Being sexy ain’t the same as being skanky. Just ask Leah LaBelle, who sings about all the ways she turns on a guy in her hook-filled song, “Sexify.”
This song really moves with a hard beat, and the word play lives up to the title. “I just want some hanky-panky,” she sings, “Sexy vs Skanky/Dancing in my bra and panties/Instincts to master/Thank me, thank me.”
LaBelle is emerging jointly from Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def Recordings and Pharrell’s i am Other labels. Dupri is using a combination of social media and traditional PR to introduce her to the world. For instance, in March, Dupri started sharing the song to his 36,000-strong Global 14 community, and he’s also been giving her plenty of notice to his 477,000 Twitter followers, along with outreach to news media ranging from Billboard to Vibe (as he has documented on his own YouTube channel)
I happened to witness the star-making process through a Billboard meeting that I attended on April. LaBelle did an impromptu concert in a conference room, singing bits of songs like “Sexify” and discussing her creative inspirations. She explained that the playful lyrics for “Sexify” were actually inspired by Cosmopolitan magazine cover titles. But whereas Cosmo title lines often throw sexuality in your face (like “Sizzling Sex Positions That Won’t Give you Boob Sweat”) LaBelle’s lyrics are more suggestive and sensual.
From left to right: Pharrell, Leah LaBelle, Joe Levy of Billboard, and Jermaine Dupri
And the playful video features cameos from Jermaine and Pharrell, who have both joined forces to develop her musical career. Dupri took time out of his hectic schedule to answer a few questions about “Sexify” and Leah LaBelle:
How did you discover Leah LaBelle?
Pharrell showed me a video of her sing someone else’s material on YouTube. We noticed her swag and style. The way she sang the song gave us the idea we could make her something special. You could see it in her eyes and demeanor. She looked like someone to be reckoned with.
The voice you hear on “Sexify” is not the same I heard on YouTube. When we first started working together, I thought, “Wow her voice is much, much better than what she’s got on YouTube.” You just could not appreciate her voice from YouTube.
What was it like being in the video?
It was easy! I liked my role playing a landlord of the apartment where the video is set. You know, in a way, I do feel like I am her landlord, big brother, and protector – so me being a landlord in the video was a natural for me. [For more insight, check out this video Dupri shot on the set of the video.]
Leah LaBelle and Jermaine Dupri in “Sexify”
Do you consider “Sexify” to be hip-hop?
I don’t label the song at all. You can call it pop, hip-hop, or R&B if you like. But the moment you call it pop, someone else is going to come along and call it R&B. It crosses all lines of music.
What’s next for Leah LaBelle?
Right now we are focused on taking her record as far as we can.
“Sexify” is currently charting in the Billboard Hot 100 for R&B/Hip-Hop