“From my first Queen’s Speech I said ‘I kissed a girl and I liked it ting, I take your girl and I wife it ting’. I’ve been saying what I like. People only listen to what they want or they just think I’m bantering,” Melesha O’Garro – known to the world as Lady Leshurr – tells me as we have a good ol’ chinwag outside a cute vegan cafe deep in the heart of East London over a hot chocolate.
Dressed from head to toe in the sharpest navy Nike tracksuit and still pulling off the glitz and glamour hair and makeup from her Gay Times cover shoot, she tells me how this is the happiest she’s been – especially with her officially coming out publicly as pansexual. “I’m just happy that I don’t have to hide anything anymore, I am free. In life you have to tell the truth, you have to feel comfortable in your own skin and now I feel so comfortable in my own skin.”
The reigning Queen of UK Rap prides herself on being a lyrical genius, dropping off freestyle after freestyle unveiling her whimsical punchlines, her sharp-tongued humour and her witty banter, whilst remaining the carefree black woman we all know and love. Her musical journey in the rap game is like no other. From dropping her very first mixtape back in 2009 which gave her instant fame and critical acclaim, to being nominated and winning awards after awards, whilst racking up more than 152 million views on YouTube, Lady Leshurr’s resume is lethal. With no signs of stopping anytime soon or taking her perfectly polished Air Max’s off the neck of others, she can now add being one of the first pansexual cover stars on Gay Times to her list of achievements.
Her heart is dedicated to the rap game and with nearly a decade under her belt, it’s clear that Melesha intends to break down the patriarchal system that rap was built on alongside other female MC’s, proving that they have a voice that deserves to be heard and they deserve just as much attention and respect as the men get. Not many can remain fully authentic throughout their whole career, but Melesha does it so well.
Our first introduction to Lady Leshurr was back in 2009 when she dropped her mixtapes Unleshurr and The Last Second. Her crazy bars and boss bitch flow caught the attention of many including Wiley and Ghetts – two of grime’s most elite players. Continuing to cement her place as one of the deadliest female MC’s on the UK rap scene, she went on to become the first female to win the Best Female award at the Official Mixtape Awards back in 2011 and 2012, making her the only UK female act to win twice in a row. As the years passed by, her rapping technique and capability grew and grew and her name was appearing more and more across the music.
But it wasn’t until 2015 that Lady Leshurr really began getting the recognition she deserved and rightfully earned. Delivering episode four from her back-to-back Queen’s Speech series, she had the whole world gripped with her freestyle. Lyrically pushing boundaries and certifying her position as the UK’s Queen of Rap, pulling in more than 53 million views on YouTube, it still is one of the most talked about freestyles to ever come out of UK rap.
After witnessing Lady Leshurr pose the house down at Vibe Studios in Hackney during the cover shoot – which breathed black girl magic with a touch of rebelism and realness all meshed into one – I was instantly reminded of why I fell in love with her back when it all started. As we began to chat, I realised that Lady Leshurr had left the building and I was now in the presence of Melesha O’Garro. I had the pleasure of informing her that she would be one of the first pansexual cover stars for Gay Times, and the look on her face inhaled and exhaled humbleness and honour. “Wow, I’m one of the first pansexual females on Gay Times?! That’s crazy! That’s mad. I guess it’s overwhelming. I’m grateful”.
2018 for Melesha didn’t start off quite how she expected. An ex decided to publicly out her in a number of tweets sending Twitter into a frenzy, which later triggered a feud between the two resulting in Melesha pulling no punches in a diss record responding to her ex called R.I.P. “The way she outed me was quiet malice and she tried to out someone else out in the tweet as well and I don’t think it was respectful at all, it was really mean. The thing is, people actually knew we were going out, it was just never confirmed. Initially, I thought I could ignore what she’s tweeted about me and just pretend like nothing’s happened and simply carry on doing my music, but then I thought no, I’m gonna actually turn this negative into a positive. I’ve grown so much since then and I learned from that whole situation.”
The shocking part about this situation was the backlash and treatment Melesha received from many around her because of the tweet sent out by her ex. “There were certain people around me at the time that started treating me differently and acting a bit funny with me. I was shocked and I quickly learnt that all that meant was that those people were not meant to be in my life,” she says. “If you can’t take me for who I am then you can leave. At the end of the day I’m not going to stop being myself. The whole situation showed me who was real and who wasn’t, who was meant to be around me and who didn’t deserve my time and energy”.
At this current moment in time, Melesha is happy having moved past the whole situation. Her new-found confidence shines so brightly just like her smile. The truth has finally set her free. “I don’t have to hide anything anymore. My sexuality doesn’t define who I am.” Reflecting on confidence, life lessons and her experiences, she wants to make it clear to everyone who is currently struggling with their sexuality that despite what others think, say or feel about you, everything you do should be on your terms and your terms only. “Life is all about growth, just developing and understanding yourself and being more confident. I understand feeling trapped, I understand feeling like you can’t be yourself,” she says. “If you want to come out, you have to come out yourself. It’s not anybody’s place to out someone. I remember searching on the internet ‘Lady Leshurr gay’ and ‘Lady Leshurr lesbian’ just to see what I used to put out back in 2008/2009, and I realised I was trying to come out but no one was giving me the ‘it’s fine, it’s okay to come out’. My ex manager told me coming out wasn’t a good look or the right move for me or my career. I remember it made me feel so depressed because I wasn’t being allowed to be my authentic self and honestly speaking from experience I understand how it can make someone feel trapped, give you low self-esteem and anxiety, because you can’t fully be yourself. People’s opinions are the reason sometimes you can’t be yourself and it’s sad. People can be really mean.”
Her day ones have stayed true to her and stood by her side throughout her coming out journey. The support she has been given in the last nine months has been gargantuan, receiving messages after messages from fans all over the world acknowledging her strength. “The support has been amazing, it’s been incredible. I put a statement out on Instagram to finally let people know, and so many people reached out to me. It was beautiful. From kids in school, to both men and women, I didn’t know I was role model in that sense. Like, I didn’t know that I inspired people like that. I didn’t think me officially saying ‘I like girls and guys’ would result in so many people telling me how proud they were of me. I was getting messages saying ‘What do I do? I’m going through the same thing. I don’t know if I should say anything. I want to come out now because you have.’ To hear that warmed my heart because I never knew me telling my story was going to inspire so many people to tell theirs, and this is why staying true to who you are is important. People are looking up to me like ‘Wow, you’ve done it – now I can do it.’ That’s what I love the most about helping others. Just seeing others come out and be confident and comfortable in their own skin, because I took that step”.
The term pansexual means to have attraction whether sexual, emotional or romantic feelings towards people regardless of their sex or gender identity. People who identify as pansexual usually refer to themselves as gender-blind, asserting that gender and sex are not factors when it comes to their romantic or sexual attraction. This was something Melesha had never heard before R&B singer-songwriter Kehlani brought it to her attention back in April when she spoke out about her sexuality. “Kehlani introduced to the term pansexual. I had never heard of it and after reading her tweets, I felt like everything she was saying applied to me. I researched it and was like ‘That’s me, That’s what I am’. I like everybody. I always thought I was bisexual. I started realising – especially this year – who I was attracted to. I would see drag queens and be attracted to them and I would see trans people and be attracted to them. I’m still attracted to guys and girls so it was at that point I realised gender has nothing to do with it. It’s more about the connection, the energy and the vibe that people bring around me – that’s what really draws me in. I’ve never been a person to look at somebody’s appearance and judge them on that. It’s always been about connection and that’s definitely why I identify as pansexual.”
Flying the flag for the Black British queer community alongside MNEK, Zilo, Kele Okereke and many more, Melesha is making sure the music is what people focus on instead of her sexuality. In the past few years, we’ve seen more black queer musicians take centre stage like Syd from The Internet, Frank Ocean and Mykki Blanco, opening doors for other black queer musicians to be heard. Speaking on why representation is important and why having spaces like Bad Bitches, Pxssy Palace and BBZ are important for the culture, Lady Leshurr explains: “It’s imperative that we have these clubs, these events, these locations for the LGBTQ community – especially the PoC community – because there’s not that much. We need these places so we can go somewhere and feel safe whilst having fun and be around the people we know and are comfortable being around. I plan on putting on my own event at some point in the near future where people who are like me can go and have fun and feel welcomed. Representation is really really important because there’s only a minority of us. I don’t know anybody else that’s Black British and gay that really came out in the music industry and is wearing it proud except me and MNEK. I think it will gradually start to happen though. I remember back in 2009 I was hinting on Twitter asking my fans ‘Would you listen to my music if I was gay?’, ‘Would you listen to my music if I liked girls?’ and I wasn’t getting no responses at all.”
A new attitude has birthed a whole new meaning of BOSS for Melesha, who dropped her latest single in September called Black Madonna, which features Afrobeats superstar Mr. Eazi. Shooting the video the day before sitting down with us, she excitedly reveals: “It’s based on the concept of me recreating epic and iconic scenes from all of the biggest moments from the 80s and 90s. I got Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, and Kriss Kross. I also made sure to have a mole in every part of the video just like Madonna, because the song is basically about me being the Black Madonna.”
The whole look of the video is based off the way she writes. “I’m in a different world when I write, I already know how and what I want everything to look like. I already have a vision of what I want the visuals to be so when I wrote Black Madonna, I knew that I wanted every four bars to be a different outfit and a different look in the video so people would instantly recognise the image and be like, ‘I remember that!’” Her musical inspirations have played a huge part in shaping the Lady Leshurr we know and love today. From the sounds of it, her number one inspiration was Missy Elliott. “I feel like I see a lot of myself in Missy Elliott – like I have the essence of Missy inside me. Especially when it comes to videos. I always want to give you a different look that’s entertaining and want to make you re-watch my videos over and over because you remember them. Madonna has done that her whole career too.” Icons inspiring icons – that’s what we like to see.
Photography Kell Mitchell
Fashion Darkwah Kyei-Darkwah
Fashion Assistant Paul Scott-Coombs
Hair Ronnie Wood
Make-up Adam Allwood
Photo Assistant Steve Hardman