Leon L. has been a computer whiz, club impresario, businessman, and now singer behind one of this summer’s top hits, Victoria Secret. He has turned his stumbling blocks to stepping-stones.
Before he collaborated with Trey Songz, hung out with Chris Brown and sang Happy Birthday to actress LisaRaye, Miami-born performer Leon L. was an intrepid youngster. His first obsession was computers. When he was 6, his mom bought the family’s first PC. It was a Compaq Presario 2200. Leon’s parents were happy to make the investment for Leon and younger brother Devon. But the computer was not user-friendly. It was 1995, during the early days of the Internet and Windows 95, when computers still had floppy-disk drives. But Leon, at his young age, was able to decipher the functions of the computer without looking at the manual. He simply had a knack for figuring things out. Soon, family friends were calling on young Leon to help them figure out their computers and even repair them.
During these formative years, Leon also became interested in music. He watched closely while his uncle, DJ Ray, played at parties, clubs and events during Miami Carnival. Ray also had his own studio, which he built in a spare bedroom at the home of his mom, Leon’s grandmother. Leon had an eclectic upbringing. Both his parents are from the Caribbean – his dad from Saint Lucia and his mom from the tiny volcanic island of Montserrat. His dad owned a sound system, so Leon heard just about every genre of music around the house as a child: R&B, soca, calypso, dancehall and traditional reggae, zouk and reggaeton, among others. This exposure provided him with an expansive musical range and an understanding of hooks and melodies. He augmented his musical knowledge at Horace Mann Middle School in Miami Shores, taking courses in Music Theory and learning how to play the piano.
After Horace Mann, he attended Miami Central High School. In 2007, while still a teenager, he decided to dive head-first into the Miami music scene. He sought the tutelage of DJ Epps, an internationally known radio and club personality who is based in South Florida. DJ Epps took on Leon as a pseudo apprentice. “I went to his company and offered my services basically on an intern-type situation in order to learn the music industry,” Leon says. “The reason why I chose them was because of their attachment to G-Unit. Growing up, 50 Cent was one of my favorite artists.”
Leon started off on the lowest rung of the entertainment ladder. He passed out flyers and helped publicized upcoming events. He took pride in his work. He was so efficient that he later found himself behind the microphone as a club host. He was soon appearing at famous South Beach dives such as Cameo and Mansion and at events such as Miami’s annual street party, Calle Ocho.
During his early days on the club scene his DJ name/nickname was “Bad Eyes.” It was a self-deprecating alias that he embraced. But it was also literal. Leon actually has bad eyes. He developed a stigmatism as a young boy and wore glasses. Today, he wears contact lenses because of the condition. Some people might be reluctant to make light of their own serious condition, but Leon didn’t mind. “I figured, hey, I’m already over it, so just call myself Bad Eyes,” he says.
Years later, when his singing career began to take shape, a friend told Leon that “Bad Eyes” was probably not a good stage name. Leon’s birth name is Noellin Laurencin Jr. His family called him Junior. Others called him Noel. So the friend suggested he simply spell Noel backward. Thus “Leon.”
Leon gained a reputation at the clubs as an entertaining host who knew how to keep parties alive with good music and good banter. He has crossed paths with Miami-based hip-hop artists such as Trick Daddy, Rick Ross and Pitbull. But he says the one celebrity he has the fondest memory of meeting is R&B singer Chris Brown. He says Brown was friendly, gracious and humble during that encounter 10 years ago. But Brown acquired disdain for his infamous 2009 assault of girlfriend and fellow singer Rihanna. Leon recalls being stunned when he heard the news. “I have no idea what happened there,” says Leon, who says the Chris Brown he met was down-to-earth and showed no hint of being violent.
Another title Leon had adopted is “The R&B Savior.” (“Thernbsavior” is his handle on Twitter and Instagram). He says he feels an obligation to preserve the kind of R&B popularized by legends such as Marvin Gaye. On July 4, 2017, he debuted the song Victoria Secret after months of build-up on social media. It was a new release, but he actually wrote the song some eight years earlier.
The title Victoria Secret is not by accident. Leon could have easily called the song Tracy’s Secret or Sharon’s Secret. But he says he learned about the art of branding many years ago. He knows Victoria’s Secret is a popular lingerie franchise. So he gave the song a title that would conjure images that fit the theme. He was also careful to call his song Victoria Secret, without the apostrophe-S. That way, he steered clear of any possible legal issues.
Victoria Secret was immaculately produced by Manny Deenah. The melody feels like a blend of Usher, Al B. Sure, Ginuwine and even Neyo. But Leon says any similarity of the sound to another artist’s sound is purely accidental. “I try to stay in my own lane when it comes to my sound,” he says. The vocals feature a hint of Autotune, which Leon says he included not in order to hide a lack of vocal range (like some artists do) but to appeal to the teen/early 20s fans who view Autotune as the norm.
Leon also says the song’s lyrics have been misinterpreted. “The song is basically about women who depend on guys to sustain their livelihoods,” he explains. “But it’s also about woman empowerment. Dudes think it’s sexual, but it’s not really about that. When I explain it to them, they say, Ohhhhhh!”
Sometimes it’s actually beneficial for a song to have an air of mystery. Controversy sells. Misunderstood or not, the song has been streamed more than 30,000 times since July 4, Leon says.
Leon has a follow-up single called Catch My Drift that he also predicts will be a hit. However, the song is still in the production phase and a release date has not been set.
LEMON TO LEMONADE
Although he has made strides in the entertainment business, Leon also has a day job. He runs an online printing company. The incident that led to Leon starting his own business is an epitome of how he has turned negatives into positives his whole life.
Leon was an employee at a printing company. When he was hired, he warned the owner that he suffers from asthma and that at least once a year he has an attack that causes him to miss work for a few days. The owner probably assumed Leon was joking. As predicted, Leon had an asthma attack that caused him to miss work for five days. The owner was out of town at the time. When he returned, he was upset to find out that a printing job that was assigned to Leon had not been completed. Leon explained that he had to be treated for his asthma. The boss was still angry.
Leon didn’t appreciate his integrity being questioned. He decided the best course of action was to go out on his own. He used the skills he acquired working at the printing company and started his own business – A-List Printing, based in Sunrise.
It’s just an example of how Leon has persevered. At times in his fledgling music career, he has dealt with setbacks. Some might call them rejections. Leon takes a different approach.
“Roadblocks have been put in my way,” he says. “I don’t look at them as rejection. Sometimes it’s just a matter of things happening too fast. Sometimes different opportunities come up” after a setback.
Although he runs his own business, he believes show business will be his ultimate landing spot.
“I’m basically an entertainer at heart,” he says. “My main goal is to win a Grammy. I feel it’s destined to happen.”
– Written By Edwin L. Martin –