DaniLeigh arrives at The Flower Shop on New York City’s Lower East Side fresh from a two-hour flight. It’s early afternoon on a bone-chilling February day, and she’s been awake since dawn. The singer is in the middle of a 21-city tour, and the 24-year-old is tired. But the hustle doesn’t stop. She’s still wearing her plane outfit: custom Lil Bebe Air Force Ones and grey sweatpants; Supreme x North Face still on her back. Her blonde cropped curly hair is pushed back in her baggy hoodie. This is a fly girl who knows without a doubt that she’s fly, but doesn’t care if you agree. Cozy girls will be able to relate.
Our photoshoot is just before her show at S.O.B.’s, a popular performance space near SoHo in NYC. It’s her first time in the city that never sleeps, but she’s instantly smitten. “I love New York,” she says as she gets her makeup done before the shoot begins. “The vibe. The culture. I can feel it in the room, you know? They’re super supportive…I can feel it.”
You may recognize Miami native DaniLeigh — pronounced dani-LAY (please don’t mess it up) — from the viral #InMyFeelings challenge video she posted this past summer. Her version of Drake’s #InMyFeelings dance raked in over 10 million views and earned her a Champagne Papi co-sign. Seemingly overnight, her social media following skyrocketed (she now has over 1 million followers, cementing her as one to watch along with girls like Teyana Taylor, whom she opened up for on tour last summer).
Dani is taking advantage of all the new eyes on her. Her single, “Lil Bebe”, released over the summer, blew up and had a second life once Lil Baby hopped on the track for the remix. Her debut album, The Plan, followed in November of 2018 (she released the LP Summer With Friends in 2017). A simple scroll though her Instagram timeline is all it takes to see that DaniLeigh is a woman with a plan. She may be new to you, but she stands on the shoulders of entertainment industry giants.
Since the singer went viral, she’s been flooded with support from the likes of Diddy, Lil Yatchy, and Virgil Abloh. And she doesn’t just sing — DaniLeigh has danced with Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, Pharrell, and Meghan Trainor. She considered Prince a mentor, and when she was 18 years old in 2013, Dani directed the music video for his song “Breakfast Can Wait.” It was the biggest moment of her career at the time. The Purple One’s choice of communication with Leigh? An email written in third person. “Prince the artist wants you to submit a choreography video ‘Breakfast Can Wait’” Dani recalls.
Though the industry’s respect may have come first, it’s her fans who champion DaniLeigh the loudest — myself included. “Lil Bebe” was not only the anthem to my summer antics, but so many others’ as well. Forbes named it one of five singles to watch last December.
Dani’s second album, The Plan, is a 35-minute no-skip zone. The entire project is a vibe. And if DaniLeigh seems like the talented girl next door, she is. She’s soft-spoken yet driven, nice and polite while absolutely being about her money — a point she makes repeatedly on her album. “I want you so bad. But I need that bag. Never going back. Sticking to my plan” she rapped on the eponymous track about choosing her career over a would-be love interest.
When Dani was 14 years old, she started posting covers of her favorite songs to YouTube (as millennials who can carry a tune are prone to do). “At that time I was super shy about my voice, so I would sit by myself and do covers, and debate on whether or not I would put them out.” Back in her YouTube days she sang everything from Musiq Soulchild’s “SoBeautiful” to Drake’s “Marvin’s Room,” she recalls as the makeup artist finishes her signature glam-glow with a cream lavender eye-shadow. When she was 16, her parents relocated to Los Angeles so that Dani could improve her craft. Soon after she signed with an agency and was able to book dancing gigs often, she told the Breakfast Club.
Her star might be on the rise now, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, she says she often felt overlooked. “Dancing paid my bills [and] my parents’ bills, but I started to realize no one is going to take me seriously as an artist dancing behind other artists.” she told Remezcla. From that point on she quit dancing to focus 100% on singing. First, she had to get her team right. Things “didn't pop off right away” Leigh explained to XXL, until she met her current producer, “I started getting in my bag, hopping on different types of tracks and developing my voice. And now I'm here.”
Though, for those uninitiated to the singer’s rise, her situation has the makings of a perfect storm. Going viral catapulted her music into the spotlight — a lucky break considering she was already signed to Def Jam. And if the struggle taught her anything, it’s to keep going. “Even after the ‘In My Feelings’ challenge, I was down, feeling like nothing was happening for me. I was still trying to figure it out.” Dani has a better handle on her success and is finally comfortable embracing her beautiful yet gentle falsetto.
What kept her going through her come-up was her personal mission of making music that both sounds and feels good. “People always tell me that what I sing about has really helped them. That's what keeps me going.” Because as her late mentor Prince told her: “Never compromise yourself. Make sure everything you do is real and true to your heart.”