Joining forces with Napapijri, this autumn we’re introducing a new generation of Dutch music talent. The brand’s all about establishing human exchanges based on creativity, freedom and inclusivity, and who better to start off the series of young game-changers than Leafs. The 17-year old rap sensation has been tearing down music charts and venues with irresistible energy and one big, positive smile. Leafs may be an emerging artist, but his vision on music and life radiates the maturity of someone who’s been in the game for a while. What’s his way? Loving back and having fun. Read why below.
Leafs, you’ve blown up so fast. Record deals, millions of views, thousands and thousands of fans… But how did it all start? Was rapping always on your mind?
Actually, when I was eight years old, I said to myself, I don’t want to become a rapper. I don’t know why, but I thought everyone becomes a rapper. I absolutely didn’t want that to happen to me too. Then later on, in high school, some friends and I were really bored in a class. So, we went to the bathroom and we just started making beats—freestylin’, just chilling and having a fun time. After that, my best friend bought a recording set, and him and I began making music on our own. But again, just for the fun of it.
But you always knew music was your calling?
No! It all really began as something I did for fun. I never knew or supposed that this would happen…
And after the millions of streams and views, a record deal and tons of fans, what changed for you?
Actually, it’s more about what didn’t change [laughs]. ‘Cause I’m still surrounded by my family—it’s a family business now. My mom and my sister are my managers, I try to keep it within that circle. Nothing has changed besides people on the streets wanting to take a picture with me. But I always enjoy doing that—it shows mad love. They give me love, I give love back.
Something that’s so fresh and recognizable about your work is the overarching Naruto theme. How did you get into manga and gaming in the first place?
Well, my niece and her brother were really into manga, and they’d also play Naruto Storm 3. Although I didn’t understand it at the time and was super whack at it, I remember thinking it was super cool. And then, when the new Naruto game came out, I bought it for myself and played it with my nephew all the time, for literally one year straight. I got into anime at the same time too.
And then that interest grew more and more?
Yes, totally! People think that gaming and anime are just cartoons for kids, or a thing you purely do for fun. And while this is true, there are so many life-teaching messages hidden in games and anime. For instance, to stay positive, to always help those around you.
Do you relate those messages to your music?
Yes, and besides relating them to my music, I relate them to my life. I’m positive, I take care of my people. I’m not interested in buying five hundred euro shoes, but instead of that, I’d go to the store with my grandma and buy her a whole fridge of food.
Another interest of yours seems to be the rockstar lifestyle. I mean, your new album’s title—Life Of A Teenage Rockstar—screams it. What is it about it that intrigues you so?
When I was six years old or so, I’d watch MTV music videos and documentaries, and I was amazed by the crazy lifestyle of those people. Now I’m kind of living it—going places I’ve never been to, meeting cool artists and people from all around the world. I guess that’s why [laughs].
I asked because most would associate a rockstar with drugs, drinks and a life on the edge.
I think a rockstar lifestyle could be a different experience for everybody. The way I see it, I go places, I rock shows, I meet new people, I greet my fans and show them love. That’s my rockstar lifestyle. Your rockstar lifestyle is yours.
Back to the latest album. It’s new for you to do something so auto-tune driven. How did that come to be?
When I first started out, I’d just rap in the studio. But once I discovered autotune and started singing, I was like, Wow, what is this? It was so dope! Now, I use autotune as an instrument. I think it allows me to develop both as an artist and as a person. When you find a new thing inside yourself or your music, it lets you grow.
I can’t help but ask you about shades and ski goggles too. They seem to be with you at all times, especially in your videos. How did that little obsession emerge?
Actually, I have no idea. I think I just saw Soulja Boy on a picture with some Gucci goggles and thought it was super dope. And then I kind of got into jewelry and eyes in general, and I thought it’s a cool idea to get goggles for my eyes so I can protect myself.
Is there something else you’re obsessed with right now?
FIFA! The 19th version just came out today!
Yes, I played it last night ‘till 6AM [laughs].
Back to our chat about seeing someone that inspired you about something, is there a dream collaboration you’d like to be part of? Be it music or fashion.
I’d pick Lil Uzi for a music collab, and Bape for a clothing line.
Would you be involved in fashion if you weren’t rapping?
Maybe! I like it a lot, and I wouldn’t mind trying to model too. I just know that if it weren’t rapping, it must be something that’s creative as well.
At last… Leafs, who’s your biggest, truest fan?
My mum, one hundred percent! When she pulls up in front of my friend’s house, you can hear her arriving for afar. She’d be blasting Mamasita, and all my friends go, Yo, your mum’s at the door!