Lex Leosis is an overwhelmingly cheerful and charismatic presence among any line up fellow emcees, but make no mistakes, she is anything but chipper on the microphone.
Her roots in the competitive world of slam poetry and battle rap come out in her fierce and abrasive lyricism, and that competitive drive has already given her a notable spot in underground Toronto hip hop.
The Toronto-native emcee and spoken word artist was part of the first Toronto Poetry Slam team, the first-ever Canadian team to compete at Brave New Voices in 2011, and since moved on to release three consecutive mixtapes, as well as a decorated career in rap competitions.
She is here in Hamilton as a mentor for Hamilton Youth Poet’s Emcee Wreckshop, a 4-week program teaching youth aged 12-22 about hip hop history, culture and the craft of writing raps. At Hamilton Youth Poet’s ongoing Louder Than A Bomb poetry festival, she hosted the Emcee Olympics, the final culmination of her students’ work in the form of a four round competition.
Yet, despite already taking on a mentorship role in the hip hop community, she is still an eager student at heart, with a healthy and genuine respect for the history, art, and spirituality of hip hop. Earlier in the evening, alongside other local artists, Leosis spoke in a panel regarding Women in Hip Hop, where she discussed her personal relationship with the genre, as well as the need to learn, appreciate and respect the culture’s historical roots and the importance of knowing how to use one’s voice within the art form.
The Silhouette caught up with Leosis to continue the conversation about her relationship with hip hop, The Gospel, and hip hop education.
The Silhouette: Could you touch on that story that you shared during the panel about your reading of KRS-One’s Gospel of Hip Hop as a real sort of religious experience?
Lex: Yeah! So I was looking for Hip Hop Literature because like there’s not a hip hop section in the library y’know? You can’t get a hip hop degree, you can’t go to school for that kind of thing and I was like, man I really want to learn and I wasn’t necessarily surrounded by it all the time like Keysha [Freshh] said she grew up into it. I didn’t really grow up into it, I wasn’t surrounded by it, I had to look for it, and I was like alright, I literally went on Amazon and I typed in hip hop books… and the first thing that came up was Gospel of Hip Hop, KRS-One, The First Instrument…
It’s a Bible for people who love hip hop, who appreciate hip hop and in this book he says “if you’re not feeling this by this page, by now, then maybe hip hop is not for you and that’s okay”, but I was just in it … Even as a kid I loved hip hop dancing, I really took to graffiti. I never drew graffiti on a building or tagged any buildings but I drew them in my notebooks, I tried to get better…
This religious experience for me is that hip hop is something I live everyday. I get up and I reiterate to myself that I am hip hop and that I have something to say and that everyone, Keysha and LittleSister, Nilla, Tony, F.I.X., we all live that, we breathe it. It’s important to us.
[The book] is called the Gospel of Hip Hop, it preaches, you read passages like you would the Bible. You’re going through something tough, and the craziest thing about this and this might sound crazy to anybody else, but when I’m going through something, I constantly restart the book right? …Every time I open that book when I’m going through something, it reiterates something I need to hear. It has kind of that religious spiritual magical power. You need to hear that kind of message and its right there in the book.
S: How old were you when you first read the Gospel of Hip Hop?
LEX: So I was nineteen when I dug real deep into it, I’m twenty three now.
S: There’s a transition that happens when you are a fan of hip hop and rap into the moment where you say you want to do this. What was that for you?
L: I started in spoken word when I was sixteen, I was really involved in spoken word and people kept telling me that you have this natural rhythm about you, like my spoken word sounds like rap, and they were like “you should just rap.” And I was like no, I’m a tall white girl, I’m like, Toronto, lower middle class fam. I’m cool, I don’t need to rap…but I loved hip hop and I couldn’t deny it.
I think the moment where I was like “ah” was when I realized that I can’t deny what I am, I can’t deny who I am because of social factors. Everybody has to grow through that, and some people don’t get that until their like 50, 60 or 70 where they realize man I really should have pursued this because I love it, and people have different aha moments at different points in their life but I think mine was when I really accepted myself, for who I was and what I loved and that I had a place in hip hop and I didn’t need to hide it.
S: In terms of hip hop as an outlet…I don’t want to call it an outlet because I think it’s a bigger thing then that but what do you think hip hop has allowed you to say, and what are the things you want to say to people with it?
L: I think, like I said in there, that you always have to speak your truth. Everybody’s truth is going to be different based on what they’ve been through, how they grew up, where they grew up, all that kind of stuff, right? They go through different points in their life, and that’s what is beautiful about hip hop is because my story is not going to be the same as your story and I think there are people that are in mainstream society that have the same thing. Childish Gambino grew up rich, and he raps about that, and that’s cool, because if he was rapping about anything else it wouldn’t be cool because it is not truthful. I think the only thing I have to say is my story, and my perspective on things and it’s not any better or less than anybody else’s. It’s just mine.
S: When you teach and instruct hip hop to youth, what are you actually trying to give to them?
L: You pass them the torch, just like in the Olympic run. You pass them the torch, and what we gave these kids in particular but what I, what F.I.X. gave these kids was the techniques, tools, and confidence to be able to speak their truth. That’s important because a lot of people have truths to speak and they can’t because they don’t know how, or it doesn’t come out in a way that’s appealing to our ears, and that’s what I think is fun about hip hop. The more you train, the more people will listen and it comes out in a very beautiful way, in a way that people will listen. That’s why hip hop is so popular, because it speaks truth in away that we can all receive it.
S: Last question this evening, give people three artists they need to listen to right now. If it helps you can keep it local.
L: Okay, that does help. Phoenix Pagliacci, from Toronto. I would say…Tory Lane from Toronto. I’m a Toronto kid. Ah this is hard … Jazz Cartier. Those are my most played albums but Phoenix Pagliacci especially, she is so dope and her speech, how it comes out, it’s so incredible.
Lex Leosis personal sound is evolving and changing, and has recently announced that her next project will feature a full live studio band to produce a more jazz inspired production. Her work can be found via Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/thecommissionsound , and https://soundcloud.com/lexleosis.