Year of the Coi
Leray was born in Boston but spent her childhood in Hackensack, New Jersey. The daughter of Boston rapper and industry tycoon Benzino, she dropped out of high school at age 16 to pursue a career in music. Since then, she’s done precisely that, with a surprising ferocity and tenacity that parallels throughout her music.
Within her tracks, Leray never passes up an opportunity to flex what she’s earned. “Hit the mall, spend a bag and watch me cash out. Numbers going up, yeah, I don't know how to act now,” she spits on her 2018 breakthrough single “Huddy.” The music video for the song has since garnered over 3.5 million YouTube views to date. And as if that wasn’t enough, Leray has since released two albums, titled Everything CoZ and Everything CoZ 2. It goes without saying that Leray’s on the come up for 2020—and she knows just as much.
Left - Full look by GUCCI
Right - Jacket by EVISU
How do you feel your family and life growing up has brought you to where you are now?
Before I became an artist, I was doing sales and working with e-commerce businesses, speaking directly with the business owners and trying to sell shit. In my family, I ain’t got no sisters. I was raised by boys—I got five brothers, and I grew up around a lot of tough love.
Did your brothers influence your decision to pursue music?
No, I influenced myself.
Left - Body suit by MONCLER, shoes by GUCCI
Right - Jacket by EVISU
You would never know by listening to your music that you’re from New Jersey. Has growing up there influenced your art, or did you look elsewhere?
Like I said, I influenced myself. It wasn’t just growing up in Jersey, you know. I’ve been everywhere. And just being creative, even when I was in school, even in kindergarten—just picking up a box of crayons and looking at the colors. I get influenced everyday by everything around me.
Speaking of colors, if people could see your aura, would color would it be?
Purple, dark purple. There’s not really a light or a dark side to purple. If you pick dark pink, you’re damn near going red. If you go black, then you’re gonna get just… black. If you do white, it can be really bright. But with purple, you’re at the right level. It’s the best of both worlds—you got dark, and you got light. Real level.
Right - Double jacket by EVISU
Left - Jacket by EVISU, glasses by GENTLE MONSTER
I read online that you’ve been writing your own raps since you were 14. Can you tell us about your first time writing a song?
My first song was called “Stitch and Lilo.” I wrote it in a grocery store, and I was, like, ten. It goes like this: [Raps] I like Stitch and Lilo. My brother’s name Ray Ray, and my father Benzino. And if you don’t know, I like to play with toys. My middle name Leray, and my first name’s Coi.
You’re a Taurus—what’s the most characteristic element of your sign to you?
I don’t really know any other signs besides my own. I wouldn’t say I’m crazy about it, but I believe in it though. So Taurus, I would say I’m stubborn.
Double jacket by EVISU
Jacket by MONCLER
Where do you draw inspiration from for your lyrics?
Just life itself and everything I go through. Life. When they hear my official debut project, people will be able to understand me more as a person, ‘cause I’m talking about a lot of things other than lifestyle stuff. I’m talking about real shit that people go through. I just write about life, man, you know? Tomorrow could be the best day, and next thing you know, I’m writing, “Today’s gonna be a good day.” Or the next day I can get my heart broken, and then I’m talking like “fuck these people.”
What do you think is your greatest strength as a musician?
The versatility that I have in my melodies and the way I switch up, whether I’m singing or rapping. For the most part, a lot of people who are introduced to my music, they say that’s what they love about it. I can touch a lot of different subjects, and I can actually do it compared to, like, a battle rapper. A lot of battle rappers can’t really make hit songs or make official songs in the studio, but I’m one of those artists that can make anything. That is amazing. The only thing I can’t do is make an instrument out of my mouth. I can beatbox a little bit, but other than that, I can’t.
Long sleeve and top by COLLINA STRADA
Do you have any secret talents people might not know about?
I can paint. I’ve always wanted to invent something. I want to invent—I don’t know, not like a security system. But I’ve always wanted to be one of those people that invent a robot. I love engineering and building.
What do you want your listeners to take away when they hear your music?
Depends on what they’re listening to. If people are listening to my turnt stuff, obviously I want them to feel turnt and feel good. Or even if they’re listening to slow stuff, I want everybody to feel good listening to my music. That’s a hard question. You want people to feel good listening to your music, but if you make a good sad song, then it would make them feel sad, right? That’s weird to think about.
Left - Jacket by EVISU
Right - Bikini by CANDY SHOP
Was there a moment you realized you had established your place in the rap game?
When I went to my show in Clifton last night, I sold it out. I headlined the show, and I actually sold it out in Jersey. It’s crazy ‘cause like, we’ve done shows in Jersey before. Back then, I was just featured, and the shows weren’t even sold out. And now, I’m the main headline. This is my show, and that’s the best feeling in the world. And I still don’t think I’m where I need to be yet.
Is it surreal returning back to Jersey to perform after coming such a long way as an artist?
You really be thinking like—you know, I sold out the show, and the whole time I’m thinking… I get support from Jersey; I really do. But I get a lot more support from a lot of other cities. Even then at the Clifton show, I sold it out, but I didn’t really see a lot of familiar faces that I would expect. That right there just shows that I’m loved. Regardless of whoever is watching, people are watching. Regardless of who wasn’t at that show, I sold it out.
Left - Bodysuit by RUI ZHOU
Right - Jacket by EVISU
Do you feel like you have doubters?
Of course I have doubters—I’m one of them. But that’s just life.
Do you still get stage fright, or have you adjusted really well to performing live?
It comes naturally, but I get this whole nervous thing where I have to pee right before I have to go on stage. I always have to pee out of nowhere. I’ll be totally fine, and somebody will be like, “Are you ready in ten minutes?” And all of a sudden, I gotta pee.
Left - Full look RUI ZHOU
Right - Full look GUCCI, Glasses by GENTLE MONSTER
You have such a strong and distinct presence as a performer. How do you channel that level of energy in your songs and performances?
I got ADD, so it’s natural. I get on stage, and I see all these people looking at me, listening to my music and jumping around and going crazy. What else is there to do? I mean, I’m not a comedian. [Laughs]
Your image kind of juxtaposes your sound. Can you speak to that a little?
My style is my style. I get sexy occasionally, but you know, everything’s always gonna be cozy. I would say It makes people guess a lot about my sexuality, who I am as a person and what I’m really into. When you listen to my music, it’s the same thing. I get sexy, and then I got this deep voice that comes out of nowhere, and I got dudes listening to my songs as soon as they hop into their car.
Jeans by OTTOLINGER, bikini by CANDY SHOP, shoes by OTTOLINGER
Were people in your inner circle kind of surprised when they first listened to your music?
It happened so randomly, so yeah. I would say everyone was surprised. Moreso, everybody was surprised at the consistency, ‘cause I was just always in the studio, nonstop just creating, creating, creating. Everybody around us wasn’t doing that. Everybody in Jersey was just stuck on the same thing, you know? And I was literally in the studio everyday, shooting or whatever else it was.
In an era where your fans and the outside world have so much insight into your personal life, what is your relationship to social media?
Social media is the [sings] devil, but that’s how I make my money. I’m playing chess, that’s all I can say. As I’ve gotten bigger, it’s gotten worse. Or I mean, it’s getting better. But you know, I got good problems. When I say it’s getting worse, I’m just like, “Oh shit, are you kidding me?” Yeah, it could be ten times worse than this, but when you’re dealing with millions of people that don’t even know you and constantly judge you whether it’s good or bad, it just gives you so many mixed emotions. Like damn, somebody really woke up today and thought about you. Think about that. Somebody really woke up today and thought about you. There are billions of people in the world, and you’re the person that they’re thinking about. That’s insane to me. I still think about it everyday.
Left- Body suit by MONCLER
Right - Full look GUCCI, glasses by GENTLE MONSTER
What is the most challenging lesson you’ve had to learn on the come up so far?
Patience. Patience and just understanding the process of dealing with lawyers and legal shit. Before I was signed and stuff, you get to do a lot of different things as an upcoming artist. And before I was even big at all, I was a little more open to different things. Now, I just literally gotta watch and be cautious. I can’t just drop a song when I want, ‘cause you gotta just trust the process. Everything’s got a plan behind it.
Any hints for your fans on what to expect next?
I’m touring in 2020. I wanna go back overseas. All over. We were in Berlin and Ireland, London—we were all over the place. I just wanna do that again. My debut project is also coming up. It’s gonna be out of this world. Everybody’s just gotta keep waiting.
Desert island songs. What songs would you listen to if you could only listen to three songs for the rest of your life?
I would probably listen to jazz or something with no lyrics. That way, I can make my own lyrics to the instrumental for the rest of my life. I could make a new different song over and over and over again, ‘cause I wouldn’t want to listen to the same thing everyday of my life. Three songs?! I would be fucking sick of those three songs. [Laughs]
With 2020 on the horizon and being a part of a new wave of rappers and a new sound, what do you think the future for female rappers looks like?
The future for female rap, hmm. Who knows? There’s so much of the same shit out here. Who knows what it’s gonna be? I know that I don’t even want to be seen as—I mean of course, I’m representing my females, but I just want to be an artist. Fuck the females, fuck the males, we’re all one. When it comes to music, we shouldn’t even be separated. You get what I’m trying to say? I have no clue. A lot of this shit sounds the same. People be popping their pussies, shaking their ass, stripper music, doing what they gotta do, but they’re stuck in the same sound that’s been out here for years. They’re still trying to find their way. Nicki Minaj, Remy Ma—everything is temporary these days, but they’re stars.
Do you have any parting words of wisdom for anybody who wants to follow your footsteps in terms of leaving their day jobs and running after their dreams?
Keep people close, but not too close. Don’t get too attached to nobody. Just learn to trust the process, and have loyalty. Really all it is. If you know your worth and you know what you’re capable of, then shit, nothing can stop you.