Leikeli47 Remains as Sharp as Ever on 'Shape Up'
Published May 10, 2022Leikeli47 doesn't care what you think about her — "The only thing I need validated is my parking," she sings on Shape Up single "Zoom." In fact, she doesn't want you to think about her at all. With her face concealed by a bandana or balaclava, her desire for personal obscurity is an attempt to focus attention on her music instead of her person. Yet, it's difficult to think of anyone else after hearing Shape Up, the enigmatic rapper/producer's third studio album and final instalment in her beauty trilogy release series.
Not much is known about the human behind Leikeli47. Her name may be confidently listed on Wikipedia, but to the date of this review, it has not been officially released. It's bleeped out on Shape Up when she relays a lustful courting story in "LL Cool J" (which in this case stands for "Ladies Love Cool Jewelry"), so it is doubtful that will change soon. She sees her trilogy — which includes 2017's Wash & Set and 2018's Acrylic — as an invitation to her life and experiences, rather than her social media accounts.
Shape Up starts off with a bang, literally. "Chitty Bang," from a similar mold as M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes," has bass that drops like an atom bomb with crunchy kicks and warping sub-bass, while the lyrics are all swagger — firing cannons, dunkin' on chumps, and then hanging out at Atlanta's Blue Flame strip club afterwards. "Chitty Bang" ends with a plaintive piano and industrial percussion outro with the confessional line, "sometimes I experiment with all the drugs on my table."
Shape Up has an impressively organic flow considering how the record swings between extremes, so massive and varied instrumentally with moments of slick braggadocio, unflinching humour and staggering vulnerability. On "Secret Service," amidst thunderous kicks and squelching synths, she shoves the guttural squelch of Cadence Weapon's "Oliver Square" and the future-funk of Childish Gambino's "Zombies" into the pocket of JAY-Z's "Big Pimpin'." Ramping up the vocal weirdness, "New Money" is a trip in headphones with its booming kick drum, smidge of trap percussion and sub-bass warp cycles while vocals skitter from ear to ear.
Leikeli47 shows all sides throughout this album. "BITM" ("Bitch I'm the Man") heavily samples George Kranz's onomatopoeic electro classic "Trommeltanz," the artist raving hard as she those who may cross her against such a bad idea. "Carry Anne" brings hardcore "WAP" energy, as Leikeli47 throws chest-beating haymakers over its vocal loop, "this's my pussy, I can do what I want / hmm, I'm a big girl now."
Conversely, "Hold My Hand" is a gorgeous downtempo R&B ballad with blissfully plucked guitar. Her voice soars sweetly yet soulfully with a sense of fragility, a certain frayed edge. Her voice is presented nakedly at the song's beginning, and as the layered harmonies drenched in reverb and echo evolve throughout the track, they eventually break apart into a duet and a heavenly backing choir, goosebumps and joyful tears follow.
Most albums pass by relatively unnoticed. A select few leave a notable impression. Shape Up is a brand. Not a marketing scheme, but the kind of brand that leaves behind a beautiful scar. No one is the same after listening to it. Leikeli47 showcases such astounding depth, variety, skill and taste on this record that those goosebumps may be permanent. (Hardcover/RCA Records)