When DaniLeigh was 18, she worked with Prince. She wrote, directed, and played a feature role in the music video for “Breakfast Can Wait.” That alone should be enough to hook you on the 23-year-old, Florida born rapper-singer-dancer. But DaniLeigh, of course, is more than the sum of her mentors and dancer past. She wants to be known for her music, first and foremost. With the release of her debut album The Plan, “and it’s through Def Jam,” as she gleefully tells me over the phone, Dani's want has transformed into a demand placed unto the music industry. Virality and a “gang of supporters” behind her, she will be heard.
“I’m so happy, today’s been…” she trails, soaking in the euphoria of release day. “It feels like everything that I’ve been working hard for is coming out. I finally have a body of work that people can listen to, really get to know me. I feel like it represents me super well.”
The Plan brings a bevy of popular hip-hop and R&B tropes, which DaniLeigh injects with her soon-to-be signature edge. She is a wellspring of confidence, but for as accomplished as she is today, she was not always walking in her own light.
“Before I signed to Def Jam, I was in a place of working with a bunch of different people,” Dani recalls. “At that time in my career, I was confused with what I wanted to do and what sound I wanted, kinda just letting people take charge as far as the sound I was creating. It wasn’t really what I genuinely loved. That was a place where I started meeting new labels and showing music that didn’t represent me. Now, I’m super confident. My A&R helped me out with really being able to express myself. I had full control for this album, and I feel like it really is me.”
“I think I’ve grown tremendously,” she continues. “My record 'Lil Bebe' has given me the utmost confidence as far as what I put into this album. I saw what people liked in me and now I know that I could do this.”
The Plan is a motivational speech in a modern-day hip-hop album. DaniLeigh found herself, and that energy carries the record, and her passion for the business carries her through periods where she would otherwise burn out. The work is evidently nourishing. On wax, it certainly sounds so.
A debut album under her belt, along with several shout-outs from fellow Latinx artists, DaniLeigh is ending 2018 on a high. The plan for 2019? Keep winning, and also “knowing my worth as a woman, that’s part of the plan.”
DJBooth’s full conversation with DaniLeigh, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: First of all, congratulations on finally releasing the debut album. How does it feel to have a full album to your name?
DaniLeigh: It feels so good! I’m so happy, today’s been… It feels like everything that I’ve been working hard for is coming out. I finally have a body of work that people can listen to, really get to know me. I feel like it represents me super well.
You said working with Prince on “Breakfast Can Wait” was the peak of your career. Where does the debut rank?
Man [laughs], for me it’s just such a big moment in my career. My first album, and it’s through Def Jam. I feel like this is another step in my career, another peak. Each year for me, it’s going up. I feel like it’s another stepping stone to greatness.
And you’re so secure in yourself. How did you get to a place where you were confident enough to always be yourself?
I think I really got into my bag this year, as far as writing. I feel like everything single producer I worked with on the album, I knew what they were going to bring out of me as far as their sound. I knew I was going to get my fun Dani and my rapping Dani. I’m just confident in the people I collaborate with, and that’s why it comes out so confident because I’m super comfortable and able to express myself.
What’s the most important story you tell on this album?
“Be Yourself” could be the top thing. With me, I feel like my plan is to win and I feel like I win by being myself. That song really shows that you can be yourself and still love what you. That was the main thing that I wanted to come out on this album. I wanted everyone to know that everything that I’m saying is from a real place.
Did you ever struggle to be yourself? How did you overcome that?
Yeah! Before I signed to Def Jam, I was in a place of working with a bunch of different people. At that time in my career, I was confused with what I wanted to do and what sound I wanted, kinda just letting people take charge as far as the sound I was creating. It wasn’t really what I genuinely loved. That was a place where I started meeting new labels and showing music that didn’t represent me. Now, I’m super confident. My A&R helped me out with really being able to express myself. I had full control for this album, and I feel like it really is me.
How would you define DaniLeigh’s artistic statement now as opposed to a year ago?
I think I’ve grown tremendously. For an artist, you have to put out and see what people like and see if it works, because you need support as an artist. I think my record “Lil Bebe” has given me the utmost confidence as far as what I put into this album. I saw what people liked in me and now I know that I could do this.
That must be why The Plan is such a driven project. How do you keep from burning out?
I think, as an artist, that’s just what we have to do: move around. This is what I wanted. I remember back then when I was back home, chilling. I would call my team like, “Yo! I need to be doing something. Come on, let’s get it.” Now, I’m at a place of nonstop moving and I’m grateful for it. That’s what gives me the most inspiration as well: being that busy and seeing everything happening work. That’s what gives me the confidence to continue recording great music.
Is there anything about burgeoning fame you could do without?
I love it all. The only thing is the traveling is hard, as far as sleeping. Sometimes, I wish eating was easier as far as, in different cities it’s hard to get a good meal [laughs]. That might be the only thing.
How does your dancer background impact you in the studio, especially working with producers?
I’m so grateful that I started off in the game as a dancer. That helps me see the background of what exactly I needed from myself as an artist, and the background of music. Sometimes, I’m in the studio and I’ll dance and I’ll be like, to the producer I’m working with, “Hey, make a beat that will make me dance like this.” [Dancing] visualizes [the music] and that helps the creative process as well.
Why is it important for you to bring Spanish into your music?
I’m Dominican, so I always love to show that that’s how I was brought up. My parents are both Dominican, my parents raised me with bachata, merengue at family parties all the time. That’s definitely a side of me that I would love to display. I love being Dominican, I think it’s dope. I think our heritage, our culture is dope. The music we also have is amazing. I love to show that off. It’s a whole other side of the world; it’s just smart to touch that side as well.
Popular music is finally noticing that Latinx trap and Spanish music is a nebula of its own. How do you see yourself playing a role in bringing that sound to more ears?
It’s funny, I’ve been meeting a couple of Spanish artists. They’ve been hitting me up on Instagram and telling me they like my style, and etc. J Balvin and I just met when I did the Foot Locker commercial. He was like, “We need more girls like you.” He really rocks with me. Nicky Jam is another one that hit me up: “Yo, you’re super dope, you’re a star.” I’m getting all this recognition from all these Spanish people, and I haven’t really tapped in there yet. It’s dope to see.
In an interview with Pigeons & Planes, you said you want to be known for music first. With The Plan out, what does being known mean to you?
I think I work super hard, and for me, what I wanna see is recognition from it. I feel like I deserve it. I feel like I work my butt off for it. Recognition, for me… This day and age, social media is super important for an artist. That helps with booking shows, getting different looks. Seeing that, and my following, and having a gang of supporters, is everything I worked for. I want to see that grow.
In that same interview, you said your plan was to “take care of my family, win, not give up, and be confident.” Anything else?
I’ve added winning by being myself. I’ve also added being loved correctly. Knowing my worth as a woman, that’s part of the plan.