Caught Up In The Rapture: Coi Leray

Caught Up In The Rapture: Coi Leray

Caught Up In The Rapture: Coi Leray

A rising force in the rap game, Leray connects with underground rap legend and DJ Angie Martinez as the pair speak on their early inspirations, come up in the genre, and hopes for the future of Hip Hop

A rising force in the rap game, Leray connects with underground rap legend and DJ Angie Martinez as the pair speak on their early inspirations, come up in the genre, and hopes for the future of Hip Hop

Photography: Conor Cunningham

Styling: Anna Trevelyan

Text: Angie Martinez

Coi Leray was always destined for sonic stardom—from a young age, the Boston-native was entranced by music’s ability to tell stories and offer an escape. After two successful mixtapes and a string of viral tracks, the confident moniker of her debut album, Trendsetter, perfectly encapsulates the genre-defying spirit of the burgeoning artist. Merging elements of pulsating Hip Hop and playful, pure pop the 25-year-old artist is making inroads as one of the most exciting acts in modern rap. 

At the 2021 BET Awards, Leray was nominated for Best New Hip Hop Artist and just a year later, her high-octane collaboration with Nicki Minaj, “Blick Blick,” proved that she is here to stay. Below, Leray connects with underground rapper-turned-DJ Angie Martinez—whose rap career in the late ‘90s included a successful debut album, Up Close and Personal, and collaborations with Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliot, Da Brat, Mary J. Blige and more. Known as “The Voice of New York,” Martinez offers insight into her early influences and staying true to yourself while Leray speaks on her rapid ascent, undying focus on versatility, and an exciting, soon-to-be-released body of work.

Read the full conversation below.

All clothing Tommy Hilfiger Monogram, boots Casadei, necklace Coi’s own

COI LERAY: I feel like I've always loved music. Music is in my blood. My mom was a huge fan of trap music. My family was big on music. Growing up I used to love Kidzbop because it had so many different artists on one project. Like Lil Wayne, Paramore, it'll have Black Eyed Peas, maybe the Jonas Brothers. It just had so many different people and so many different genres, and I think that is something that I have carried to my music now. 

And of course in my household, my family loved trap music, so I have a really broad range of influences—I listened to Missy [Elliot], Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi, all these different artists growing up. So just with all that, I always enjoyed music. I loved dancing and I would say I started taking it seriously and realizing that I'm an artist and could really make music in 2017, when I was around 18 or 19 years old. 

ANGIE MARTINEZ: I fell in love with rap around probably, I don't know—I just felt like my whole life, rap was the music that I personally connected to. I remember being eight years old and hearing "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugar Hill Gang for the first time and just thinking it was just the greatest thing I'd ever heard in my life. And then as a teenager, just falling in love with artists like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie—I fell in love with what was happening in New York at that time. And then when I became a radio personality and I started to actually get to know artists and know producers, that's when the opportunity came for me to record. Before then, I didn't even think a career in rap was possible. It would've been a dream that I couldn't have even imagined being able to do. So were you always musically inclined or was it something that came about later for you? 

CL: I was always musically inclined, always surrounded by music. One thing about me, I loved music videos and the crazy creativity and energy that came with them. I was born in 1997, so I just remember things like 106 & Park and MTV Jams and stuff like that. I remember Pink had crazy videos during that time, even The-Dream. 

I remember T-Pain having so many different videos that were just so dope. It was so many different fire music [videos] at the time when I was younger and so much creativity going on. I just fell in love with music and always knew I was gonna do something. I didn't know what I was gonna be when I was a kid, but I knew I was gonna have something to do with the music business, definitely, if not that, then something in the entertainment industry. 

AM: I was not musically inclined, which is probably why I had a short career! It would take me really long to write something. I loved it and it was a creative side of me that I really got to tap into when I was making music. But it wasn't something that came easy to me like being on the radio, interviewing people, or things like that. Making music to me, as much as I loved it, it just was hard. Some people say it's easy and I guess those are the people that wind up doing it for a lifetime. And maybe if I'd have done it longer and stayed at it longer, it would've gotten easier. But, you know, I was learning as I was going and it was hard. And you’re from Boston, right? Would you say your upbringing played a role in your sound or the subject matter you explore in your music? 

CL: I’ve always just been a hustler and was inspired to just make music. I mean, in my lyrics I always write through experience and all my music is [inspired by] experience and just my life. And I'm able to really use [music] as not only a journal, but a place to really escape and give my fans something that they can also listen to and relate to as well and help them get through what they're going through. Do you feel like New York influenced your sound coming up?

AM: Oh, definitely. Absolutely, you create what you know. And I was really influenced by New York rap artists, especially of the '80s and early '90s. By the time I had started playing around as an artist and in the studio working on my first album, all of those influences started to come up—I was inspired by all of what was happening in New York and also just what was happening in the city. We made a song called "Live at Jimmy's." Jimmy's was the popping spot back then. Even the artists that I featured on the album and the sound of the beats and all of that is definitely influenced by this city.

CL: I read somewhere that you kind of came up with Lil' Kim and were both nominated for a Grammy together?

AM: Yes, we were nominated for a Grammy for "Ladies Night," which is so crazy to me because literally that might have been the second or third song I'd ever been on. My first one was with KRS-One and Redman. Imagine your first song ever is with KRS-One and Redman—mine was! And then later they had been doing this "Ladies Night" song, Un Rivera was putting it together. And he called and asked if I would do it because they had just heard me rap on this other song—I think this was maybe just the second song I was ever on. So yeah, they called and I got to be on set with Lil' Kim, Da Brat, Missy Elliot, and Left Eye and just have this wonderful experience that would stay with me for a lifetime, man. I mean, it wasn't just the girls on the song—the girls that showed up for the video, Mary J. Blige, TLC—it just was such a dope representation of all the women in the industry, and we had a great time together.

She’s amazing, she of course is an icon. I have so much respect for her. I literally can remember the first time Biggie told me on the radio that he had this girl and she could rap, she rapped like a dude, but she was sexy—he was describing her in such a way like nothing we'd ever seen before. And when Lil' Kim finally did come out, obviously, she didn't disappoint. She superseded anything, but Big always had that vision for her. I really remember him being on the radio and describing what type of artist she was and telling New York that they should be excited about her, and it's just crazy to see how she over-delivered. Now I’m curious, you’ve been so successful recently, have you had to face any obstacles? Especially as a female in this industry?

CL: Entering the industry, as a young Black female artist, I really didn't worry about too much. I guess that was because I didn't know so much and I really wasn't so deeply in it in the beginning. I really didn't overthink anything, I didn't think about anything. I just knew that I wanted to be a good person, I knew I wanted the world to see me. I knew I had to apply pressure, I knew there's so much competition out there, so no matter what, you just gotta keep going. I kept that [spirit] and stuck that with me. And I kept my team with me, I’ve had the same people since day one and it ended up turning out really, really good. 

AM: I definitely agree with you, I didn’t really think about it coming up. When I was getting into the business, nah, there were definitely not a lot of women. But I just never thought about it. When I was starting Hip Hop, radio was starting at the same time, so I was in this new genre of radio. When I was starting, commercial Hip Hop radio was really just beginning, so I was just happy to be part of launching that. And in New York, I just loved what I was doing so much. I did it with blinders on and I was probably naive to maybe if I was being treated differently because I was a woman or if there were things that were going on around me. I worked so hard, I just had blinders on. I didn't pay attention to the noise. But, you know, I had to develop ways to just be around guys all the time.  

CL: Definitely, I think the music can speak for itself. 

AM: I agree.

CL: One thing about me, I came into this industry very versatile, you can't lock me in a box. One thing you can never say is "Coi sounds the same," and I love that because I love to make all different kinds of music and I want people to appreciate and recognize me mostly for my versatility—not only for my creativity, but for my versatility. The difference with me is the type of artist I am, I really love real music, I’ve been working with some amazing people in the studio. Some amazing people, amazing producers, amazing, amazing writers, and I’ve been able to understand the formula of a record. Understanding a verse, pre-hook, post-bridge, where you should fit it, making sure you don't forget any of it. 

And giving people moments that they can actually sing back and forth. If you look at amazing, timeless songs like "Flashing Lights" by Kanye West, or you also got another amazing song like Rihanna's "Sex With Me." Drake, he makes timeless music, his projects are still timeless to this day. So I feel like as an artist, I can deliver timeless music. I'm not here to just be the best rapper, make points, and stuff, I'm here to be the best, biggest artist. I carry myself like a brand and I never wanna be locked in a box—I wanna be a female artist, I wanna be in the R&B category, Hip Hop category, the Pop category, all genres, you know?  

AM: So what would you say your goal is with the music you create? How do you want your listeners to feel?

CL: I feel like the goal that I have when I make my music is just for the shit to be fire and obviously get off what I need to say. I’ve actually been in the studio non-stop for the past 60 days straight, working on amazing music back to back to back to back, coming up with so many amazing things. And sometimes as an artist, my goal here—I'm trying to be here forever and it's a lot of strategy and trusting, it's a process to that super stardom longevity and I feel like I'm just slowly taking my time. I'm in the right place and I just can't wait till people hear this new music because it's amazing. And when I make my music, it's for me, but it's also for everybody. I don't get in the studio and be like, “Yo, I'm about to make a song, how can I make people like me tomorrow?" Like no, I get in there and I just be myself always, 10 toes, and just create and whatever goes from there leaves the room. Whether it's a hit, whether it's a single, doesn't matter what it is, I'm proud of it. 

AM: That's dope, I'm really excited to hear it. 

CL: Well girl, I can't wait to drop it. 

AM: I'm excited. So what does the future of rap look like and sound like to you? 

CL: I feel like these days the future of rap is unpredictable, so I really try to just enjoy the moment as much as possible when it comes to stuff like that. No one knew COVID was gonna happen and we were off for two years and that could have affected rap in so many different ways. No one expected it, so it's just like, keep being you and keep making great music, keep applying pressure. Hard work pays off and hard work determines your future. So, I don't have too many expectations. I just know I work hard and I know what I want in life, longevity-wise. 

I feel like my legacy will live long. I feel like my music is going to be timeless. I have substance and not only that, it's so universal and global that it gives everyone the opportunity to pick a song and have their favorite to relate to, no matter who you are.

AM: I like what you said when you said "my music has substance." That's powerful. I think the future's bright, man. Everybody always tries to compare one era to the next. But the beautiful thing about Hip Hop is that it always evolves. It is always changing, it's always reinventing itself. Back in the day you had to have a label deal or you had to be really lucky to get a song played to become an artist. Now there's just so many ways for artists to break through that and I think it's not going anywhere. And I think this explosion of so many women in the game really elevates everything for everybody. And I hope to see more of that and I believe we will.

Below, stream Caught Up in the Rapture—Volume 1, Part 6—curated by Coi Leray and Angie Martinez.

Credits: Editorial Direction & Casting: Czar Van Gaal Hair: Kendall Dorsey Makeup: Nikko Anthony Manicure: Britney Tokyo Editors: Kala Herh & Matthew Velasco Producer: Felix Cadieu & Photobomb productions Special thanks: Tommy Hilfiger / Republic Records / Roc Nation / JmigsPR


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