There are few people out there that can claim they’ve been name checked by Drake, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Kylie Jenner in the last month, but Dej Loaf isn’t most people. While the saying, “My life has changed over the last couple months,” may be commonly used, for Dej Loaf, it’s an understatement. Within the space of four months, she’s gone from an rising Michigan MC to the biggest thing since sliced bread. And the name has nothing to do with bread, in case you were wondering. It’s a leftover from her days wearing trademark loafer shoes.
The music industry is changing rapidly, post 2010 more than ever before. And 2014 is about to be the first year without a single album achieving Platinum sales. Interestingly, the most sensational artists in rap music this year have all been independent – from Bobby Shmurda to Makonnen, none of 2014’s hit hip hop songs have been released by artists already signed. [I dare you to put forward ‘Fancy’] They have, however, all signed to major labels following the triumph of their first big hit, which has lead to major success; Shmurda to Epic, Makonnen to OVO and now Dej, to Colombia. But more on that deal later.
In the case of 23 year old Detroit native Dej Loaf, her big moment came several years into her music career. Search YouTube and you can find videos going back a few years, but with it’s catchy hook and simple refrain, it’s easy to see why ‘Try Me’ was the game-changer. Constructed by local producer DDS, the sugary beat was sent to her at home where she wrote a few verses quickly, her older brother, a hairstylist, in the next room working on a client. Unbeknownst to her at the time, she was sitting on one of the biggest tracks of the year. The openly aggressive, even violent, hook is being repeated by people that don’t even know what “catch a body” means. The video, directed by JerryPHD, sees Dej in a white muslin tunic and MCM bucket hat brandishing two guns at the camera. And it wouldn’t be Detroit without a pair of Cartier glasses to complete the look.
September saw Dej’s latest release become such a sensation that Bobby Shmurda’s ascendance looked like child’s play in comparison. Originally recorded in July, ‘Try Me’ began to pick up fans on her local circuit in Detroit. But it was Oakland, California that recognised the strength of the anthem. Dej notes, “It was catching on in Detroit, but it wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do, for me anyway. The way it caught [on] was in Oakland, California; they actually picked up on it before Detroit did.” She recognises the Internet helped spread the viral success of the song, with fans reaching out directly to her via Instagram. “They started posting videos dancing to it and I started reposting them, showing the love back and that’s how it really turned up from there.”
Somewhere down the line, the track got to Pittsburg rapper Wiz Khalifa, who recognised the potential of ’Try Me’ and recorded his own verse for the song. His remix is what caught a lot of people’s attention, mine included. But the magic was entirely Dej’s and when the song was still in my head six days after the first spin, it was evident that this was only the beginning. Remixes followed, by The Lox, King Louie, Teyana Taylor, Tink, but most notable – for Dej at least – was E40. At home growing up, the Oakland rapper was regularly played by Dej’s father. His sister Sugar T, was one of the first females she heard rapping, adding to the surreal nature of his decision to remix the song. “That’s why I say Oakland and the Bay Area were the first to pick up on it. He followed me on Twitter and I was like “Wow, E40 followed me!” I grew up listening to him so it was just like “Wow!” This is the legend following me and saluting me. It was like a real recognise real thing. So we went out to his house and he invited us out and we made music.
Recent developments would leave anyone in a state of shock and Dej is no exception, saying, “It was cool, I couldn’t believe it, it’s like a numb feeling. I don’t really feel anything that’s going on right now, it’s just wow.” Since then things have continued to surprise and she admits the speed of the success does feel a little hard to adjust to. “Overwhelming, everything literally turned my life around within the last couple of months. I’ve been travelling and no sleep, I always wanted it and heard stories of it but this is really happening. I’m on a plane every other day, in the clubs every night. I’m just out here working, but everything is different now. So I’m just preparing myself and getting adjusted to everything.”
There’s a lot to get adjusted to considering the ’Try Me’ video racked up over 1.5 million views in the month of its release. Dej also reveals the latest official remix to ‘Try Me’, which happens to be her favourite. “I have one coming out with Ty Dolla $ign and Remy Ma, that’s the one that I like the most because we all went kinda crazy on there and we shot a video. Remy Ma and Ty Dolla $ign, that’s my favourite one so far.” The remix came about after Dej was asked who she’d she’d like to hear rap over the instrumental, unaware that things were already in motion. “I was out in New York and everyone’s asking me about the remix, like ‘Who would you wanna hear on the remix?’ and I was like ‘Remy Ma! That’d be dope’. I grew up listening to her, ever since she stepped in the game so I was like, ‘She’s one of the best. She can actually rap and make good music’. So we reached out to her manager, I wanted to holla at her and say ‘Wassup’ but she already did the ‘Try Me’ Remix for herself. She didn’t put it out but she was working on it. So I thought that was pretty cool, she already was on it. I was like, ‘We definitely need to meet up and put this together’. She showed love, she’s a sweetheart man!”
The track is set for release any day now, along with the video. “Shout out to Jerry PHD, he shot the ‘Try Me’ video and the remix. He’s one of the best in the city and he’s only 17.” Also responsible for the photographs on these pages, JerryPHD is responsible for all of Dej’s recent visuals, including ‘We Good Over Here’, the second track on the ‘Try Me’ video. The track displays a far more mellow side to Dej, as she displays more of her rap skills than shown on the sing-songy ‘Try Me’. She reveals plans to reshoot the video for ‘We Good Over Here’, revealing, “We was just trying to keep the people on their toes about it, because everyone’s kinda on ‘Try Me’, so I wanted to throw them off with that record.”
Though shot in a similar setting to the ’Try Me’ video, ‘We Good Over Here’ displays a more ostentatious side, with a black Lamborghini casually placed in shot. At one point, someone’s laid across it. Dej doesn’t reveal the owner but says, “We had people from the city bring their cars out and it was crazy.” She explains the different thought process behind the double video, “In the ‘Try Me’ video, I tried to keep it not too flashy. I wanted to keep it in my old neighbourhood, the projects I stayed at. I dressed myself – I just put on all-white. Everything came out right, I wanted to keep it natural and simple but still a little interesting. So with ‘We Good Over Here’, the lyrics matched the tone of the video. I was telling everybody we’re good, you know me and my team are good.”
Words by Lily Mercer.
Photography by JerryPHD.
Cover illustration by KaCey Kal