Meet DaniLeigh, the Dominican Rapper & Singer Who Got a Co-Sign From Prince

Courtesy of Def Jam

“I love proving people wrong. It’s the best thing ever,” DaniLeigh says, giggling and adjusting her 8-bit font nameplate necklace. It’s an intrepid philosophy, and one that captures the singer’s approach to her creative practice and potential for stardom. As she talks about her ambitions beyond music, it’s clear that she refuses to let anyone put her in a box.

Danielle Curiel, more commonly known by her stage name DaniLeigh, is a South Florida-born, Los Angeles-based dancer, singer, songwriter, and creative director. She began dancing at the age of 12, started posting covers on YouTube at 14, and was called on by the High Priest of Pop himself, Prince, to direct and write the treatment for his 2014 song “Breakfast Can Wait” at age 18.

Despite this rare blessing from The Purple One, her journey hasn’t been entirely easy. In 2011, DaniLeigh moved away from friends and family in Miami and relocated to Los Angeles, where she started her career as a backup dancer, gracing the stage for acts like Daddy Yankee and Pitbull. During her time off from dancing, she focused on writing music. “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. From there, I was just like, ‘I really gotta quit dancing and just sacrifice everything.’”

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While the prospect of moving from stability to uncertainty was intimidating, DaniLeigh is a veritable hustler. Her mother and father – both working-class Dominicans from Washington Heights – instilled ambition and an enviable work ethic in her. “My dad always says, ‘Whatever you put in, you’ll get out of it.’ So that’s the mentality I’ve always had for myself.”

“I love proving people wrong. It’s the best thing ever.”

Her early career sacrifices have paid off. It’s been close to a year since DaniLeigh’s debut project Summer with Friends was released, and things have all but slowed down for this 23-year-old.

Released on DefJam Records, the seven tracks on Summer with Friends cruise (in a lowrider with the top down, preferably) through bachata-tinged hip-hop, trap, and R&B. Opener “All I Know” features Kes, and includes a sample of Aretha Franklin’s “One Step Ahead” – just like Mos Def’s career-defining 1999 single “Ms. Fat Booty.”

“All Day’s” soft bachata touches are carefree, and the accompanying video is a cheerful nod to the singer’s Dominican roots in New York City, as she dances through parts of the Heights while onlookers dap her up, some flirting as she graces them with her bubbly presence.

“I can go in in Spanish – that’s what makes me different.”

Her single “Play,” with the assistance of Kap G, talks about making power moves and reaping the benefits with your crew. The video is a gorgeously executed pastel L.A. dream; it’s easy to get caught up in this aesthetic universe and wish that you, too, were in a girl gang of hustlin’ hustlers and robbing ‘em blind.

When it comes to songwriting, Dani is sitting on a stack of records, waiting for the right person to entrust them to. Dani has a knack for earworms, though; she recently co-wrote J.Lo’s single “Dinero,” featuring DJ Khaled and Cardi B. Its music video has received two nominations for Best Latin Video and Best Collaboration at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards.

DaniLeigh describes herself as versatile, and is looking forward to bringing that energy on her next project The Plan, which is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2018. “I can tap into going in on a hip-hop trap record, and put my own vibe to it. I can go in on an R&B ballad. I can go in in Spanish – that’s what makes me different and I like to show that off,” she says, self-assured.

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Dani won’t have to wait long to see her fans’ reactions, either. Joining Teyana Taylor and Jeremih on the Later that Night Tour, Dani will be performing music off her unreleased album as the opening act.

It’s all happening at the perfect time, too. Curiel went viral with her playful rendition of the #InMyFeelings challenge, even nabbing an appearance in the credits that run at the end of Drake’s official video. Shortly after, she released “Lil Bebe.” And like the hustler she is, she saw an opportunity between the two. “I was kinda like, ‘Alright, let me do the same for my song and see what happens.’ People went crazy for it, too! Of course the Kiki challenge was crazy ‘cause it’s a Drake song, so I’m like oh, dope, my song’s getting love too.” It’s smart, serendipitous promotion, reflecting Dani’s potential for celebrity.

She’s already planning for the future, including dream collaborations and new ventures in her career both in and outside of music. “I’ve always wanted to collaborate with Drake, and I want Lil Baby to go in on ‘Lil Bebe’.” After she releases her album, she’ll be in a place where she can build upon her love of fashion. “I have my own merch line, but I’d like to make it bigger by collaborating with other brands,” she says, citing Off White, Adidas, Supreme, Bape, Acne, Nike and Jordan as potential partners. “I’m trying to tap into everything, and I’m excited to see what I do next.”

At a time when dominicanas are making their presence known in the upper echelons of the music industry – take Cardi B’s ascendant career, or Harlem rapper Melii, who was recently signed to Interscope – Dani has the potential to blossom into a mainstay of the music business, and give visibility to the deep creative legacy of Uptown.