feel about you, ev­ery­thing you do should be on your terms and your terms only. “Life is all about growth, just de­vel­op­ing and un­der­stand­ing your­self and be­ing more con­fi­dent. I un­der­stand feel­ing trapped, I un­der­stand feel­ing like you can’t be your­self,” she says. “If you want to come out, you have to come out your­self. It’s not any­body’s place to out some­one. I re­mem­ber search­ing on the in­ter­net ‘Lady Leshurr gay’ and ‘Lady Leshurr les­bian’ just to see what I used to put out back in 2008/2009, and I re­alised I was try­ing to come out but no one was giv­ing me the ‘it’s fine, it’s okay to come out’. My ex man­ager told me com­ing out wasn’t a good look or the right move for me or my ca­reer. I re­mem­ber it made me feel so de­pressed be­cause I wasn’t be­ing al­lowed to be my au­then­tic self and hon­estly speak­ing from ex­pe­ri­ence I un­der­stand how it can make some­one feel trapped, give you low self-es­teem and anx­i­ety, be­cause you can’t fully be your­self. Peo­ple’s opin­ions are the rea­son some­times you can’t be your­self and it’s sad. Peo­ple can be re­ally mean.”

Her day ones have stayed true to her and stood by her side through­out her com­ing out jour­ney. The sup­port she has been given in the last nine months has been gar­gan­tuan, re­ceiv­ing mes­sages af­ter mes­sages from fans all over the world ac­knowl­edg­ing her strength. “The sup­port has been amaz­ing, it’s been in­cred­i­ble. I put a state­ment out on In­sta­gram to fi­nally let peo­ple know, and so many peo­ple reached out to me. It was beau­ti­ful. From kids in school, to both men and women, I didn’t know I was role model in that sense. Like, I didn’t know that I in­spired peo­ple like that. I didn’t think me of­fi­cially say­ing ‘I like girls and guys’ would re­sult in so many peo­ple telling me how proud they were of me. I was get­ting mes­sages say­ing ‘What do I do? I’m go­ing through the same thing. I don’t know if I should say any­thing. I want to come out now be­cause you have.’ To hear that warmed my heart be­cause I never knew me telling my story was go­ing to in­spire so many peo­ple to tell theirs, and this is why stay­ing true to who you are is im­por­tant. Peo­ple are look­ing up to me like ‘Wow, you’ve done it – now I can do it.’ That’s what I love the most about help­ing oth­ers. Just see­ing oth­ers come out and be con­fi­dent and com­fort­able in their own skin, be­cause I took that step”.

The term pan­sex­u­al­ity (usu­ally re­ferred to as pan­sex­ual) means to have at­trac­tion whether sex­ual, emo­tional or ro­man­tic feel­ings to­wards peo­ple re­gard­less of their sex or gen­der iden­tity. Peo­ple who iden­tify as pan­sex­ual usu­ally re­fer to them­selves as gen­der-blind, as­sert­ing that gen­der and sex are not fac­tors when it comes to their ro­man­tic or sex­ual at­trac­tion. This was some­thing Me­le­sha had never heard be­fore R&B singer­song­writer Kehlani brought it to her at­ten­tion back in April when she spoke out about her sex­u­al­ity. “Kehlani in­tro­duced to the term pan­sex­ual. I had never heard of it and af­ter read­ing her tweets, I felt like ev­ery­thing she was say­ing ap­plied to me. I re­searched it and was like ‘That’s me, That’s what I am’. I like ev­ery­body. I al­ways thought I was bi­sex­ual. I started re­al­is­ing – es­pe­cially this year – who I was at­tracted to. I would see drag queens and be at­tracted to them and I would see trans peo­ple and be at­tracted to them. I’m still at­tracted to guys and girls so it was at that point I re­alised gen­der has noth­ing to do with it. It’s more about the con­nec­tion, the en­ergy and the vibe that peo­ple bring around me – that’s what re­ally draws me in. I’ve never been a per­son to look at some­body’s ap­pear­ance and judge them on that. It’s al­ways been about con­nec­tion and that’s def­i­nitely why I iden­tify as pan­sex­ual.”

Fly­ing the flag for the Black Bri­tish queer com­mu­nity along­side MNEK, Zilo, Kele Ok­ereke and many more, Me­le­sha is mak­ing sure the mu­sic is what peo­ple fo­cus on in­stead of her sex­u­al­ity. In the past few years, we’ve seen more black queer mu­si­cians take cen­tre stage like Syd from The In­ter­net, Frank Ocean and Mykki Blanco, open­ing doors for other black queer mu­si­cians to be heard. Speak­ing on why rep­re­sen­ta­tion is im­por­tant and why hav­ing spa­ces like Bad Bitches, Pxssy Palace and BBZ are im­por­tant for the cul­ture, Lady Leshurr ex­plains: “It’s im­per­a­tive that we have th­ese clubs,

If you can’t take me for who I am then you can leave. At the

end of the day I’m not go­ing to stop be­ing my­self.

th­ese events, th­ese lo­ca­tions for the LGBTQ com­mu­nity – es­pe­cially the PoC com­mu­nity – be­cause there’s not that much. We need th­ese places so we can go some­where and feel safe whilst hav­ing fun and be around the peo­ple we know and are com­fort­able be­ing around. I plan on putting on my own event at some point in the near fu­ture where peo­ple who are like me can go and have fun and feel wel­comed. Rep­re­sen­ta­tion is re­ally re­ally im­por­tant be­cause there’s only a mi­nor­ity of us. I don’t know any­body else that’s Black, Bri­tish and gay that re­ally came out in the mu­sic in­dus­try and is wear­ing it proud ex­cept me and MNEK. I think it will grad­u­ally start to hap­pen though. I re­mem­ber back in 2009 I was hint­ing on Twit­ter ask­ing my fans ‘Would you lis­ten to my mu­sic if I was gay?’, ‘Would you lis­ten to my mu­sic if I liked girls?’ and I wasn’t get­ting no re­sponses at all.”

A new at­ti­tude has birthed a whole new mean­ing of BOSS for Me­le­sha, who dropped her lat­est sin­gle in Septem­ber called Black Madonna, which fea­tures Afrobeats su­per­star Mr. Eazi. Shoot­ing the video the day be­fore sit­ting down with us, she ex­cit­edly re­veals: “It’s based on the con­cept of me recre­at­ing epic and iconic scenes from all of the bižest mo­ments from the 80s and 90s. I got Missy El­liott, Aaliyah, Janet Jack­son, and Kriss Kross. I also made sure to have a mole in ev­ery part of the video just like Madonna, be­cause the song is ba­si­cally about me be­ing the Black Madonna.” The whole look of the video is based off the way she writes. “I’m in a dif­fer­ent world when I write, I al­ready know how and what I want ev­ery­thing to look like. I al­ready have a vi­sion of what I want the vi­su­als to be so when I wrote Black Madonna, I knew that I wanted ev­ery four bars to be a dif­fer­ent out­fit and a dif­fer­ent look in the video so peo­ple would in­stantly recog­nise the im­age and be like, ‘I re­mem­ber that!’” Her mu­si­cal in­spi­ra­tions have played a huge part in shap­ing the Lady Leshurr we know and love to­day. From the sounds of it, her num­ber one in­spi­ra­tion was Missy El­liott. “I feel like I see a lot of my­self in Missy El­liott – like I have the essence of Missy in­side me. Es­pe­cially when it comes to videos. I al­ways want to give you a dif­fer­ent look that’s en­ter­tain­ing and want to make you re-watch my videos over and over be­cause you re­mem­ber them. Madonna has done that her whole ca­reer too.” Icons in­spir­ing icons – that’s what we like to see.

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