Photography by Julian Burgueño
Fashion by Chloe + Chenelle Degadillo
The race to superstardom is a marathon, not a sprint. Understanding this principle is what separates artists who become stars for a moment from those with true staying power. Achieving sustainable success within any industry requires years of hard work, a relentless commitment to evolution, and a focus on strategy just as much as creativity. And in an era defined by viral moments and social celebrity, the most valuable asset any artist can possess is authenticity. Real power and influence is found in the nuances of an artist’s story, introducing a narrative that challenges convention and offers a definitive voice for audiences without a platform.
For 23-year-old Coi Leray, standing in truth, staying the course, and trusting her process has proven to lay the foundation for a promising career – placing her among the most dynamic emerging artists of her time. Since penning her first song at 16, Leray has remained consistent in elevating herself and pushing the boundaries of her artistry. Boldly crafting songs that speak to themes of self-love and self-discovery, each body of work gives fans a glimpse into her growth, making vulnerability a staple of her sound.
The New Jersey native first gained notoriety in 2018 after releasing EverythingCoz, a 13-track mixtape that showcased her raw approach and introduced her distinctly unique style. The project boasted no headline features, but set the stage for her 2019 sequel EC2 that featured fan-favorite “Huddy.” In 2020, Leray released her 7-song breakout EP Now or Never, featuring notable guest verses from Gunna and Fetty Wap and complimented by appearances from Kiana Lede and Sevyn Streeter. The critically acclaimed project displayed Leray’s evident versatility, transitioning between contemporary R&B and more soulful performances to skillful raps and catchy melodies.
Carrying her momentum into 2021, Leray followed up with the release of Better Things, a curated collection of fan-favorites and her most-streamed songs from previous projects introduced as a playlist. Standout single “No More Parties” quickly became a viral hit after a short video spread across TikTok, amassing over 43 million views in less than a week.
As Leray’s profile continues elevating, her career has become a study in organically building a loyal and rapidly expanding global fan base. By creating a fluid model that blends music, media and lifestyle, she is forging a deep connection with fans in real-time at each point of her journey. On the eve of her latest EP, Coi Leray opens up about growth, being prepared for your moment, and the power of trusting your process.
At what point did music shift from being just a dream or aspiration you saw potential in to actually knowing it was real?
Coi Leray: The shift happened with “No More Parties.” Honestly, in this moment, I finally feel that I’m getting the recognition I deserve. Naturally, I feel like this moment should have already happened, but I don’t want to say that, because I believe everything happens in perfect timing. I’m just glad that it’s hitting me now, and it hasn’t really hit me fully; I still think I’m invisible.
What have you learned about your own process and what it really takes to establish yourself in music now that you’re in the spotlight?
CL: I learned to really stay focused, stay consistent, and have patience. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that it’s OK to be alone. Since the pandemic started, I really took the time to focus on myself and learn more about who I am, and that’s really important.
Growth, independence and self-love are consistent themes that show up throughout your music. How important are these themes to you, and are they the core message you want people to take away?
CL: I write from experience, so anything you’re listening to is an expression of my truth. Whenever I’m in the studio, I’m going to write about or be inspired by whatever is going on in that moment. Whether it’s a heartbreak, dealing with different challenges, or reflecting on the past. The gift is that I’m then able to put those thoughts and experiences into music. That’s the best part about it, I can use music to tell the story behind my experiences.
2020 was a year defined by loss, and you spoke about how the pandemic allowed you to really lock in and focus on yourself. Do you feel like being in isolation helped you tap into your creativity, or made the creative process more challenging?
CL: It wasn’t harder or more challenging creatively, it was just a completely different experience that forced me to grow in every way. Whether I’m in a pandemic or not, I’m still going to be a homebody. I’m still going to stay out of the way. The hardest part of the pandemic for me was that I couldn’t go to the escape room, we couldn’t go bowling, you can’t really see family or do a lot of the regular things we’re used to. The studio stays open at my house, so regardless of what’s going on outside, I’m going to stay in my zone and always create.
What have been some of the notable challenges you’ve faced along your path and what did you take away from them?
CL: The main challenge has been patience. I believe that’s one of the biggest challenges everybody struggles with. I’ll be 24 in May, and I signed my deal two years ago. A couple of years ago I definitely didn’t have patience like I have now. I’m still trying to develop it as much as possible, because this world is crazy. The industry is crazy. Life is crazy. What I always say is you have to be prepared for when it’s going to rain again, so I keep my umbrellas stacked up in my closet in all shapes and sizes. No matter how high I climb, I’m always ready for whatever.
We see more women in music today feeling empowered and embracing the fullness of who they are — owning their sexuality, owning their image, owning their message — how important is living in that freedom both as a woman and as an artist?
CL: It’s very important. Self-confidence is incredibly important to have. You have to know who you are and be yourself at all times. That’s why I call myself a big trendsetter, because everything I do is usually something both girls and guys are often too afraid to do. A lot of times, I do things they wouldn’t even think of. It’s what makes me so different - because I’m not afraid to do it. No matter how crazy it may sound, it’s so lit every time and I don’t care what anybody says about me. That’s freedom, when you stop caring about what other people say or think about you, you’re unafraid to be yourself. Whether people talk about my shirt being off, or my ass is hanging out, or they say I look like a boy. I don’t care what the circumstances are, because if I put it on and I post it, I did that because I wanted to. I don’t live my life for anybody else, and I think that’s what people really love about me is my self-confidence. The fact that I do so much crazy shit, but it never looks like I’m tying too hard or trying to force it, because I’m just naturally doing it. The other key to self-confidence is that I just worry about myself. When you focus on what everybody else is doing, or why you don’t have what everybody else has, you take away your own blessings.
Fear is often what separates people who realize their dream versus those who fall short and never reach their potential. What is your message to people who live in that fear or look at you for inspiration but are still struggling to find their confidence?
CL: I would tell them exactly like ATL Snake [Gucci Mane’s manager] told me. I was mad, I was having an episode, and I felt like giving up. In that moment, he said to me “Look, if you want to give up, just let me know right now. If this isn’t for you, let me know now.” That really fucked my head up, and he knew exactly what he was doing, because I had to sit there and think to myself “Is he really just going to let me say fuck this and walk away like that?” That’s when I realized, I’m obviously the one in control of all of this. I’m the one who controls my life and career, not him. The show doesn’t stop if I stop. He’s going to keep going and do whatever he wants. That doesn’t mean he thinks less of me or doesn’t want me to win. It just means that there is a bigger picture. At the end of the day, everything is not going to go my way, your way, or his way. You just have to learn to accept things for what they are and handle situations in the best way possible. That attitude will get you a long way, because it got me a long way. Once he told me that, I knew I would never say that again, because I felt so stupid.
What would you describe as your philosophy or guiding principles that keep you motivated no matter what happens around you?
CL: My mother is very spiritual, so I got a lot of my spirituality, belief and faith from her. I also believe in loyalty, honesty, and trust. You can have all of the money in the world and all of the nice things, but nothing can replace loyalty and love. Nothing can replace respect and motivation. Nothing can replace drive. All of these things are important. That’s what makes you a successful artist, but more importantly a successful person. Lastly, I believe in the power of positive thinking. Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, I was very negative and I had to stop that. Now, things are going so well, and I’m so used to thinking negative that it feels weird. That’s why I said this moment felt weird, because things feel too good.
What do you say to people that look at songs going viral on TikTok or artists becoming famous from social media and think it’s easy to become an overnight success without putting the work in?
CL: That’s fine, because the world is changing. One thing about TikTok is that it’s dope to have a platform that makes it easy to introduce yourself to the world and expose you to so many different styles of music. I get inspired on TikTok. But, I look at everything like friendly competition. Now, you have all of these kids singing and dancing on TikTok, then you’re seeing those songs reach the Billboard charts and make artists superstars solely from the support they get from social media. As an artist, I think you have to soak it in. Look at the methods, look at the dances, look at the support system behind who is promoting who. Don’t hate on them, celebrate them. Respect their hustle and see it as part of this new world we live in.
In what other ways are you using social media to tell your story and build connections around the world?
CL: I’m getting really tapped into YouTube, and dropping a documentary before my album to give fans an honest look into my life, because there are so many misconceptions about me. People really think that they know me. Hopping on YouTube and doing regular stuff that I love, like my series “Cooking with Coi Leray.” All of that stuff shows different sides of who I am. I feel like not everyone can relate to a designer, a rapper, or people who are rich. Not everyone lives a life of designer bags and expensive weaves every day. We need to give these women something else to get inspired by. I ask myself that all the time, as artists, what else do we do? Do you have hobbies? Do you play sports? What movies do you watch? Tapping into these uncommon things is what I believe really brings fans into your world and draws them closer to you as a person, which helps them better relate to your music. For me, I want people to see everything. I want people to see how me and my team operate. I want them to see my process in the studio. I want them to see all of the fly outfits I wear. I want people to get a real sense of who I am outside of the music. I feel like that’s what gives me this superstar power, is being able to let people come into my world and be inspired by it.
Where do you see your story going next?
CL: Right now, I’m definitely in my moment. All eyes are on me, so I’m focused on making the most out of it. I have the “No More Parties” remix with Lil Durk out. From there, we’re following up with another single from myself that’s fire, then another single with Nav and Tyga. After these songs release, we’re going straight into the album. We’re just focused on riding the momentum and building it up right now. I’m not worried about anything, only staying true and continuing to put great music out; the rest will happen organically.
Hair by Signature Styles: Synphony
Photo Assistant: Elias Lopez