Layla is here to switch things up
In December 2019, German rap YouTube channel Aboveground dropped a performance of Choppa, the debut track from Layla. The video sees the now 23-year-old standing front and centre, flanked by an entourage of mostly men. It’s a minimal but strikingly effective performance that served notice to German rap: Layla was here to switch things up.
“It’s a bit of an unconventional journey,” she tells me over Zoom from her home in Berlin. “Some people put out music for ten years, and nothing happens. It’s not like I became a superstar overnight, but I was suddenly on hip-hop platforms, and people knew me.”
That ‘unconventional journey’ begins with dreams of stardom – but not rap. “When I was younger, I would always tell my dad that I was going to be a singer,” she beams, reminiscing. “He was always very supportive of me, but I kind of lost sight of that dream because I couldn’t grasp the concept of it becoming a reality.”
She was still living in Münster, a western German city with a population of 300,000, when she began to turn her attention to hip-hop. Layla spent her formative years taking part in after-school rap battles and “idolising Beyoncé, Missy Elliot and Lauryn Hill”. Although her hometown is small, its neighbouring cities of Dortmund and Cologne are home to a cluster of prominent rap scenes. Even so, she is quick to point out that her experience as a Black female rapper in Germany has been far from smooth. “There has never been anyone making music like I do in Germany. It didn’t exist, and I wanted to be the one to provide that sort of music for people like me,” she explains. “I never really had a grip on what was going on in the German music industry because I couldn’t relate to it.”
Layla didn’t let this put her off. Armed with a cheap USB microphone and backed by YouTube beats, she began recording demos. “I just kind of do what sounds right to me, from what I know and what I’ve learned from the music I’ve listened to,” she confesses. When she began posting videos to Instagram in 2018, the positive response in her DMs told her she was onto something.
What makes Layla so compelling to her young female fanbase is her provocative and uninhibited approach to lyricism. It sits somewhere between Hard Core-era Lil’ Kim and the more recent Good News album from Megan Thee Stallion, giving her a place in the fast-growing group of female rappers that aren’t afraid to share the uncut version of their utmost desires. But it’s her music videos that go one step further. In the opening scene of the video for recently released track Creamy, Layla is shown innocently standing in a pastel-toned kitchen wearing a baker’s outfit. Staring directly into the camera, she tightly grasps a rolling pin before her gloved hands squeeze the juice of a lemon over a cupcake, soundtracked by a verse which translates to: “When he comes in my face/ Everything’s creamy, mhh.” There’s no subtlety here; her message is laid bare for all to see – and it’s every bit as empowering as her self-assured energy.
Dress: Dolce & Gabbana via Night Boutique Berlin
Shoes: Miu Miu via Night Boutique Berlin
She puts this confidence down to her dominant Virgo placements. “There are a lot of notable Virgos in music!” she exclaims. “We’ve got Beyoncé, Amy Winehouse…” she continues, running her hand over her freshly bleached, shaved head, the result of a haircut that took place for the music video for Dichter. Hardworking, creative and humble are all traits associated with Virgos that seem to ring true for Layla. After all, it’s taken her just two years to gain a footing in an industry that has a terrible track record when it comes to holding space for young Black women.
Layla’s candid discourse around sex isn’t just confined to her music. Her Instagram page frequently scrutinises social expectations placed on women and she often shares information that centres female pleasure to educate her audience about safe sex. “The message I want to send to other young women is do whatever you want. In my music, I express myself. I express my emotions, my hopes, wishes and pain. Why would I leave sex out of it?” she asks. “If I can write about heartbreak, why can’t I write about the sex part of the relationship too?”
This philosophy is best displayed in another of her music videos, this time for the track Hustla. The opening scene shows a group of six women, one pregnant, standing defiantly with Layla. “I dropped the video on International Women’s Day,” she explains. Later on in the video, the pregnant woman appears again, this time with her bump poking out from underneath a crop top as she dances to the snarling trap beat. It’s a striking image, and one seldom seen in rap videos. “What’s one of the biggest hustles?” she asks me, her eyes widening in anticipation. “Pregnancy: carrying and then preparing a child to go out into this world. When people hear the word hustler, they think of getting rich, but the hustles we face in our everyday lives are much more challenging than that. Us women hustle hard.”
Raupe Nimmersatt is out now via LAYLA