You may not have heard of Brooklyn-based artist, Laila!, yet, but I have zero doubt in my mind that she’ll be an artist that everybody is talking about by this time next year. A recent high school graduate who sings, produces, and writes all of her music herself, Laila! might be young in age, but she is wise beyond her years. An artist through and through, Laila! pushes creative boundaries in all directions from her music and visuals, down to her style and aura – everything she does is done with great intention and is unequivocally her in the truest sense. Earning the crown for quite possibly the swaggiest teenager in Early Rising history, Laila! is a star in the making and someone who needs to be on your radar.
Last month, I had the opportunity to sit down over a Zoom call with Laila! to learn more about her as an individual and creative. Throughout our interview, I was able to get a glimpse into the creative genius behind some of my favorite songs of 2023 and I couldn’t have left more inspired. In our conversation, we talked about her recent singles (“Like That!” and “Wassup”), her upbringing in Brooklyn, musical inspirations, and more. Without further ado, I’m beyond excited to share our Q & A with you all today, so be sure to check it out below and follow Laila! across socials to stay tapped in with her journey.
Joe: I’d love to hear about your early beginnings in music. You’re only 17 years old right now, so I guess it couldn’t have been too long ago that you started making music. Tell me a little bit about how you got your start!
Laila!: Yeah, of course. I’ve pretty much just been making music, singing, and writing my own songs ever since I was really little.
I had so many songbooks as a kid that I’d just fill with lyrics and song ideas. I feel like since even before I was old enough to go to school, I knew that all I wanted to do was sing and make music. I started producing when I turned 14 because I just had this one song idea and I figured, why don’t I just try to make my own beat instead of just finding some instrumental on YouTube, and then from there that kind of started this whole journey of music production.
Then I started releasing my music just this year, mainly because I have a lot of anxiety about sharing my art sometimes. It was actually really hard for me to find the courage to just put out my music and not be so anxious about it.
I think it’s also the fact that I’m doing pretty much everything myself – I write my music, I record and produce everything, I make my videos & edit them, literally all in my bedroom. I have a cute setup in my room and that’s really where I produce everything. I knew I could do it and all I had to do was take that step, not being so afraid of what people think and ultimately be myself. One day I was just like, let me just do it – let me just release this song. So I put “Like That!” out and I just kept posting on TikTok, not caring about likes or views, and I told myself that my talent wouldn’t go unnoticed. Then, more and more people started listening, supporting me, and just vibing to it. It showed me that I should never hold myself back, and to continue sharing with the world.
Joe: That’s amazing! I think that’s a super normal process for any artist to go through at first, but I’m glad you’re finally letting your art shine. You would have no idea from the outside looking in!
What has it been like growing up in Brooklyn and how do you think it has influenced your sound? I’d have to imagine that it must’ve pushed you to embrace your creativity in some ways!
Laila!: For sure! New York is my home, and when it comes to being an artist, there is art in every pocket of this city. From visual art scattered on the streets of Brooklyn to musicians playing their instruments on the train. It’s a hungry ass place. It’s lowkey a holy grail for collaborations too and new ideas and all that. As ugly and mean as it can be, this place has so much love. Like, tough love. We don’t give a f*ck, which is key because that way you become more bold, it sets you up to think for yourself. I feel like being from Brooklyn has made me who I am, allowed me to express myself and be unapologetic.
Joe: Given that creative culture in the City and there being so many creatives out there, what’s your outlook on collaboration? Do you want to work with more people or do you want to keep it all in-house with what you’ve got going on?
Laila!: I love to do freestyles and produce with other people and stuff, but as far as working and releasing music with other artists, not yet for me, only because I really want to find my footing more and create more of my own baseboard, I guess. A lot of people have reached out to me trying to collaborate which I think is super dope and awesome, but it also depends on the artist. Like some artists that do want to collaborate with me don’t necessarily have a sound that I feel like would blend well with what I would bring. I want to make a product that I really, really love you know? I don’t want to do it just because. I feel like if I do collaborate with anyone, it’s gonna be my sister first above anyone. My sister, Saniyah, she’s a DJ and an interdisciplinary artist and she also produces and sings and all that stuff. It’s crazy how we’ve yet to actually put a song out together, because we have so many ideas, but watch! Soon! It’s gonna be crazy!!
Joe: Oh wow, so you grew up in a creative household?
Laila!: Absolutely! All of my siblings, we definitely have our own creative mode. My sister, Saniyah, and I are most alike in the fact that we are both producers and we both pretty much do the same stuff, except she’s also more skilled than I am when it comes to film and visual stuff. But as far as the music goes, we in sync, which is super fun because any time we are together we just make fire stuff for fun!
Joe: That’s amazing!! I wouldn’t discount yourself too much on the visuals though as I think you’re also very creative in that aspect as well. I saw some videos on your Youtube that were dope – they felt minimalist, but creative – a very D.I.Y. and nostalgic aesthetic!
Laila!: Yes, that’s my vibe! My vibe is very, teenager – kind of candid.
That’s really what it is. We plan on doing way more (videos) because putting visuals to my music makes it a million times better. The visualizer that I made for “Like That!” and the “FIT CHECK” promo video that me and my sister did were literally done in like an hour or so. My sister and I took turns filming each other and then I came home later, sat down and took my time editing the text. I put it together in my bedroom just laying down eating snacks and having fun with it. I’m so glad to hear that you love the visuals, that makes me so happy!
Joe: The visuals make perfect sense with the music, so it’s very cool to find an artist who’s got it all figured out! So are you still in school?
Laila!: Yes! I’m actually at school right now. I’m literally in school, but I told them that I had an interview. My school is super chill. I’m an early graduate – I’m in my Junior year, but I’m graduating this year, so basically I’m a senior and now I’m just twirling my fingers until graduation day (laughs).
Joe: That must be a super heavy workload given that you’re still a student and doing all of this music stuff on your own. What’s it been like balancing music and school at the same time?
Laila!: It’s been kind of interesting managing making music and doing school because I spend a lot more of my time making music than actually paying attention and doing schoolwork. So there have definitely been instances that have put me behind when it comes to schoolwork, only because instead of going home to do homework, I go home and make beats all night. Then I’m like, “oh sh*t, I didn’t do the homework” (laughs), but it’s been chill because I’ve just kind of found a groove with it all. Towards the end I kind of got into a groove of being able to manage my work and my time just a little bit better. It’s definitely been a challenge at times trying to do everything at once – it can be hard, but I think that it’s just all been a learning experience for me. That’s why I’m really excited to graduate because I can put way more of my focus into my music and continue doing what I’m actually passionate about other than stupid homework I don’t care about.
Joe: Are you planning on going to college after graduating?
Laila!: Eventually, yes! As for right now, I plan on studying audio engineering and music production in a recorded music program after high school, and taking early college classes. Once I finish that, the rest of my time is a gap year, where I’ll hopefully just travel, make more music, sell beats, produce for people, and do the same stuff that I’ve been doing, but better. That’s pretty much the goal!
Joe: Props to you for realizing what you want to do now and going for it!
So when I first came across your TikTok, I found one of your videos because I was looking through producer hashtags and I saw you were posting your own beats and remixes. Do you see yourself as more of a producer or an artist? Do you like writing songs or making beats more?
Laila!: That’s a great question! I guess it’s equal. They play into each other. I’m both, I make the beats and I write the music, so I can’t say that I like one more than the other because they are codependent. I have been exploring more of my production ability and am beginning to get more comfortable with making remixes/instrumentals, but it all just goes hand in hand, and I like that I can have a part of my discography that consists of music I sing on, while also having this other part which are just like my beats, my samples and remixes. I guess it makes me versatile that I have different sides of my artistry that people can enjoy if they want to hear different kinds of stuff from me.
Joe: I think that’s very smart and really forward-thinking of you to be doing. Thinking more about how your music has come to be, who are some of your biggest influences?
Laila!: I have so so many influences, but my number one will forever be Brandy. I can’t explain in perfect words how much of an inspiration she is to me. When I was real little, my first idols were Janet and Michael. Then, Whitney and Mariah, and by the time I was in middle school it was SZA, because at that age I really started coming in my personal style as an artist. Brent (Fayaiz) and Frank (Ocean), that was really what I was on. All that soulful r&b, that really elusive, ambient, but captivating production style- that’s where I was taking my inspiration from. As far as producers, my inspirations are The Neptunes, J Dilla, Icy Twat and Budgie – he’s one of my favorite producers as well. Definitely more R&B influences – TLC, Aaliyah, Lauryn Hill, that’s really my realm. I definitely just grew up listening to a lot of 90s r&b and a lot of hip-hop too, especially because my mom bumped her jams in the house all day long so I know I got it from her. Now, I favor a lot of 70s soul music, Marvin Gaye especially, which I feel like will transcend more with the EP that I plan on dropping soon. I want that vocal influence to really shine.
Joe: Couldn’t have given a much better list of influences than that!
Now let’s get into the music and what you’re working on. You debuted with “Like That!” and recently dropped your single, “Wassup”. Do you have a favorite between the two and tell me the stories behind how you made them?
Laila!: I’ll pick a favorite! I actually do like “Like That!” more, only because I just feel like that song embodies my character a lot. The song started out as a freestyle – I was 15, freestyling in the bathroom at my old high school. I don’t know what actually came first, if I had already made the beat and then the freestyle just fit with it, but I remember I was in the bathroom at my old high school and I was just freestyling and everybody was hype and I started singing and I just came up with it. It was just a little idea that I never executed, I just left it alone. Then later I came back to the beat and I was like “this is hard!”, and that beat was actually when I really started getting nice with my production.
So I revisited that beat and I was thinking about the freestyle and I was like, “Yo, this will go hard together – I’m gonna put this together.” I just had that as a song idea and I just never really executed it and then I don’t really remember what sparked my inspiration to record it, but I did, and I showed it to my sisters and I showed it to my friends and family, and they loved it. Then I finished it and I started posting about it and other people started loving it. That was really what kind of did it with “Like That!”.
And then with “Wassup”, I made the beat months before I made the lyrics or the song for it. I made that beat while I was in Spain and I was just with my sisters. I actually was making a beat on my sister’s computer because my computer just broke like days before that. So I was over here like working on a whole different computer, and I just made that beat and then my sister was like, “I love it. So so good” and she was like six (laughs). That’s when I knew the beat was hard – just because she loved it. I was like I have to do something with this.
Joe: The kids know what’s up!
Laila!: Yeah, the kids know! She knew what was up. She knew “Wassup” (laughs).
So then it wasn’t until months later that I had a show to do and I was trying to choose what song I was going to perform and I was listening to the beat and I just thought it would be hard if I did something on that beat. Like, I didn’t even have words for it at that time, but I just kind of wanted to perform on that beat because it’d be so nice. So my sister was like, “Yo, let’s start brainstorming some lyrics” and so we did and that’s how it became “Wassup”. After that, I just recorded it maybe a few weeks later and that’s how that song was created.
Joe: Those are some crazy stories (laughs). “Wassup” has some unquestionable swag and nostalgia to it that it’s only right that it was created so naturally. Is that the vibe you were going for?
Laila!: Yeah! What I want from my music is for my listeners to revisit it and be like “oh, this is like a little vibe!” from before my other stuff (future releases). And I feel like the songs that I have out now are so different from what I have for this EP too. Some songs have similar vibes, but other ones really do tap into a different space in my r&b artistry, so I feel like people are going to really mess with that.
Joe: So I know we’re already talking about it, but tell us a little bit more about the EP and what we can expect from your next project? Where are you heading stylistically and when are you planning on dropping it?
Laila!: Yeah, so I’m thinking about dropping it some time this year. It’s just a project that I’ve been working on for a long time and that’s because it’s constantly changing. Like, I’m still figuring out what exactly I want where on the EP, but I think that it’s definitely going to be a showcase of my different levels of music production and where I’m going with that. It has songs for different vibes and different moods. It’s a very ambient, bedroom, teen vibe, there’s songs on the EP that you can sit down and vibe to and chill with your friends to and then there’s also songs you can be alone listening to or play at a party. So there’s a lot of different stuff going on, but yeah, I don’t know where I’m going with this, but it’s just a vibe!
Joe: Would you say that there’s an overarching concept or theme to the project?
Laila!: I don’t really know if I would say a concept necessarily, but I think it’s really just me picking my brain and kind of just pouring out my heart and my sentiments of my human experience. And also ultimately having fun and showcasing my vocals and who I am as an artist.
Joe: We can’t wait to listen! For my final question, I’d love to know what your goals are and where you envision taking your career?
Laila!: I envision myself in so many different places and spaces, especially because there’s different disciplines in music I’m pursuing. I definitely see myself just continuing to grow and build. Doing shows, performing more, taking steps to building more of my fan base, and doing a lot of interviews. I guess what I’m doing now, but on a much larger scale. I want to go to different cities and do a bunch of shows and have way, way more of a discography. I hope to do more films, music videos, covers, editorials, and produce for other artists more than anything! I want to be able to say like, these are the projects that I worked on, and just build another huge, massive portfolio for myself.
My ultimate goal really is I just want to make people happy with my music! I want to know that I can inspire someone else and just have a good time and be my most authentic creative self because that’s really just what makes me happy in this life. I want to be able to spread that happiness with other people by sharing it!
Joe: Those are some great goals to have and I know you’re on the right track to accomplishing them! Thank you for your time!!