In practically record time, Detroit rap maven DeJ Loaf has reminded the hip hop world how an unknown female luminary can still dazzle the genre and set it apart from any other art form; Her alluring composure was first on display last summer with her breakout cautionary taunt, “Try Me,” (soaring to #1 at Urban Radio and snagging gold status), and the more recent, follow-up from her “AndSeeThatsTheThing” EP. The EP included (Gold Single) “Back Up” featuring Big Sean and fan favorite “Hey There” featuring Future.
She’s accrued these breakthrough milestones with a hypnotic delivery all her own, setting rhymes adrift with a breathy nimbleness that floats abstract riffs over dead-gaze verbal might. Anointed by XXL as part of their 2015 Freshman Class of Hip Hop trailblazers in a much-buzzed about cover story, mainstream praise by Rolling Stone, USA Today, EW and others has hailed her as the year’s rap newcomer most likely to…
DeJ has also been nominated for 3 BET Awards (including Best New Artist), proclaimed the ‘future of hip hop,’ by The Observer and other media outlets, with the 23 year old ingénue holding sway over a bandwagon growing larger by the hour.
Hers is an ultimately uplifting story that hits you with the same unassuming power as her rhymes.
Raised by a single mom in the Detroit projects’ East side, the shy DeJ Loaf stuck to a notebook of rhymes and stories when she was growing up, her own private safety net. “I’d even write little movie scripts that I’d tell myself I was going to star in one day,” she says. She spent time at her Grandma’s too – part of the protective shuttling in displaced surroundings after her father was killed (when she was 4), she would move back with her mom when she was 6. By the time she was 9 years old she began to make up rhymes that would convey her inner reality, too, and fortify her through her entire school years. “I was still kind of shy on the outside, but I could always get down in my diary what I was feeling or dreaming,” she says. She also looked to inspiring hip hop influences as she matured – E-40, Jay-Z, DMX, Lil Kim, Missy Elliott, and others.
Come 10th grade, she began to display a knack for the imaginative visual allegory, switching from the obligatory collection of Nikes and Jordans to loafers. “I got good instincts when it’s time to switch it up,” she says. The kids got to calling her ‘loaf.’ Eventually she would slip back into her regular fare, but kept the moniker for all future applications. The unflappable DeJ Loaf was born.
Not without a practical side, she tried nursing classes after high school graduation, but returned home from Saginaw Valley State after only a couple of semesters to convince her mom it was time to focus all her energies on songwriting.
Her mom and two brothers were supportive, and she began to circulate her music in the local rap scene, holding down a janitor’s job at a Chrysler plant while trying to strengthen her hip hop resume. “I would do a little here and there at different studios, as well as driving people crazy at my job because they knew my heart was with music.”
It would be the more atmospheric, organic flow of her viral single “Try Me,” in the summer of 2014 that would put her on the map. “It was a song born out of frustration,” she says, which DeJ actually dictated into the voice memo of her phone in a Detroit area mall. “I’d been walking around getting stared at, and I wanted to remember the melody. I’d been kind of down and feeling backed up, and this just came out of me as a response.”
A young Michigan producer, DDS (also unknown at the time), sent her some smoldering music tracks via email and she juxtaposed the synth-infused-beats around verses that both menaced and mourned. The song took flight when some Bay Area fans began to upload it, with hip hop stars E-40 and Drake enlisting career-launching viral and ‘gram shout-outs. “Try Me” soon exploded in the rap community, topping Billboard’s emerging New Artist chart by the beginning of fall, becoming an urban radio staple and eventually, a #1 single. “Try Me” was also proffering a uniquely detached vocal perspective, with Pitchfork duly noting how DeJ’s ‘lonely sing-song melody propels errant thoughts as if she were singing to herself with no audience…’ with ‘armored self-awareness.’
The song would also inspire a host of remixes by stars such as E-40, Wiz Khalifa, Lil Durk, Vado, and others. Detroit-favorite-son Eminem enlisted her for his multi-collaboration “Detroit Vs. Everybody,” and she would sign to Columbia Records before the autumn leaves fell as one of the most sought-after new talents in the music business.
Her fall 2014 EP release, $ell Sole, would be hailed by critics as another significant offering from the rapper, with the 13 track tape including multiple DDS productions, and showcasing multiple collaborations that included Birdman, Young Thug, and an emotive remix of “Try Me” featuring Remy Ma and Ty Dolla $ign, as well as another smoldering hit, “Me U N Hennessy,” (co-produced by DDS and Grammy award winning producer Ryan ‘Ghost’ Browser) revealing a sultrier side of the Detroit newcomer. The song inspired a provocatively rendered clip that exploded across all video platforms (currently nearing 10 million views) and sensually captured the attractive Dej Loaf in seductive Versace swimwear. “I knew I nailed it as a song,” laughs DeJ. “I just told them when we were about to shoot the video you better capture the right mood ‘cause I know I did.”
The in-demand star has also been featured in numerous collabs with other star rappers, including Kid Ink, The Game, Lil Durk, Casey Veggies, and others. Readying for one of the most talked about tours of the summer, Nicki Minaj’s Pinkprint Tour, she’s putting the finishing touches on what is sure to be one of the most eagerly anticipated album debuts of 2015. With such an amazing life-transformation taking place in just under a year, Dej still seems to be taking it all in stride.
“I think back to when I was hating my day job, but promising myself something was going to come from not giving up on my music,” she says. “I want to represent Detroit well, and give hope to others out there just like me. My lesson is never get comfortable in something you don’t like. Dream big! And write it down.”
Follow Dej Loaf