Straight Outta Wynwood Comes Xleoniduz

Photo by Aaron J. Jackson
"The X is silent," Xleoniduz (pronounced lee-on-i-duhs) explains after New Times mispronounces his name.

Despite its omission, the 24th letter in the alphabet holds significance for the increasingly popular rapper.

"The X is for my favorite rapper DMX. It's also for Malcolm X," he says. "My teacher in 12th grade at Booker T. Washington Senior High in Overtown taught me how Malcolm X changed his life from a pimp to an intellectual. Then you have the X in the X-Men, and I'm like a mutant with music."

Growing up in Wynwood, Xleoniduz was raised to have a strong love of old-school hip-hop.

"My dad, Rey Cruz, was a DJ and pioneered rapping bilingually. He was a big hip-hop head. He'd play Dre, Ice Cube, Biggie. At [Club Tipico Dominicano in Allapattah], he'd be playing all this bass and booty music."

It is the rap music of yesteryear that Xleoniduz aims to channel in the four new singles he has lined up for release, beginning with "Brown Skin."

"I wanted a bilingual song with a feel-good vibe fusing all the elements I grew up with," he says. "It's an ode to all the Black and brown women. My girlfriend is Black; I got cousins who are dark-skinned. I wanted them to have an anthem that they feel comfortable in their skin."

The song began with a chorus that Xleoniduz wrote with his brother. He then played with the verses, trying to make them simple but not corny. Eventually, he stumbled upon the beat for the song on YouTube and reached out to the producer.
"It was a simple process," he says, laughing. "I was sipping Hennessy and made that song."

The video, however, required a bit more thought.

"I wanted to do my version of  'Frontin'.' I'm a big fan of Pharell Williams. It was going to be a house-party video," Xleoniduz says. "My girlfriend [Margo Hannah], who directed it, said, 'Let's do something more artistic showing all the beautiful shades of brown skin.'"

The next single, "Coordinate," dropping later this month, was Xleoniduz's attempt to get out into a musical left field.

"I love music like Andre 3000, Busta, Missy Elliott," he says."Music is boring right now. Only Kendrick and Tyler the Creator are doing anything witty. I wanted something creative. So it's me talking my shit, about looking fly. We had four directors on the video. It's Solange-inspired and has me in a brown and pink suit laying out in a field in Broward County.

"I don't really know exactly where. I don't know that area," he adds.

One area Xleoniduz is familiar with is Wynwood. Earlier this year, he released "R.I.P. Wynwood," which mourned the loss of the historically Puerto Rican barrio.
"It's about what it was before gentrification," he says. "My grandparents lived at 267 NW 31st St. for 30 years before gentrification forced them out when the rent got too high. They tore the house down. That was where I learned to ride my bike, where I learned how to rap, where I had my first girlfriend. That song was about how to learn to own things and how to let go of things."

Beyond the song, the rapper helped make a 30-minute documentary about his grandparents' brush with gentrification, titled 267.

While today's Wynwood is far different than the one of Xleoniduz's youth, a few blocks away from the high-priced stores and condominiums, he still sees kids who remind him of his own troubled youth. Xleoniduz says his long-term goal is to offer those kids a creative outlet that he and many of his friends were deprived of.

"We didn't have a lot of options growing up," he says. "My dream is to set up a zone where those kids can learn to do creative things. If they can't rap, maybe they can learn to film or edit. Give them the space to learn they don't have to conform to be on the streets and end up in jail."