Coi Leray on Touring with Jhené Aiko and Reaching Her Breaking Point With Fame

Photographed by Bea Oyster

On a groggy June Gloom morning in Los Angeles, Coi Leray is up and ready to talk. When the rapper answers my call, her camera is aimed toward the sky: there’s a foyer, some shrubs, then palm trees bobbing above her head. She’s on the move — time is of the essence.

In just two weeks, Leray will embark on her first tour in years as a supporting artist on Jhené Aiko’s Magic Hour Tour. She’ll spend her entire summer playing nearly 30 sold-out arenas across North America, riding the career momentum she’s been aggressively building since 2021. A true Taurus, Leray is dogged in her ambition. She showed up to our cover shoot already dressed and in full glam, on time and ready to go. Charging toward success, horns first, has proven to be a triumphant strategy for her — especially in our current climate of music stardom.

She is the quintessential modern star: a passionate performer seeking an intergenerational audience with innovative, colloquial takes on nostalgic concepts and beats. (See her Grammy-nominated, Billboard Top Ten hit “Players” as just one example.) She is a product of the natural evolution of Hip-Hop, blending her knack for Internet virality with melodic bravado and excellent production.

<cite class="credit">Photographed by [**Bea Oyster**](https://www.instagram.com/snapsbybea/)</cite>
Photographed by [**Bea Oyster**](https://www.instagram.com/snapsbybea/)

Leray consistently trumpets her unbothered insouciance in her lyrics, in her social media posts, in this very interview — but it’s clear that Leray does very much give a f*ck. As she should. There’s nothing alluring about apathy; nonchalance never maintained a fanbase. It’s Leray’s hardworking resolve and dedication to her creative vision that has hurled her into the biggest year of her career thus far.

But there are no peaks without valleys, and Leray also spent last year becoming familiar with the malice of tabloids and blogs scrutinizing her family, the murky hostility of rap beefs, the suffocating torment of industry opinion and label pressure; and according to her, she’s stronger for it.

For the inaugural issue of MOMENT by Teen Vogue, Coi Leray talks self-experimenting and self-exploring through her music, becoming a high fashion player, her latest project, touring, and the life-changing moments — good and bad — that have amounted to this one.


2023 was such a big turning point in your career. Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, "Whoa, holy sh*t, is this all really happening right now?"

No, not really. I'm at a point where I still haven't done half of the things that I want to do, so I don't think I’ve caught that feeling enough.

It's definitely coming. You’ve been busy — you performed at Coachella last year with Shenseea, but this year was your first time being on the lineup on your own.

Being at Coachella was dope. The energy was amazing, both weekends were amazing. I looked good, I felt good, my dancers, my set… It was a great, great show. I love performing at festivals, so I can't wait to headline.

That’s interesting because festivals are such a different pace from regular touring. It’s hard for some artists to boil their discographies down to a 30-minute set. How do you think Coachella prepared you for the Magic Hour Tour?

I put so much thought into Coachella — I overthought it a little bit. Even though it was a great show, I do think it was overproduced, and it got me prepared for the tour now to say, “Okay, less is more sometimes.”

You think it was overproduced? In what way?

A lot of overthinking [went] into it, on trying to have the “best show ever.” I told [my stylist] Matt, "This tour, I want fly sh*t. I want to just drip." I don't want to be in costume. That's where I overthought with Coachella. I'm like, I want to look the best. I'm always going to look the best. You know what I'm saying?

In the Coachella GRWM diary you did with us, you said you had lots of anxiety leading up to that first weekend. Do you feel any anxiety leading up to this tour, or does it feel different?

Yeah. I haven't been on tour in three years. I'm excited to see my fans and connect with them. It's an arena tour, so it's a big environment. Big moves, big movement, big vocals. But I think when it gets closer to the show, the anxiety will kick in more. [Laughs]

<cite class="credit">Photographed by [**Bea Oyster**](https://www.instagram.com/snapsbybea/)</cite>
Photographed by [**Bea Oyster**](https://www.instagram.com/snapsbybea/)
<cite class="credit">Photographed by [**Bea Oyster**](https://www.instagram.com/snapsbybea/)</cite>
Photographed by [**Bea Oyster**](https://www.instagram.com/snapsbybea/)
<cite class="credit">Photographed by [**Bea Oyster**](https://www.instagram.com/snapsbybea/)</cite>
Photographed by [**Bea Oyster**](https://www.instagram.com/snapsbybea/)

How do you think you've changed as a performer over these past three years?

My last tour was in 2021, that was with Lil Baby and Lil Durk’s Back Outside Tour. That's a different crowd. It's a different energy, and it was a different time in my life. I've gotten older, wiser. I see things way different in 2024 than [how] I saw them in 2021. I want to connect with my fans more. I want to just focus on what's in front of me. Every day, every city, every state, catering to who's there in that moment.

Is there anybody's stage presence or work ethic that you're looking to for inspiration while preparing for tour?

Uh-uh. That's where I went wrong with Coachella, thinking about the next person. This time it's all about me.

That's special. How long have you known Jhené? Do you remember how you guys first met?

We never met! But I know her sister and her makeup artist, Nikko Anthony, who is my makeup artist. He's our link-up. I think [she and I] probably spoke in the DM one time, but he tells me how she's so excited to meet me, and he always tells her how excited I am to meet her. This tour is going to be dope. It has a lot of R&B singers, I'm the rapper. I'm going to bring that energy.

That's true. There’s UMI, Tink, Kiana Ledé, and then you — but I think the diversity in your music aligns naturally with the diversity in Jhené’s sound.

Yeah, I agree. [My sound is] a little more edgy [than the other openers]. A little bit more on the Hip-Hop, rap, rapper girl side.

Yeah, and Jhené taps into that, too. Your pairing is kind of unexpected, but it makes perfect sense.

And I feel like we probably could be sisters or something down the line. We favor—

Low-key! You do!

Right? I see her sisters and sh*t, I'm like, I could probably be part of the family.

I'm excited for you guys to finally meet.

Me too. This the cousin tour. Like, "What’s up, cousin?"

The *Teen Vogue* *MOMENT* quiz, answered by Coi Leray
The *Teen Vogue* *MOMENT* quiz, answered by Coi Leray
Quiz created by Liz Coulbourn

Watching you grow over the past few years has been fascinating. You've gone through so many shifts in your evolution. But last year, when you cut your hair into that pixie cut, that was the first major aesthetic shift you made in a while. I felt like it signaled a new transition. What made you want to cut your hair?

When I cut it, I was like, “I don't have to deal with getting my hair done no more! It's going to be easy.” [Laughs] I didn't even notice I was going through something. I'm not saying I cut my hair because I was stressed out, but I do think if you look at the timing and how everything played out, it looks like I had a breaking point.

Where I was just like… I don't give a f*ck what no one thinks. I'm so used to being judged and everybody around me having an opinion, whether it's people I work with, people in the industry, fans, it's always a f*cking opinion.

When I cut my hair, [that’s] when the I don't give a f*ck came into a whole ‘nother level. I wouldn't call it revenge, but I've been through so f*cking much that I want to prove and show who Coi Leray is and what I'm capable of.

Maybe it's not revenge, but you finally claiming everything you've been working toward.

Yeah. I'm planting my own flower garden right now. F*ck getting the flowers from anybody else.

And maybe it wasn't your breaking point, but your breakthrough. Do you know that Coco Chanel quote, "A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life"? That's the energy I got when you cut your pixie and then dyed it teal.

And yo, I'd always told myself I would never bleach my hair. That's how I know I was in a place where a lot of sh*t didn't even matter no more, including my f*cking hair. It's just hair. It's going to grow back.

<cite class="credit">Photographed by [**Bea Oyster**](https://www.instagram.com/snapsbybea/)</cite>
Photographed by [**Bea Oyster**](https://www.instagram.com/snapsbybea/)

This new era of Coi also feels like there’s been an evolution in your fashion and your styling.

Looking back at all my old sh*t and my old videos, I'm like, "Yo, I was always the same." I'm just getting older. I need to bring [fans] more into my world so they can actually grow with me to understand my growth, because they see me getting older and changing, but they don't understand why. That sh*t bothers the hell out of me.

I went from dinosaur covers on my nipples, to walking with my nipples out in a sheer chic dress at YSL. It's a certain way you gotta start moving as you get older. It's chess, not checkers. I don't think anything changed [about me]. I'm still finding myself [aesthetically] as an artist.

A lot of my biggest, successful moments happened so fast in my career that people didn't really give me a chance to grow. People hold me to a certain standard. [But] that's the process of artist development and someone going through life — I still have to go through real life sh*t, too, at the end of the day, and they don't know what I go through.

Are you looking forward to being more vulnerable with your fans?

That's what this whole tour is about, tapping into those fans and communicating [that] with them in the best way I can, whether it's in the music, a moment, a meet and greet, on stage [in between songs]... The ones that really f*ck with me and the ones I inspire, [they are] the ones who I'm gravitating towards. I think I gravitated towards too much negative sh*t, situations, people. But I'm back on f*cking track, focused on me.

Earlier this year, you became a two-time Grammy nominee. I know you said you never really go into things looking for validation, but that level of recognition is something that some people just never get.

Right. It was a life-changing moment. Getting nominated was a blessing — regardless, win or lose, it was another accomplishment in my life, another way to prove to myself that you gotta keep going. Imagine how much more I could show the world [of] what I’m capable of, if this is what I’ve done this far. The Grammys is major motivation.

It's manifestation. You get to touch these rooms, touch Coachella stages and Grammy stages, be around and have conversations [with] people that see you, icons that get to see you. That's the most special part about that. Like, yo, what's next? I want to win next time. I want to headline next time. I want to do this next time and make it bigger. I want that number one, I want that number five. It makes you want more.

<cite class="credit">Photographed by [**Bea Oyster**](https://www.instagram.com/snapsbybea/)</cite>
Photographed by [**Bea Oyster**](https://www.instagram.com/snapsbybea/)

What were you doing when you found out that you were nominated?

I was sleeping. [My team] called me and was like, "Yo, Coi, you got nominated!" That was for “Baby Don't Hurt Me.” And then they called me back again, like, "You got nominated again." I was like, oh sh*t. I had to wake up a little bit. Like, is this my third dream? But once I snapped out of it, I couldn't believe it. I was super excited.

It’s cool hearing you talk about these “next times.” You’re speaking them into existence. And the work does speak for itself: What was your thought process creatively going into your latest EP Lemon Cars?

This EP, I got a chance to tap in with some amazing producers in Atlanta: Truebeatzz, Melz, Mike WiLL Made-It, more producers [from] Ear Drummers. The moments we created in that studio around those songs… Each one of the songs [on the EP] tells a story.

This project is something I wanted to give my fans. The business takes control of the creativity sometimes, and I wanted to say, “Stop.” F*ck the business, f*ck the numbers. I owe my fans music. Let's give them some music. Let's give them some videos. Let's give them something that they're going to remember. And trust me, Lemon Cars is going to be something you're not going to forget.

What stood out to me the most was how many different sounds there are in just a few tracks. We hear influences from dance, bedroom R&B, pop; you're whispering, growling, singing. Lemon Cars seems to highlight every single thing you're good at — what makes you a hitmaker. In the booth, were you trying to show off that diversity?

I'm trying to be exactly who I am. [I’m] trying to help people accept that, because it's not going to change. Every project and every body of work that I [create], I go so many different directions, I don't know how to stay in one spot. There's so many ways I want to express myself. I just need people to be patient with me, knowing that I put my all into my music. My music is the sh*t that I go through in real life... there's so much creativity behind everything I do.

Last question, Coi. Why is this your MOMENT?

I've always wanted a cover with the Vogue family. I love fashion. [My] Fendi x Marc Jacobs campaign, sitting front row at Louis Vuitton, being invited directly by Anthony Vaccarello to pull up to YSL… I'm a female rapper. At the end of the day, this just don't happen to rappers. As a young Black woman at that, it's so important for me because that's all I ever wanted to be: that young Black woman in fashion knocking down barriers and representing for my culture and Hip-Hop, period. This is my introduction, and this is my moment. I hope people are as excited as I am for what's next.


Photo + Video Credits

Photographer / Associate Visuals Editor Bea Oyster

Light Tech / Digitech Nehemiah Brent

Design Director Emily Zirimis

Designer/Production Liz Coulbourn

Production Assistant Zara Akpan

Set Design + Backdrop Maisie Sattler

Retoucher Alberto Maro

Social Video Director/Producer Ali Farooqui

Makeup Artist Nikko Anthony

Hairstyling MiMi G.

Stylist Trendsetter Studios

Editorial Credits

Editor-in-Chief Versha Sharma

Executive Editor Danielle Kwateng

Features Director Brittney McNamara

Talent Director Eugene Shevertalov

Associate Culture Director P. Claire Dodson

Culture Editor Kaitlyn McNab

Contributing Editor Alyssa Hardy

Associate Director of Audience Development & Analytics Mandy Velez Tatti

Senior Social Media Manager Honestine Fraser

Social Media Manager Jillian Selzer

Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue


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