The Evolution of Coi Leray
Story by Kathy Iandoli / Photography by Charlotte Rutherford / Styling by Marta Del Rio / Makeup by Nikko Anthony / Nails by Saccia
16 May 2022
At first glance, it would seem like Coi Leray's career was lightning in a bottle, though that would only really apply if the lightning kept repeatedly striking. The now 25-year-old (as of May 11) rapper/ singer has been making her way up the ranks since she was a teenager. The New Jersey native formally began releasing music in 2018, though she scored her first major hit in 2021 with the Platinum "No More Parties" and she kept the momentum going with the Gold "Big Purr (Prrdd)." With the help of TikTok, Leray became a viral sensation thanks to hits like "Twinnem," "Anxiety" and the recent "Blick Blick" with Nicki Minaj — the latter of which had everyone — including J. Lo — vibing out online.
In only a few years, Leray has gone from an animated teen to an energetic twenty-something, who stayed the course and is now reaping the benefits of her consistency. For that reason, it’s nearly impossible to categorize her and that’s just the way she likes it. Her sound vacillates from high energy to mid-tempo melodic rap and back around to spitting hard bars. Moonlighting as both a producer and dancer, Leray is active in every single part of her creative process — a rarity among her peers.
Hood: Pissy Pussy NYC, Top: RUI
On April 8, Leray released her debut album, Trendsetter, a project that was arguably a long time coming, though now is sonically a timeline of the artist’s entire career thus far. While all of the aforementioned singles appear on the project (with the addition of rapper Lil Durk on the "No More Parties" remix), she adds more flavor in the way of introspective cuts like “Overthinking” with H.E.R. and "Thief In The Night" with G Herbo. The video for "Thief..." was shot and edited by her creative agency Trendsetter Studios, a collective of graphic designers, photographers, producers, videographers and Leray herself (who can effectively do a little of each).
That word “trendsetter” is omnipresent as part of Leray's personal brand (right down to her name on Zoom). It’s a mantra of sorts, where per Leray, the goal isn’t always to start the trend, but be known for the brand. Spend any significant amount of time with her and you’ll learn sooner rather than later that she’s more about her business than anything else. In one breath, she’s running down the list of names on her Trendsetter Studios team and mapping out their next projects, in the next she’s waxing philosophical on how low follower TikTok creators can hit a lick with million-view videos.
When she spoke with PAPER, Leray even planned to celebrate in the studio, recording new music.The hustle doesn’t stop, which has its ups and downs. Below, Coi Leray opens up about her triumphs, her tricky relationship with anxiety and depression, and, of course, her trendsetting.
Gloves: WeiRan, Boots: Christian Stone, Panty: Gasoline Glamour, Earrings: Chris Habana
What would you say is your definition of a “trendsetter?"
Trendsetter is being yourself, one, and, two, you don’t really have to start the trend to set the trend. There’s trends that people carry and do it 10 times better. It’s just all about giving you that motivation. Like, a trendsetter is someone that’s powerful, you want to be number one, you want to be on top, you want to outshine everyone, you want to be different, you want to continue to showcase what you’re capable of in your way and owning that. Everybody on [my] album is that and they’ve shown that. With the versatility in the music, you get to see so many different emotions that put you in so many different places to where you understand me as a trendsetter and what I go through and how I’m really able to master and create what I have here.
How would you describe the journey leading up to Trendsetter, the album?
I've been recording for almost three years now, and I always loved music and felt like I was going to be a star. I put in so much work — day and night, sleepless nights. I definitely didn't do it alone. I had a team, but I knew I was going to be a star. One thing I wasn't too sure of was when it was going to happen and that's when, right when you ask yourself, “When is this going to happen?” is when it happens so freaking fast. I met with Big Boy and he brought something up to me. He was like, “When you were born, God was already working,” and that stuck with me and made me look at things differently.
I also say it happens fast because I was doing little shows, getting paid like $500 for a feature, opening up for Gucci Mane and not even having 100,000 followers. Then next thing you know, I have a million followers, then next thing you know I have two million. As I continued to grow — with all the popularity and the success and having my team and having fun — I was able to make so much more great music and find out so much more about myself, like actually dancing and my Cooking With Coi Leray and really exploring the world. I made sure I let the world see what I'm doing.
Ring: Aokiwo, Shorts: Ottolinger
When would you say the switch was flipped, where all that hard work and $500 features paid off? Was it a particular song? A particular moment?
Definitely after I dropped “No More Parties.” Even with being on TikTok, “No More Parties” for me, it changed my life.
It feels like you’ve lived 10 different lives since that song.
Yeah, but it might also feel that way because I’m so versatile, because after I dropped “No More Parties” I dropped “Big Purr (Prrdd),” so that’s a whole 'nother life.
Do you feel in some ways you grew up in the spotlight? You started as a teenager.
Yeah, I was 17 turning 18.
And now you’re in your twenties.
Yeah, you’re right. I did grow up [in the spotlight]. I feel like I was always on my own and I always adapted to a lot of environments. No matter what it was, I would figure it out. I guess when I started doing the music and that got bigger, I was always surrounded by older people. As I got older and as I [continue to ] get older, I realize that the inner woman has always been with me even though I’m always a big kid. But I surround myself with adults and a lot of mature people. My team is very strong. I think what actually helped me maneuver through the industry is having such a strong team where each and every one of their experiences helped me get to where I am today.
Necklace and earrings: Heaven by Marc Jacobs, Top: Laneus, Hair accessories: Lilith by Sita, Dominique Renee
You’ve also consistently promoted this idea of self-love and love of your own body. That’s pretty mature, too.
It feels like the internet — with all the kids and everyone’s opinions — paints a picture in people’s heads of how things are supposed to be. Understanding that is what helps me keep going because the internet is going to be the internet. Who’s anyone to say someone is ugly? And I know we all call people ugly and stupid and stuff like that. We all say it. But who’s to really identify what ugly is? No one can really identify what is ugly unless it’s within your attitude and how you treat people. So to me it don’t matter how you look or who’s the cutest. Everyone’s beautiful. Helping young women understand that just by being myself and not having to do nothing more or nothing less or prove myself to anybody, shows them that all you have to do is love yourself. And being small, I talk about this all the time, but it’s not easy finding clothes my size. That’s why I’m working on ways to fix that for girls like me. Fuck it. Clothes don’t fit? Let’s make clothes that fit. There are many things that complement your body too, like your smile, your hair. My hair is a statement. I don’t care how small I am. I can be the smallest person in the room, but I’m the only one with Coi Leray braids and I look so freakin’ good in them.
The last thing I’m gonna say, though, is that there’s nothing wrong with girls who want to get their bodies done or get BBLs. There’s no judgment to them because if that’s what they choose to do, they can do that. Life is all about being comfortable and feeling good. So whatever makes you feel good, do that. My advice is just make sure you’re safe and healthy. Health is the number one priority before anything. Other than that, live your life.
Top: Laneus, Jeans: Poster Girl, Shoes: Nike, Earrings: Wasee Jewels, Necklace: Heaven by Marc Jacobs, Bracelet: Dominique Renee, Rings: The Archives, Showroom, Hair accessories: Lilith by Sita, Dominique Renee
That’s real, so are you hinting that you have a clothing line coming out?
Oh yeah, for sure. Right now I can’t give too much information because it’s in the conversations with someone really big. Yeah, it’s happening.
How would you describe Trendsetter Studios?
We’re a production team, with digital marketing and marketing. There’s a lot of great people on the team, we are just super powerful. The first project we did was “Thief In The Night” with G Herbo. Uniqueeex, she shot my first video which was “GAN (Goofy Ass N*ggas)” and to this day we’re still riding. Now, we have a company together and she’s Head of Production, and she shot, edited and produced [the video] for “Thief In The Night.”
So you’ll be working with other artists?
Oh yeah we’re doing so much. You’re going to hear so much about us this year. I want Trendsetter Studios to be Trendsetter Studios, not just Coi Leray. I want to be able to work with other artists and all these other major labels and companies that need marketing, digital marketing, super fire visuals and content. A lot of people come to me and be like, “Yo, how do you even do TikTok?” Now we have services where you’ve got artists that we make sure get locked in on TikTok.
Top: RUI, Shorts and boots: Gasoline Glamour, Glasses: Lidow Archive, Necklace: Chris Habana, Earrings: Lilith by Sita
A lot of people don’t realize that you also produce and did some production on your album.
Hell yeah, I came up with the concepts and also helped produce “TWINNEM,” “Heartbreak Kid.” I did production on there with Bankroll Got It.
It seems like people don’t know just how much your hands are in every part of your music.
They don’t, but I feel like one day they will. I really don’t ever want to be the “pick me, pick me” type of person, so I just try to keep going, keep grinding. Appreciation does feel good once in a while, and people appreciating you and letting you know how amazing you are. But I am my own self-motivation. I’m not ever really looking for anything in return, but positive things for myself and anyone involved. That’s just what it is, but one day they’ll know.
How do you stay being your own self-motivator during uncertain moments?
I am one of those people that I can admit didn’t have an answer last week for that, but I have an answer for it now. And I say that because it’s been a while to where I’ve hit this little depression stage, right? But when you actually look at everything God has put in front of you and appreciate what you do have, then you’re able to come to a medium, I would say? And the depression and anxiety just suddenly go away. They probably don’t go away, really, but they heal or patch up the more you appreciate what you have and continue to have faith and pray and be a good person and do the right thing.
So that’s where I am and what I’ve been going through. I’m just taking it one step at a time, whether it’s having alone time (I ordered some new books I’m interested in), or using social media as a positive thing and not letting it control me and put me in a bad place. If I see something on social media and it puts me in a bad place, then I shouldn’t be on it. But if I can get on social media and see something and be like, “Ha ha, suck it. God will fix it,” then I’ll deal with social media. I’m taking one little patch at a time and I’m at a point now where I feel really good. I feel like I’m at the stitches part, where now you’ve gotta just let it heal and let it go. So I’m at that point, and with all the fucked shit that goes on in my life, it’s all good because I have so much to be thankful for.
Shorts: Ottolinger, Shoes: Lazy One, Rings: Aokiwo
That’s pretty brave to discuss anything other than excitement, considering your album came out only a month ago. You have an album that you love and songs that you love, but anything can derail your emotions because you’re human.
I feel like they don’t forget that you’re human, they forget that they’re fucking human. They haven’t figured themselves out yet and they’re still trying to understand what a human has to go through to be a better person for their fucking selves. So fuck it, let them go ahead and go through the whole human life thing. If their way of dealing with it is attacking me? Hey, fuck it. They’re human, just like me. They don’t get it? They don’t understand? Well, they’re gonna have to fucking go through life just like me. Hey, if this is what’s gonna help you get to the next level, whatever it is, I’m all for it. I’m down to be that. God got me this far for you to come at me or mock me, this far.
The other day, I posted my album and it was like number 50-something on the charts, and someone said something like, “Oh, you’re next to Kanye’s album that’s been up there for over six years” or some shit. And I said, “Well, at least I'm next to Kanye.” Like, I’m next to fucking Kan-fucking-ye West, what are you talking about? I don’t care if I’m Number 100, if I’m next to Kanye, I’m next to Kanye. You know how many people in the world’s albums are not next to Kanye West’s? You’ve gotta just take everything with a grain of salt and just keep going.
Top: RUI, Overalls: G-Star Raw, Necklace: Chris Habana, Earrings: Lilith by Sita
Those numbers are arbitrary anyway. Plus, you’ve got a headlining tour. How does that feel?
I'm super excited. I’m ready to put on a show for all my fans, for all the people that's going to come and see me. It’s big. It's my first tour. I'm a little nervous, but I'm just excited.
What do you put on your tour rider?
I always have Casamigos, definitely Reposado and Blanco, just in case somebody doesn’t drink clear because not everyone likes clear. I like cranberry juice, apple juice — Martinelli’s to be specific. We get Sprite, but they always bring grenadine, so we make Shirley Temples. Fruit, lighters, roll-ups, chargers, cream soda. They make sure they put a carpet, a bathrobe, slippers, gum and then everything else I bring myself. I have my assistant carry all my other personal necessities. Oh and I ask for candles. I always have to have my shit lit up. A heater, a fan, a toothbrush. I always have my toothbrush, but just in case. And a blanket — I have blankets from like 100 different things, so we bring them all to the airport so now everyone has a blanket.
Are you taking in this moment or heading right back into the studio?
I’m actually about to go to Atlanta on my birthday, and hopefully lock in with some Atlanta artists and just really turn up and enjoy myself. I really haven’t gotten to enjoy myself these past three years, so I’m trying to enjoy myself and record music at the same time.
Dress: Kim Mesches, Earrings: Lilith by Sita
Stream Trendsetter by Coi Leray, below.
Photography: Charlotte Rutherford (at SN37)
Styling: Marta Del Rio
Makeup: Nikko Anthony
Photo assistants: Drake Hackney and Gustavo Soriano
Digitech: Cameron Gardner
Retouching: Kushtrim Kunushevci
Styling assistants: Juliana Vargas and Hurley